In the world of medicine, it is absolutely critical that all notes and instructions from the medical team treating a patient be precise and correct. Inferred assumptions and misunderstandings can cost someone their health, or more importantly, their life. One of the most dangerous issues that can occur in the medical field is the incorrect use of words that sound similar to one another.
Here are a few examples of common medical terms that sound alike but have very different meanings.
Dysphagia and Dysphasia:
Dysphagia causes difficulty with swallowing or pain with swallowing.
Dysphasia is a brain injury that makes communication difficult or impossible.
Corneal and Cornual
Corneal refers to the cornea of the eye.
Corneal refers to an area of the fallopian tube.
Oral and Aural
Oral is about the mouth.
Aural is about to the ear.
Plural and Pleural
Plural means many, or more than one.
Pleural refers to the lungs.
Perineal and Peroneal
Perineal relates to the perineum.
Peroneal relates to the fibula.License: Creative Commons image source
It is obvious that these terms can be easily mistaken for one another considering how much they sound alike. Because of this, it is so important that the medical team involved with a patient’s care be diligent and correct in every aspect of communication.
It is also important to remember who the critical members of the medical team are. Doctors and nurses come to mind, however what about other members of the medical team, such as transcriptionists, admissions clerks and lab personnel? These are also vital members of the medical team that enter notes on patients’ charts and are extremely important to their care.
Medical transcriptionists listen to doctors’ recorded notes and transcribe the recording to a typed entry into patients’ medical files. If a doctor does not speak clearly when he is recording his notes, the transcriptionist could easily misunderstand medical terms that sound alike and make a wrong entry on clients’ files. In addition, if the transcriptionist is new to this type of work, or if she is in a hurry to complete the job, she could easily make a mistake in transcribing medical terms that sound alike. Doctors must always be sure to be clear when dictating patient notes, and they must always be careful to call attention to terms that could be misunderstood for another. Transcriptionists should always be mindful of how important their work is and how it can impact patients’ health.
Unfortunately, there have been many cases where a patient has received incorrect medical treatment due to a misunderstanding of medical terms that sound alike. Doctors have performed surgeries on incorrect body parts due to incorrect notes. Unnecessary, and often harmful, medications have been prescribed to treat ailments that were misdiagnosed due to an error in communications. Many of these cases resulted in injury, death and expensive lawsuits against physicians and hospitals.
What makes all of this so terrible is that the harm that came to these patients and their families could have been prevented. Members of a medical team should always explain a patient’s diagnosis, prescribed medicines and treatment plans in detail. They should think ahead when speaking or writing a word that could be misconstrued. Holding regular training sessions with the staff and implementing systems to prevent this type of malpractice from happening are critical. Increasing the knowledge and understanding of a medical team can help the players work in sync with each other and can help to protect the health of their patients.
Byline: Amy Thomson writes about technology, career-success, and education. When she’s not writing she is skydiving over the Rocky Mountains.