Medical Acronyms: A Glossary of Terms You Need (and Want!) To Know

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ADLs (Activities of Daily Living): Daily functions such as getting dressed, eating, taking a shower or bath, going to the bathroom, getting into a bed or chair, or walking from place to place.

Administrator / Executive Director: A licensed Nursing Home Administrator responsible for all staff and residents in the facility. Acts as the facility CEO. Ensures federal and state regulations are adhere to.

Acute Care: Medical care for health problems that are new, quickly get worse, or result from a recent accident.


Advance Directive: Legal documents that allow you to plan and make your own end-of-life wishes about healthcare and treatment known in the event that you are unable to communicate. Advance directives consist of (1) a living will and (2) a medical (healthcare) power of attorney, sometimes called “health care surrogate,” depending on the state.

Alzheimer’s Disease: A progressive, degenerative form of dementia that causes severe intellectual deterioration.



BP: Blood Pressure.


Care Plan: A detailed written plan that describes what is needed for an individual’s care.

Certified Nursing Assistant (CNA): A person trained and certified to assist individuals with non-clinical tasks such as eating, walking, and personal care.

Cognition: The process of knowing; of being aware of thoughts. The ability to reason and understand.

Cognitive Impairment: A diminished mental capacity, such as difficulty with short-term memory.

Problems that affect how clearly a person thinks, learns new tasks, and remembers events that just happened or happened a long time ago. Problems that affect cognition.

Consistent Assignment: Residents receive care from the same caregivers (registered nurse, licensed practical nurse, certified nursing assistant) during a typical work week.




Dementia: A general term for loss of memory and other mental abilities severe enough to interfere with daily life.

DON (Director of Nursing): RN who is in charge of the patients in the healthcare facility and supervises all nurses providing care.

Discharge Planner: A nurse, social worker, or other professional who coordinates a patient’s transition (move) from one care setting to the next, such as from hospital to nursing home or to one’s own home with home health care and other services.

Elder Law Attorney: A lawyer who specializes in the legal rights and issues of older adults and their health, finances, and well-being.



Family Council: Family members of nursing home or assisted living residents who form a council to provide a voice and perspective to communicate issues to facility administrators and work for resolution and improvement.



Geriatrics: The branch of medicine that focuses on providing comprehensive health care for older adults and the treatment of diseases associated with the aging process.



H&P – History & Physical: An assessment done upon admission that involves asking the resident questions about their current and past medical history, allergies, family and social history.

HIPAA (Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996): Federal Law to help protect a patient’s medical information.


Home Health Care: Services given to patients at home by registered nurses, licensed practical nurses, therapists, home health aides, or other trained workers.


Hospice: A program of medical and social services for people diagnosed with terminal (end-stage) illnesses that focuses on comfort, not curing an illness. Hospice services can be given at home, in a hospital, hospice residence, assisted living community, or nursing home.



Incontinence: Loss of bladder (urine) or bowel movement control.



Licensed Practical Nurses or Licensed Vocational Nurses (LPN): They assist RNs with data collection, care planning and monitoring resident’s conditions. They are licensed to administer medications and treatments, transcribe physician orders, etc.


Living Will: An advance directive that guides your family and health care team through the medical treatment you wish to receive if you are unable to communicate your wishes.


Long-Term Care (LTC): A term used to describe the care needed by someone who must depend on others for help with daily needs.

Medicaid/Mass Health: The federally- and state-supported, state-operated public assistance program that pays for healthcare services to low-income people, including older adults or disabled persons who qualify. Medicaid pays for long-term nursing home care and some limited home health services, and it may pay for some assisted living services, depending on the state. In Massachusetts, Medicaid is referred to as Mass Health.


Medical Director: A physician who oversees the medical care and other designated care in a healthcare organization or care setting.


Medicare: The federal program that provides medical insurance for people aged 65 and older, some disabled persons and those with end-stage renal disease. It provides physician, hospital, and medical benefits for individuals over age 65, or those meeting specific disability standards. Benefits for nursing home and home health services are limited to short-term rehabilitative care.


MDS (Minimum Data Set): The process to clinically assess all Medicare and Medicaid residents. Assesses the functional capabilities of a resident and helps nursing home staff identify health problems.



Nurse Practitioner (NP): A registered nurse with advanced education and training. NPs can diagnose and manage most common, and many chronic, illnesses.


Nursing Home or Skilled Nursing Facility (SNF): A residential care setting that provides 24-hour care to individuals who are chronically ill or disabled. Individuals must be unable to care for themselves in other settings or need extensive medical and/or skilled nursing care.



Ombudsman / Long-Term Care Ombudsman: An Ombudsman is an advocate for residents of nursing homes, board and care homes, and assisted living.



Palliative Care: Care that focuses on the relief of the pain, symptoms, and stress of serious illness. The goal is to improve quality of life for patients and families.


PICC Line (Percutaneous Intravenous Central Catheter): A catheter inserted into the body when intravenous access is needed for a prolonged period of time (e.g., nutrition).


Power of Attorney: The advance directive that allows you to select a person you trust to make decisions about your medical care if you are temporarily or permanently unable to communicate and make decisions for yourself. This includes not only decisions at the end of your life, but also in other medical situations. This document is also known as a “health care proxy,” “durable power of attorney for health care.” This document goes into effect when your physician declares that you are unable to make your own medical decisions. The person you select can also be known as a health care agent, surrogate, attorney-in-fact, or health care proxy.


Primary Care Provider (PCP): This term almost always refers to doctors, nurse practitioners or physician assistants who provide routine care and preventive care (before people are sick). PCPs practice in the community, not a hospital or other healthcare facility.



Registered Nurse (RN): A graduate from a formal nursing education program who has passed a national examination and is licensed to practice by the state board. RNs assess, plan, implement, teach, and evaluate a person’s nursing care needs, along with the rest of the healthcare team. In addition, they may do data analysis, quality assurance, research implementation, and research.

Rehabilitation (“Rehab”): Services to help restore mental and physical (bodily) functions lost due to injury or illness. Rehabilitation may be given at the hospital or in a nursing home, some assisted living residences, a special facility or the patient’s home. The types of services offered generally include physical therapy, occupational therapy, and speech therapy.

Resident Council: Required by nursing home regulation, the Resident Council gives persons living in care settings the opportunity to communicate concerns to administrators, work for resolutions and improvements, and provide feedback about new programs.

Respite Care: Temporary (a few days) care to offer relief for the family caregiver. Respite care may be given in an assisted living facility, or a nursing home. This service can be particularly valuable for family members taking care of persons with dementia.



Skilled Care/Nursing Care: This level of care includes help with more complex nursing tasks, such as monitoring medications, giving injections, caring for wounds, and providing nourishment by tube feedings (enteral feeding). It also includes therapies, such as occupational, speech, respiratory and physical therapy.

Subacute Care/Rehabilitation: Care or monitoring after hospitalization in a less intensive and less costly setting, such as a nursing home or in a special unit in a hospital. Subacute care is usually short-term.

Survey (or State Survey): As used in long-term care, the word survey refers to the process a state agency uses to ensure that all nursing homes that receive federal and state funding are in compliance with state and federal regulations, including standards of care.



Transition: A move from one care setting (hospital, home, assisted living, nursing home) to another.



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