How to: Add a Free Medical Dictionary to Word 2003/2007

Got an email from a friend the other day:

“I wonder if you have found a free add-on for Word 2003 that includes medical terms in the spell check feature and is secure enough for me to recommend to my users at the hospital?”

This is such a great question and something that has come up at my place of work previously. Out of the box, Microsoft Office Word doesn’t recognize a whole lot of the specialized medical vocabulary that people at our hospital use every day. The result of this is that Word frequently fails to recognize clinical terms and underlines them in red, essentially making them false positives for spelling errors.

Only one employee in my department has Stedman’s medical dictionary installed in her copy of Word 2003 because paying a license for each copy used in an entire hospital would add up to an unmanageable sum quite quickly.

Among the books made available to all employees through our hospital’s intranet is a medical dictionary- and that’s okay for the kinds of people who don’t mind stopping what they’re doing to look up a word, but it would be so much faster and easier for Word to be able to spell-check and correct spelling issues with medical terms.

So I promised the friend I’d think it over and come up with some recommendations.

In MS Word, a “dictionary” is just a list of words.

That’s all. Nothing on pronunciation, etymology, or definition.

A quick search reveals that these “dictionaries” (word lists) are stored as .dic files.

Microsoft even tells you how to MAKE a custom dictionary.

So, what we really need is a list of words to turn into a custom dictionary.

OpenMedSpel is pretty awesome.
Free, open source, and released under a GPL license, OpenMedSpel includes nearly 50,000 medical terms. This is all looks great, but while they have a plug-in for OpenOffice, there doesn’t seem to be one for MS Word.

No problem, though. I took apart a .dic file, and it is pretty much a .txt file with a word on each line, renamed with a “.dic” file extension. This means we can just download the .txt version (in the .zip fail available here) and rename it from OpenMedSpel 100.txt to OpenMedSpel 100.dic and save it to our computer.If you want to take a shortcut, you can download my .dic file here (right-click, Save As), but please note I don’t plan on keeping it updated as OpenSpelMed makes changes- so if you’re reading this more than a year after it was posted, I’d go get a fresh copy of the .txt file from OpenMedSpel. Firefox users: Firefox’s native spell-checking isn’t bad at all, but OpenMedSpel has a free Firefox plug-in you’ll probably want to check out.

To add this .dic file to Word (2003 or 2007), we just follow these instructions from Microsoft:

  1. Start Word.
  2. In Microsoft Office Word 2003 and in earlier versions of Word, click Options on the Tools menu.

    In Microsoft Office Word 2007, click the Microsoft Office Button, and then click Word Options.

  3. In Word 2003 and in earlier versions of Word, click Custom Dictionaries on the Spelling & Grammar tab.

    In Word 2007, click Proofing, and then click Custom Dictionaries under When correcting spelling in Microsoft Office programs.

  4. Click New to create a new custom dictionary.
  5. In the File name box, type a name for the
    new custom dictionary, and then click Save.

    The custom dictionary is added to the Dictionary list.

  6. In the Custom Dictionaries dialog box, click OK, and then click OK in the Options dialog box.

That’s it. You have medical term spell-checking in Word 2003 or Word 2007.

PLEASE NOTE: I would not hesitate to recommend this solution to my hospital’s CIO and could demonstrate to him why there is absolutely no security risk in adding this .dic file- but I wouldn’t go around setting it up on other employees’ computers without his go-ahead.

Want to go with a bigger word list?

The MTHerald blog has built on the OpenMedSpel list to one that contains almost 100,000 terms. I downloaded and checked it out and will recommend it as a harmless, malware-free .dic file- but as with any file I don’t host myself, I can’t promise that’ll be true tomorrow.

There are a number of other sources for lists of medical terms or abbreviations you can find online and add to your .dic file as suits you.

Know of any other especially good sources? Please advise in the comments.

12 thoughts on “How to: Add a Free Medical Dictionary to Word 2003/2007

  1. Hi David,

    I just tried it and it works wonderfully… *except* that I can only install it on the version of Word I have on my desktop. The hospital uses a Citrix server which interferes with our ability to customize (the Cite While You Write feature of EndNote and Reference Manager is also impossible to use for this reason). I will have to contact my IT department to see if they can find a way around this. I’ll keep you posted as I’m sure we are not the only hospital with a similar situation.

    Cheers,
    FF

  2. Waitasec- so you use computers that are really thin client terminals to access desktop-like accounts on a server? Because…if so, that’d make it REALLY easy to roll this out to all users who use such thin clients.

  3. Word 2007 says it has to be a unicode file . . . I tried saving as .docx and then changing the file extension again to .dic, but that didn’t work – any other suggestions?

  4. For future reference, Julie- Open the .dic file in Notepad, go to File > Save As and change the “Encoding” drop-down to “Unicode”, then click “Save.” :)