Katie Sutton headshot, medical terminology at Discern Health. On a blue gradient graphic background.

A medical terminologist plays a critical role in the healthcare system by ensuring the accurate and consistent use of medical terminology and translating diagnoses and procedures into standardized codes. Using a terminology expert such as Katie Sutton ensures accurate communication among healthcare professionals and clarity in patient records, reports, and correspondence. In short, a medical terminologist can help everyone speak the same healthcare language within an organization.  

Sutton, medical terminologist at Discern Health, took a winding path towards her career. “I had had an interest peripherally in medicine for a while, I even volunteered as a candy striper when I was 14,” Sutton said. Originally a theater major, her trajectory turned when she learned she had cancer at the age of 19. “After my diagnosis, I became even more interested in the medical field and the terminology that is used on a day-to-day basis. That natural curiosity kind of came out of me getting sick and then getting better.” 

Medical Billing and Coding

During her early years in the healthcare field, Sutton found a mentor who took a chance on her and offered her a job working in medical billing and coding for the University of Colorado Hospital. During her time as a coding professional, she worked for the major teaching hospital and a pediatric hospital, and she had an internship in a mental health facility. During that time, she learned the ins and outs of accurate coding and billing and how important it is to provide effective patient care. Eventually, Sutton was recruited by a technology company in Denver that was building software to translate ICD-9 codes into the newest coding system, ICD-10.  

This career transition opened her eyes to a whole new world of information translation and how it can be used to support patients and caregivers.   

For over a decade, Sutton supported Wolters Kluwer Health, building content sets, mapping terminologies, and maintaining standard body content such as ICD-10, SNOMED, CPT, HCPCS, and many others. Through her expertise in the complexities of medical terminology, she collaborated with multidisciplinary teams to ensure the accuracy and standardization of code sets. 

Terminology at Discern Health

Now at Discern Health, Sutton brings her twenty-year wealth of experience to the data science and clinical teams. “My job is twofold. First, I am helping build out the Discern terminology backbone, making sure our data sets are accurate and up to date. I don’t think people realize how often medical terminology is updated and refined based on current medical care. Second, I make sure we have the correct set of standard body codes and terminologies to use for building predictive analytics models.”  

For example, multiple codes could be tied to congestive heart failure, which all mean slightly different things. Getting the correct codes is critical to everyone involved in the healthcare system. 

“Patients, providers, hospital systems, health information exchanges– they all need to take the wealth of medical data provided by patient care and use it to monitor their patients and effectively maintain their care. Discern is doing groundbreaking work with predictive analytics modeling. What causes a patient to be weak and frail? How can they intervene to keep patients healthy and strong? Doctors can take that information and identify their frailest patients and ask how they can intervene to help them be stronger and feel better. If you have the wrong code or the wrong term, or if teams are not speaking the same medical language, that will skew the data and not give them correct information to act in the patient’s best interest. It is a critical step in many ways.” 

Empowering Patients and Improving Care

Beyond her work at Discern Health, Sutton believes medical terminology can help empower patients and improve care. “As a patient who has had some serious health issues in my life, I am very inspired to give patients back that control so they can help themselves understand how our very complex medical system can work for them. When you do go see a doctor, correct data can empower patients to be more of a partner with their care team rather than waiting for someone to explain to them what is happening. If they are armed with correct information, it helps them answer questions about their prognosis and treatment and make them a partner in their care.” 

Through her work, Sutton showcases how medical terminology underpins the entire healthcare industry and helps ensure that the sector speaks the same language, with the ultimate goal of benefiting the patient. 

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