Patient Referral

My Doctor Said What? Understanding Medical Terminology

what did my doctor mean medical terminology

At some point in our lives, many of us will walk out of our doctor’s office more confused than when we walked in. We’ll ask ourselves, “what did my doctor just say?” Our doctors don’t intend to confuse us, but sometimes it just happens.

This happens both because it is difficult to process information after receiving bad news and because not all of us are fully educated on the medical terminology that doctors commonly use. The two of these things paired together can result in a cloud of confusion for a patient.

Below are some of the more commonly used medical terms that you may hear during a doctor’s visit. By understanding what they mean, patients and their families will be able to make more informed healthcare decisions moving forward.

Common Medical Terminology

what does diagnosis mean

Diagnosis: This is the identification of a condition or disease that a patient has based on their signs and symptoms. Doctors will assign each diagnosis a formal name such as cancer, diabetes, or influenza.

Chronic: In healthcare, a chronic condition is one that persists for a long period of time, recurs frequently or is difficult to eradicate or destroy. For example, “chronic bronchitis” is bronchitis that persists longer than six weeks or that recurs more than twice in any twelve month period.

Terminal: This is an end-stage, incurable disease or condition that cannot be adequately treated. This medical term applies to diseases the doctor determines cannot be cured and will end in death.

Prognosis: This is the likely outcome of the disease process over time. Despite the best diagnostic tools, the prognosis often is a “calculated best guess.” Healthcare providers will look at a number of things to arrive at this conclusion:

  • All test results
  • Previous outcomes of patients with similar diagnoses, ages, and health statuses
  • Treatment options
  • Where the patient currently is health wise

No one can perfectly predict the course of a disease or pinpoint exactly when a patient will die.

what is a prognosis

Palliative care: This is a philosophy of care that focuses on providing comfort, alleviating symptoms, and giving the patient the best all-around treatment for their condition.  Palliative care should be considered and started for many chronic diseases and all terminal diseases.

Early in disease treatments, many want aggressive treatment and to seek a cure. But when we are told that there is little left to do or that the aggressive treatments come with side-effects that are unbearable, palliative care can help. Palliative care is provided by a specialized team that focuses solely on symptom management and comfort. It is not the same as hospice care.

Hospice care: Like palliative, this is not giving up. Hospice is an alternative means of treatment for terminal patients that focuses on honoring their life and supporting their wishes for end-of-life care. Generally, hospice is reserved for the final six months of life IF the disease runs its normal course. Hospice care falls under the umbrella of palliative care and attends to all symptoms including physical, spiritual, psychological, and social pain.

palliative care

Visit our hospice term glossary for more.

Crossroads Hospice & Palliative Care employs specialized healthcare providers who can help patients understand options at the end of life. When given a terminal diagnosis with a prognosis of a year or two, our palliative care team will be there to answer questions and provide comfort by working to alleviate symptoms including, but not limited to, pain.  

When the time is right, they can help in the transition to our hospice care team, who will continue a patient’s care based on their wishes. Both our palliative care team and our hospice care team are focused on honoring the time remaining with a focus on patient and family choices and wishes.

Please call us at 1-888-564-3405 for more information on how we can help.


Debra A Wagner, BSN, RN
Crossroads Hospice & Palliative Care
Education Coordinator


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Copyright © 2019 Crossroads Hospice & Palliative Care. All rights reserved.

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