Spring 2023

Tips to Decode Medical Terminology to Better Understand Bodily Injuries

Insurance defense attorneys defend an array of different cases, from construction matters to trucking incidents to fires and slips and falls. We rely on experts from different fields to help us elevate the details of each claim. While Attorneys may not be all-knowing when it comes to bodily injuries, there are some easy ways to help decipher the nature of an underlying injury and medical terms within a medical record without turning to the internet.

An important thing to consider with any bodily injury claim is the location of the injury on the body. There are obvious indicators like “right arm” or “left knee,” but you may see terms like anterior, meaning the front (e.g., the face and chest), or posterior, meaning the back (e.g., the spine). When it comes to arm or leg injuries, you may also note locations such as the medial side (e.g., inside of the foot near the arch) or lateral side (e.g., the outer thigh). Medical providers may also use shorthand terms to describe specific body parts, like the eyes. The abbreviation “OU” means both eyes; “OD” means right eye; and “OS” means left eye. The spine is often referred to in three sections: the cervical spine, which is the neck; the thoracic spine, which is the mid-back; and the lumbar spine, which is the lower back. Another common area for bodily injuries is the abdomen, which is often assessed and documented in four quadrants, specifically, the right upper quadrant (“RUQ” for short), left upper quadrant (“LUQ”), right lower quadrant (“RLL”); and left lower quadrant (“LLQ”).

Like many legalese, medical terms and names for bodily organs and functions are rooted in Latin, while others may be rooted in Greek.[1] The Greek or Latin parts of medical terminology are often seen at the end of a word and are used to describe a specific condition. For example, there is a clinical difference between tendonitis and tendonosis because the term itis means inflammation, while the term osis means chronic or degenerative.[2] Other common medical phrases include algia, which means pain; edema, which means swelling; paresis, which means weakness; and pathy, which means disease.

Lastly, like attorneys, medical providers have their own language. They will often write notes in a medical record using shorthand or abbreviations. Providers may make up their own shorthand for terms, but often they stick to the more widely recognized abbreviations like “NSR,” which can mean normal sinus rhythm (referring to the way the heart is beating), or “VSS,” which can mean vital signs stable. Another part of the medical record where shorthand is commonly used is for prescriptions. For example, “q” means every, so a prescription for a medication that should be taken every 12 hours will be written “q 12.”

While these tips will not make you an expert or grant you a license to practice medicine, they can provide some context and background to help an attorney better understand and evaluate medical records and bodily injuries.

Written by associate Caitlin Vannoy.