Glossary of Healthcare Terms

Below are some helpful definitions of key terms used throughout the PatientCareLink website:

Agencies and Organizations
Types of Hospitals
Types of Hospital Units
Types of Home Care Services
Other Terms

Agencies and Organizations:

National Quality Forum

The National Quality Forum (NQF) is a not-for-profit membership organization created to develop and implement a national strategy for healthcare quality measurement and reporting. A shared sense of urgency about the affect of healthcare quality on patient outcomes, workforce productivity, and healthcare costs prompted leaders in the public and private sectors to create the NQF as a mechanism to bring about national change.

Established as a public-private partnership, the NQF has broad participation from all parts of the healthcare system, including national, state, regional, and local groups representing consumers, public and private purchasers, employers, healthcare professionals, provider organizations, health plans, accrediting bodies, labor unions, supporting industries, and organizations involved in healthcare research or quality improvement. Together, the organizational members of the NQF work to promote a common approach to measuring healthcare quality and fostering system-wide capacity for quality improvement.

 Hospital Compare

A website tool developed to publicly report credible and user-friendly information about the quality of care delivered in the nation's hospitals since 2005.  Hospital Compare data can be found by clicking here.

This website was created through the efforts of the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS), an agency of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS), along with organizations that represent consumers, hospitals, doctors, employers, accrediting organizations, and other federal agencies. The information on this website can be used by anyone needing hospital care.

Home Health Compare

Medicare Part A (Hospital Insurance) and/or Medicare Part B (Medical Insurance) covers eligible home health services.  The Medicare program has created Home Health Compare to function similar to Hospital Compare (above) to give consumers accurate, up-to-date quality information about home health agencies.  Home Health data can be found  by clicking here.


Types of Hospitals:

There are four major categories of hospitals at which you may receive care.

  • Acute care community hospitals provide medical and nursing care for medical and surgical conditions.
  • Specialty hospitals include long-term acute care hospitals, and rehabilitation or behavioral health hospitals that provide diagnostic and treatment services to patients with specified medical conditions or, in the case of behavioral health hospitals, diagnostic and treatment services for patients who have mental health-related illnesses.
  • Teaching hospitals provide training for interns and residents who are studying to advance their skills as doctors. In general, all tertiary hospitals are teaching hospitals. Some acute care community hospitals may also have training programs for interns and residents.
  • Tertiary hospitals provide medical and nursing care for medical and surgical conditions and also provide specialized consultative care by specialists, usually on referral from a medical provider, such as your primary care doctor.

Types of Hospital Units:

Hospitals have different types of units that are usually categorized based on the care that a patient will need.

  • Adult Critical Care: Highest level of care, includes all types of intensive care units. Optional specialty designation include:  Burn, Cardiothoracic, Coronary Care, Medical, Neurology, Pulmonary, Surgical and Trauma ICU.
  • Adult Step-Down: Limited to units that provide care for adult patients requiring a lower level of care than critical care units and higher level of care than provided on medical;-surgical units.  Examples include progressive care or intermediate care units.  Telemetry is not an indicator of acuity level.  Optional specialty designation included;  Med-Surge, medical or Surgical Step-Down Units.
  • Adult Medical: Units that care for adult patients admitted to medical services, such as internal medicine, family practice, or cardiology, Optional specialty designations include: DMT, Cardiac, GI, Infectious Disease, Neurology, Oncology, Renal or Respiratory medical units.
  • Adult Surgical: Units that care for adult patients admitted to surgical services, such as general surgery, neurosurgery, or orthopedic.  Optional specialty designations include:  Bariatric, Cardiothoracic, Gynecology, Neurosurgery, Orthopedic, Plastic Surgery, Transplant or Trauma surgical unit.
  • Adult Medical/Surgical Combined: Units that care for adults patients admitted to either medical or surgical services.  Optional specialty designations include: Cardiac, Neuro/Neurosurgery or Oncology med-surge combined units.
    Source: NDNQI. Guidelines for Data Collection and Submission on quarterly Indicators, Version 5.0. Kansas City, KS:  The University of Kansas School of Nursing; January, 2005

 Types of Home Care Services

In the Agency Profile section of this directory, agencies may select from among the following services:

  • Adaptive Equipment, such as grab bars and elevated toilet seats, help people with limited mobility and strength to perform daily activities.
  • Adult Day Health features onsite congregate care during the day
  • Alzheimer's/Dementia Care includes specialized services to meet the needs of people with these conditions
  • Appointment Escorts help clients get to health & medical appointments
  • Care Management by a licensed professional, often a social worker or nurse
  • Chores & Cleaning includes tidying, cleaning, lifting, etc.
  • Companions alleviate loneliness and encourage socialization
  • CWOCN stands for Certified Wound & Ostomy Care Nurses
  • Durable Medical Equipment, such as wheelchairs, etc., can be purchased through this agency
  • Home Modification such as ramps & widened doorways, improves mobility
  • Homemaking includes laundry, light cleaning, & meal preparation
  • Hospice programs provide end-of-life care & counseling
  • Intravenous Therapy is usually provided by a nurse with special training in IV use and medication administration
  • Live-in Aides provide around-the-clock assistance and reassurance
  • Maternal & Child Health programs focus on new mothers and infants
  • Medical Social Work coordinates services from other sources
  • Medication Management is assistance in tracking and taking prescription medications
  • Nursing provides skilled assistance with health & medical issues
  • Nutritionist programs are usually provided by registered dietitians who offer recommendations based on medical needs, etc.
  • Occupational Therapy improves fine motor skills
  • Pain/Palliative Care programs alleviate or manage chronic pain
  • Pediatric Nursing is skilled nursing care for children
  • Personal Care/Home Health Aides provide assistance with toileting, bathing, transferring to/from bed, etc.
  • Personal Emergency Response Systems enable clients to contact medical help automatically via telephone in an emergency
  • Physical Therapy improves strength & mobility
  • Private Duty Nursing provides nursing care for more than 2 hours at a time for patients who require close, constant monitoring
  • Psychiatric Nursing provides treatment for mental disorders
  • Respiratory Therapy addresses breathing disorders
  • Speech & Language Therapy improves communication skills
  • Staffing provides subcontracted workers for nursing homes
  • Telehealth Monitoring uses telephone technology to help individuals manage their own care
  • Transportation helps clients get to regular appointments

 Other Terms:


All documented falls with or without injury, experienced by patients on an eligible patient care unit. In this report, the rate of patient falls is reported, which is the number of falls for every 1,000 days of inpatient hospital care in the unit types reported. A fall is defined as an unplanned descent to the floor or an extension of the floor.

Falls with Injuries (see also Falls)

All documented falls with an injury level of "minor" or greater experienced by patients on an eligible patient care unit. In this report, the rate of patient falls is reported, which is the number of falls for every 1,000 days of inpatient hospital care in the unit types reported. An injury level of minor is one that resulted in the application of a dressing, ice, cleaning of a wound, limb elevation, or topical medication.

Healthcare-Associated Infection (HAI)

Healthcare-associated infections are infections that patients acquire during the course of receiving treatment for other conditions within a healthcare setting.

 Nurse Sensitive Measures

Nationally standardized performance measures that provide a framework for how to measure the quality of nursing care and assess the extent to which nurses in hospitals contribute to patient safety, healthcare quality, and a professional work environment. Consumers can use them to assess the quality of nursing care in hospitals; providers use them to identify opportunities for improvement of critical outcomes and processes of care.

Smoking Cessation Counseling for Heart Failure, Heart Attack and Pneumonia

A measure of the extent to which patients who smoke are hospitalized for heart attack, heart failure, or pneumonia and who receive counseling from medical professionals about the need to quit smoking. Smoking is linked to heart attacks, heart failure, and pneumonia, and quitting may prevent future occurrences of help improve a patient's current condition.

Pressure Ulcer

A pressure ulcer is a localized injury to the skin and/or underlying tissue usually over a bony prominence, as a result of pressure in combination with shear and/or friction. A less-specific, general term for pressure ulcers is bed sores.

A pressure ulcer is an area of skin that breaks down when a person stays in one position for too long without shifting weight. This often happens with wheelchair use or if a person is bedridden, even for a short period of time (for example, after surgery or an injury). The constant pressure against the skin reduces the blood supply to that area, and the affected tissue dies.

A pressure ulcer starts as reddened skin but gets progressively worse, forming a blister, then an open sore, and finally a crater. The most common places for pressure ulcers are over bony prominences (bones close to the skin) like the elbow, heels, hips, ankles, shoulders, back, and the back of the head.


Readmission, also known as re-hospitalization, occurs when patients who have had a recent stay in the hospital go back into a hospital again. Patients may have been readmitted back to the same hospital or to a different hospital or acute care facility. They may have been readmitted for the same condition as their recent hospital stay, or for a different reason.

 Staffing Plan

Every hospital develops a staffing plan for each unit in its facility, estimating the number of nurses and/or other caregivers needed per shift for that particular unit to ensure patients receive appropriate care. Many different factors go into development of a staffing plan. Some of these include the experience and education of the registered nurse, the availability of other caregivers, the needs of the patients on the unit, and the severity of the patients' illnesses.

Worked Hours Per Patient Day (WHPPD)

Worked hours per patient day (WHPPD) are the number of hours of direct care a patient can expect to receive from an RN, along with LPNs and nursing assistants, in a 24-hour period. The actual number of direct care (worked) hours per patient day for RNs only - and for RNs, LPNs, and nursing assistants combined - are nationally recognized measures endorsed by the National Quality Forum and are included among a larger set of nursing-sensitive care measures. The NQF assembled experts in the fields of nursing and quality measurement to develop this set of measures.

This number will tell patients how many hours of nursing care they are receiving. It is not meant to be compared across units or across hospitals because it doesn't measure how sick the patients are or the skills and experience of the nurses are providing the care. It's important to look at the unit staffing plans to see what other types of caregivers are providing care and services on each unit.  It is also important to look at the annual reports to learn why care provided may be different from what was planned.  It is one more piece of information for consumers to have an understanding how care is provided to them when they are in the hospital.