Human Anatomy and Physiology Study Guide

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An illustration of human anatomy, focused on the circulatory system and heart.

According to data from HealthIT.gov, a majority of medical providers now use electronic health records (EHRs) to maintain critical information about their patients. In fact, the statistics show nine out of 10 office-based providers have moved to electronic medical records, as opposed to more analog or paper-based models of data collection.

Health information managers don’t necessarily need to understand all the medical implications of the data they help collect and safeguard — but it’s helpful for them to be familiar with the types of data that are compiled. The information contained in health records is critical for providing patients with accurate and appropriate care, so health informatics professionals should be knowledgeable enough to spot obvious inconsistencies or problems. In particular, EHRs tend to focus on information related to patients’ anatomy and physiology, two fields of biological science that are essential for clinical diagnosis and care.

Health information managers who are interested in learning more about these fields may find this human anatomy and physiology study guide useful.

Anatomy at a Glance

Anatomy is a field of biological science concerned with the identification and description of body parts, systems and structures. By knowing how different bodily systems work and interact with one another, providers can build optimal care strategies for each patient.

History of Anatomical Study

The study of anatomy dates back at least as far as the ancient Greeks, who would dissect animal carcasses to study their inner workings. Indeed, dissection has long been foundational to anatomical study. The word anatomy comes from the Greek ana temnein, which literally means “to cut up.”

In the modern age, Leonardo DaVinci advanced anatomical study through his dissections and sketches of human corpses. During the Renaissance, anatomy became more widely accepted as a scientific discipline. In fact, anatomy was once a popular activity for spectators, who would observe anatomical dissections. It wasn’t until the 19th century that this practice became taboo.

Anatomy remains an important field of study, though the use of microscopes and other non-invasive technological advances have fundamentally changed the way this science is practiced and applied.

Gross Anatomy vs. Microscopic Anatomy

Before continuing through our human anatomy and physiology study guide, one important distinction to make is that between gross anatomy and microscopic anatomy. Simply put, the former pertains to the study of body parts or bodily systems that are visible to the naked eye, while the latter involves the study of what happens at the cellular level.

Anatomical Systems

The study of anatomy may focus on a number of important bodily systems, such as the skeletal system, muscular system, nervous system and digestive system.

Skeletal System

The skeletal system refers to the internal framework that supports and shapes the body. This system is made up of bones, cartilage, tendons and ligaments. To learn more about the skeletal system, consider these resources.

Muscular System

Muscles allow for bodily movement and play an important role in helping circulate blood. Additionally, the muscular system helps your body to maintain its normal, healthy posture. For more about the muscular system, consider the following resources.

Nervous System

Composed of nerves and specialized cells known as neurons, the nervous system transmits signals throughout the body, ultimately coordinating actions as well as sensory input. Find out more by reviewing these resources.

Digestive System

The digestive system enables the body to break down and use nutrients from food and water as well as expel waste products. This system also plays a major role in safeguarding the body from illness. Get more information here.

Key Terms

In studying anatomy, it’s important to be aware of essential terminology. Directional terms (superior, posterior and lateral, for example) help explain where body parts are located in relation to other parts. The planes of the body, such as sagittal and axial, refer to different ways in which the anatomy can be broken down or broken into quadrants. And cavities—thoracic, abdominal and dorsal—refer to spaces within the body.

To learn more about anatomical terminology, explore these resources.

What is Physiology?

Our human anatomy and physiology study guide continues with a quick discussion of physiology. Physiology is best understood as the study of different mechanisms and functions within the body.

History of Physiology

Like anatomy, this field has been around since ancient times. In fact, historians can trace it back as far as 420 B.C., when physiology was a primary concern of Hippocrates, the father of medicine. Hippocrates believed the body was composed of four “humors” that interacted together, a crude understanding of bodily functioning that gave way to more modern understandings of systems and processes.

Molecular, Cellular and Systemic Function

More specifically, physiology involves the study of how the body works at the molecular level. It also studies the different processes that happen within cells to ensure the whole body functions the way it’s supposed to. Additionally, physiology considers the different systems that perform key roles within the body, such as those below.

  • The endocrine system: The endocrine system is made up of glands that release different hormones, which in turn regulate metabolism, mood, sleep cycles and more.
  • The immune system: This system exists to safeguard the body from illness and contamination by foreign elements.
  • The reproductive system: The human reproductive system includes all of the organs that are involved in sexual reproduction.

The Body and External Environments

One of the hallmarks of physiology is that it studies how bodily mechanisms and systems are shaped by their immediate environments. For example, the activity of the cells is impacted by the fluid environment in which they exist. Also, the body’s ability to function is significantly impacted by the outside environment, which provides air, sunlight, nutrients and more. One example is how exposure to sunlight can help the body synthesize nutrients such as vitamin D.

Physiology and Disease

Diseases tend to impair the functioning of multiple systems within the body. In some cases, diseases occur because a particular system breaks down or fails to do its job. One example is asthma, which occurs because the body’s airways narrow more than they should. Glaucoma and diabetes are other examples of illnesses with physiological causes. As such, the study of physiology is foundational for disease detection, treatment and prevention.

Physiology and Treatment

Looking at physiology and its relationship to medical treatment provides a clear correlation. Physiology is the study of normal, healthy bodily functioning, while treatment is meant to correct abnormal or unhealthy bodily functioning. By understanding how the body is supposed to be working, clinicians can better determine the root cause of a disease and make strategic decisions about how to correct the problem.

Additional Resources

Those who wish to learn more about concepts related to physiology can start with these links.

Anatomy vs. Physiology

While the fields of anatomy and physiology are closely related, they are also distinct in critical ways. By understanding these distinctions, providers can better develop comprehensive solutions for their patients.

Design and Function

One way to distinguish between the biological branches is by noting that anatomy pertains to the design of the body, while physiology pertains to the function of the body. In other words, the study of anatomy provides a clearer understanding of the form and appearance of the body, while physiology focuses on how the body is meant to work.

Consider this example: A mammogram technician notices an unexpected lump in a patient’s breast; this observation is based on an understanding of human anatomy. A doctor then conducts a biopsy to determine what the lump is, why it formed and how it might be eliminated; all of which stem from the study of physiology.

Anatomy Comes First

Understanding anatomy is an important first step toward understanding physiology. Indeed, in medical school, anatomy courses tend to come before physiological study. That’s because the function of a cell or a bodily system is determined by its form and its location in the body, both of which are anatomical considerations.

Sources of Study

A final consideration of anatomy is that it is typically studied with non-living organisms. Remember that anatomy has historically emphasized the practice of dissection. Physiology, on the other hand, requires the observation of cells and systems that are actively functioning. It usually involves the study of a body that is living.

Anatomy, Physiology and Health Information Management

By deepening their understanding of anatomy and physiology, health information professionals can become more adept and efficient in sharing information that providers need. For example, during a qualitative analysis of health records, a health information professional is tasked with reviewing records for inconsistencies and omissions. To accomplish this, understanding both anatomical and physiological terminology is a necessity. Ultimately and most importantly, this baseline knowledge can result in more effective patient care.

Classifying Data

One reason health information professionals should have a strong understanding of human anatomy and physiology is that it enables them to more precisely classify information. Providers depend on accurate and expedient information access. As such, correctly categorizing anatomical versus physiological data is crucial.

Physiological Information and EHRs

Patient EHRs digitally catalog information related to physiological deficiencies and abnormalities, such as diseases or other chronic health conditions. Familiarity with basic physiological concepts and terminology can aid health information professionals as they exchange information with providers.

Optimizing Revenue

One of the primary reasons health analytics and IT professionals benefit from a working knowledge of anatomy and physiology is that it enables them to be more efficient and more accurate in coding and clinical documentation. In turn, this can improve revenues for the entire organization.

Precise clinical documentation doesn’t just impact the quality of patient care, but also the cost effectiveness of the entire organization, particularly when that organization uses a value-based reimbursement model. Payers depend on clinical documentation to justify any reimbursements they provide, and if the clinical documentation provided is either incomplete or inaccurate, it could lead to penalties or to the organization not being fully compensated for its clinical services.

Keeping Data Secure

Data related to anatomical or physiological maladies can be highly sensitive. Patients naturally expect their EHR information to be kept safe and secure. This is a critical responsibility for the health information professional. To learn more, take a look at these resources.

Current Trends in Health Information Management

From the advent of wearable technology to concerns over information confidentiality, the field of health information management is changing at a rapid pace. This requires professionals in the field to be proactively vigilant about trends and disruptions. To keep abreast of current issues that are defining the health information management field, consider these links.

Begin Your Study of Anatomy and Physiology

Medical providers spend years honing their understanding of anatomy and physiology. While health IT professionals don’t need to be quite so comprehensive in their approach, a basic understanding of how the body works can be helpful in communicating with doctors, nurses and administrators. Use this human anatomy and physiology study guide as a jumping-off point for ongoing education.