Healthcare Glossary

The healthcare system can be extremely confusing and difficult to navigate. We’re breaking down the healthcare language barrier one word at a time, from deductible to PPO, and everything in between.

Have a term you want explained? Contact us.



A test that measures a person’s average blood sugar (blood glucose) level over the last two to three months.

Active Immunity

Active immunity is the process of exposing the body to antigens that help develop immunity to a virus.

Adolescent Connectedness

A young person’s sense of well-being and belonging, of being cared for and supported by parents, teachers, etc., that can reduce the likelihood of a variety of health risk behaviors.

Airborne transmission

Airborne transmission is the spread of infection through virus-containing respiratory droplets that can remain in the air over long distances (usually greater than 6 feet) and time (typically hours). This is different from infection spread through direct contact with contaminated surfaces, called fomite transmission.

American Rescue Plan

The American Rescue Plan is a $1.9 trillion relief proposal from President Joe Biden that would provide federal funding to states and cities, stimulus checks to Americans, and a number of other provisions to help battle the pandemic.

Annual physical exam

An annual physical exam is a yearly visit to your doctor to make sure your overall health is good.


Antibodies are specific blood proteins produced to respond and attack viruses in a person. Typically, humans develop antibodies after contracting the virus they’re attacking.


Literally “against-virus” — any medicine capable of destroying or weakening a virus.


Some people contract viruses and do not display symptoms. Asymptomatic people can unknowingly spread viruses to other people, which is why wearing a mask is so important.


Autism (Autism Spectrum Disorder) is a complex, lifelong developmental condition that typically appears during early childhood and can impact a person’s social skills, communication, relationships, and self-regulation.


Balance Billing

Balance billing often occurs when a patient is receiving out-of-network care but doesn’t realize it. The patient then receives a “surprise” bill for services their insurance won’t cover.


Benefits are the services or items covered under a health insurance plan.

Bivalent Vaccine

This booster vaccine has been specifically designed to address the prevalent Omicron subvariants BA.4 and BA.5, as well as to build further immunity on original SARS-CoV-2 strains (which is why it is called “bivalent”).

Block Grant

Unlike the current system, where Medicaid funding is based on the State’s actual expenditure on the program, and is shared by the state and the federal government, a block grant caps the amount that a state receives for Medicaid.

Blood Crisis

A critical national shortage of blood available in blood banks, forcing hospitals and doctors to make difficult decisions in rationing blood supplies for treatments.

Blood Pressure

Blood pressure is the standard measurement to determine heart health. The five blood pressure readings go from “normal” to “hypertensive crisis”, the latter of which requires immediate medical attention.

Blood Type

A classification of blood determined by the presence or absence of certain antigens.

Booster shots

Additional doses of a vaccine needed periodically to “boost” the immune system. For example, the tetanus and diphtheria (Td) vaccine which is recommended for adults every ten years.

Breast Density

The proportion of fat to fibrous tissue.

Broad-Spectrum SPF

Broad-spectrum SPF is sunscreen that protects against both UVA and UVB rays. Wearing broad-spectrum sunscreen daily protects against skin aging, sunburn and skin cancer.


Physical, emotional or mental exhaustion accompanied by decreased motivation, lowered performance and negative attitudes.


Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP)

CHIP is a government program that provides health insurance to children from lower-income families.

Childhood Obesity

Excess weight gain affects 1 in 5 children in the country (1 in 3 in New York). Childhood obesity is caused by many factors including genetics and some medications, but also by child care and school environments, food habits and physical activity.


Cholesterol is a waxy substance in your blood needed to build healthy cells. High cholesterol levels are linked to heart disease and are often caused by an unhealthy diet and lifestyle.

Chronic Kidney Disease (CKD)

Chronic kidney disease is a condition in which the kidneys are damaged and cannot filter blood as they should.

Chronic Respiratory Disease (CRD)

Chronic respiratory diseases (CRD) are diseases of the airway and other structures of the lung.

Circadian Rhythms

Circadian rhythms are the 24-hour cycle of hormones and chemicals in the body that help dictate when you sleep and when you’re awake. They work together with natural daylight.


A cluster in epidemiology is a group of five or more cases of a particular virus all linked to one event, such as a residence, workplace, party, or other event.


COBRA temporarily allows you to keep your employer-based insurance after your employment ends. You’re obligated to pay 100% of the premiums, including the portion the employer used to contribute.


The percentage of costs of a covered health service you pay once you’ve met your deductible. For example, if you have healthcare services that cost $10,000 and your deductible is $3,000 and your coinsurance is 20%, you’ll pay 20% of the remaining $7,000, or $1,400.

Colorectal Cancer

Colorectal cancer is cancer of the colon (large intestine or large bowel) or rectum (passageway connecting colon to the anus).

Community Mitigation

Community mitigation is a framework for preventing the spread of a virus by enacting measures such as closing restaurants, mandating the wearing of face masks while out, and reduced capacity at essential businesses like grocery stores.


The CDC defines comorbidity (also referred to as underlying conditions) as “more than one disease or condition present in the same person at the same time.” These are often chronic and can also contribute to a COVID-positive person’s death.

Contact Tracing

Contact tracing is a technique used by health departments where volunteers identify someone infected by a virus and everyone they may have been in contact with in order to better control the spread of the virus.

Containment Zone

A containment zone is an area where movement is restricted and certain restaurants, stores, and other establishments may be closed.

Cooling Center

Cooling centers are air-conditioned facilities like libraries, community and senior centers, and malls where you can go to cool down during extreme heat. Parks, beaches, and community pools are other places to cool down.


A co-pay (or co-payment) is your share of the payment for a medical expense. For example, if a doctor charges $150 for a visit, insurance may pay $125 of the fee and the patient’s co-pay is $25

Coping Skill

A strategy to help you deal with difficult situations and lessen unpleasant emotions, thoughts, or behaviors.

Cost-Sharing Reduction (CSR)

CSR payments are government subsidies paid to insurers to help keep premiums low for lower-income Americans.



A deductible is an amount that you have to pay before your insurance starts paying for your healthcare. For example, if your deductible is $2,000, your insurance company starts paying only after you have paid for the first $2,000 worth of medical bills.


Dehydration is the absence of sufficient water in your body. The best way to beat it is to drink before you get thirsty. Dehydration can contribute to life-threatening illnesses like heatstroke.


A dependent is someone who relies on your health insurance, such as a spouse or child.

Diabetic Eye Disease

Diabetic eye disease is a term for several eye problems resulting from diabetes. Too much glucose in the blood for a long time can damage blood vessels in the eye. Early detection is key.

Diabetic Ketoacidosis (DKA)

Diabetic Ketoacidosis (DKA) is an emergency condition caused by an overload of ketones present in the blood and urine that can lead to a diabetic coma or death. Signs of DKA include nausea and vomiting, stomach pain, fruity breath odor, and rapid breathing.

Diabetic Retinopathy

Diabetic retinopathy is a diabetes complication that affects the eyes. The longer you have diabetes and the less controlled your blood sugar is, the more likely you are to develop this eye complication. At first, diabetic retinopathy might cause no symptoms or only mild vision problems. But it can lead to blindness.


DSH payments (Disproportionate Share Hospital) are payments made by the federal government to hospitals that serve Medicaid and uninsured patients, to help cover uncompensated care costs that they incur in serving these vulnerable populations.

Droplet transmission

Droplet transmission occurs when a person is in close contact with someone (within 1 m) with respiratory symptoms (e.g., coughing, sneezing) and is thus at risk of having his/her mouth, nose or eyes exposed to potentially infective respiratory droplets. Transmission can also occur through surfaces around the infected person.


Efficacy rate

A measure used to describe how good a vaccine is at preventing disease within the population.


Effectiveness is how much a vaccine protects humans in the real world against a virus, not to be confused with efficacy, which is how much a vaccine protects humans during a vaccine trial.

Empty Calories

When a food provides mostly calories and little else of nutritional value, the food has empty calories. Sugary drinks contain mostly empty calories and are a leading cause of childhood obesity.

Endorectal Ultrasound

An endorectal ultrasound is a diagnostic test that examines the rectum and surrounding areas using an ultrasound probe. The scan can show the size and location of tumors in the rectal wall.


A widespread occurrence of an infectious disease in a population or region at the same time.

Essential Benefits

Under the Affordable Care Act, there are 10 “essential health benefits” (EHB) that insurers are required to provide, including emergency services, maternity care, mental health treatment, and others.


Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA)

FMLA is a federal law that guarantees up to 12 weeks of job protected leave for certain employees when they have a serious illness, have to care for aa family member, or other certain circumstances.

FDA Approval

FDA approval is the process through which a vaccine or other drug is approved for distribution to the public. A drug manufacturer must go through a rigorous testing of the drug, with multiple trials, before seeking FDA approval. The FDA then reviews all data before approval.

Federal Medical Assistance Percentage (FMAP)

Federal Medical Assistance Percentage (FMAP) is the percentage CMS reimburses each state for total Medicaid Expenditures.

Fomite Transmission

Surfaces contaminated by respiratory droplets from infected individuals are called fomites. Fomites can stay contaminated from a few hours to a few days. Fomite transmission occurs when a person touches this surface and then touches the mouth, nose or eyes. The risk of fomite transmission of COVID is considered low.


A flexible spending account (FSA) allows you to set aside pre-tax income to help pay for certain medical expenses. Your employer has the opportunity to also contribute, but is not obligated to.


Gender Affirming Care

Gender-affirmative health care can include any single or combination of a number of social, psychological, behavioral or medical (including hormonal treatment or surgery) interventions designed to support and affirm an individual’s gender identity.


Health Disparities

Health disparity is the difference in quality and accessibility of healthcare based on race, gender, socioeconomic status, or other factors. The result of health disparity is certain communities being less healthy simply because of where the community is located compared to other communities.

Health Equity

Health equity means that all humans have fair and just access to quality healthcare and the ability to stay healthy.

Heat Island

Heat islands are urban areas that experience higher temperatures than other areas because of the concentration of buildings, roads, and other infrastructure which absorb and re-emit the sun’s heat more than natural landscapes.

Heat Stroke

Heat stroke is a severe heat-related illness that can lead to serious health effects – even death. You can spot heat stroke by looking for the common symptoms: Hot, dry, red skin; rapid pulse; loss of alertness, rapid and shallow breathing; and unconsciousness.


Histamines are chemicals produced by the immune system to help get rid of something that the immune system perceives as a threat to your body, i.e., allergens, such as pollen.

HIV Viral Load

HIV viral load is a measure of how much virus is present in a person’s blood.


A health maintenance organization (HMO) is a type of health plan with which you choose a primary care physician, and all healthcare has to go through them (you can receive referrals to see specialists).


A health reimbursement arrangement (HRA) is an account that only your employer can contribute to, that helps you pay for qualified medical care that isn’t covered under your own healthcare plan.


A health savings account (HSA) is a personal savings account that you and your employer both contribute to that helps you save for out-of-pocket medical expenses.

Hybrid Immunity

Hybrid Immunity is the immune protection in individuals who have had 1 or more doses of a COVID-19 vaccine and had at least one COVID-19 infection before or after vaccination.


Hypertension is when blood pressure is too high. Typically, hypertension is defined as above 140/90 and can cause heart disease, heart attacks, strokes, and other life-threatening health events.


Hyperopia (farsightedness) is a common vision condition. Symptoms in children include headaches, eye strain and trouble reading.


Hyperthermia is the overheating of the body usually due to overexertion in hot, humid conditions. It is not the same as a fever. It includes heat cramps and heat exhaustion and is preventable.



Immunization — or vaccination — is the process where a person is made immune or resistant to an infectious disease, typically by administering a vaccine.

Incubation Period

The incubation period is the period between when you contract a virus and actually begin to experience symptoms.

Infection Rate

An infection rate is a calculation of how many people within a certain population will become infected by a particular illness. The higher the infection rate, the more people are likely to become sick.

Inpatient Service

Any medical service that’s administered during a hospital stay, where room and board are charged.


Living Donor

A living donor is a living person who donates an organ or part of an organ.


Lipoproteins are round particles made of fat and proteins that carry cholesterol through the body.


Maternal Depression

Maternal Depression encompasses a range of mental health illnesses women can have during pregnancy or after delivering a child. Maternal depression affects anywhere from 20% to 80% of mothers. Symptoms include depression, anxiety, loss of appetite, and insomnia.


Medicaid is a government program for lower-income Americans that provides free or low-cost health insurance.

Medicaid Continuous Coverage

A federal mandate during the COVID-19 public health emergency (PHE), which required states to automatically renew coverage for people enrolled in Medicaid so that their coverage was not interrupted. Continuous coverage ended on May 11, 2023, when the PHE ended.


Medicare is a government program for Americans 65 years or older that helps cover certain medical expenses.


Melanoma is a less common form of skin cancer but one that is more likely to grow and spread.


Micelles are a cluster of molecules that help kill germs, such as in hand soap.


A migraine is a headache that can cause severe throbbing pain or a pulsing sensation, usually on one side of the head. It’s often accompanied by nausea, vomiting, and extreme sensitivity to light and sound.

Molecular Tests

Molecular tests are given to identify whether or not someone has contracted an infectious disease. These tests are also used to identify the likelihood of someone developing specific diseases or disorders, such as cancer.


An mRNA vaccine does not inject you with a virus but instead uses a strand of genetic code called mRNA — messenger RNA — to train your body’s immune system to recognize and fight a virus, such as COVID-19.


Myeloma is cancer of the plasma cells, which prevents the production of antibodies and leaves the body more susceptible to infection. Because myeloma frequently occurs in many patches or areas in the bone marrow, it is often called multiple myeloma.


N95 mask

N95 masks are the most common surgical facemasks, and filter at least 95% of airborne particles. While these facemasks are necessary for healthcare workers, everyone should wear a mask when out in public.



An individual or organization trained to help guide Americans through the process of selecting the appropriate healthcare plan.


Everything covered by your health insurance, usually at zero or minimal cost. If you receive medical services that are “out-of-network”, your insurance may not cover the costs.


Nutrients are chemical compounds in food that are used by the body to function properly and maintain health. Examples include proteins, fats, carbohydrates, vitamins, and minerals.


Open Enrollment

Open Enrollment is the period each year during which Americans can select health insurance. This period typically lasts several weeks towards the end of the year.

Organ Transplant

An organ transplant is the removal of an organ to be placed in a recipient to replace damaged or failing organs.

Outpatient Service

Any medical service that does not require an overnight stay at a hospital.

Out-pocket maximum

This is the maximum amount that you can pay in one year before your health insurance covers all other healthcare-related payments that year.



The pancreas is an organ in the abdomen that releases enzymes that help in digestion and produce hormones that help manage blood sugar.


Outbreak of a disease over several countries or continents, usually affecting a large number of people, as opposed to an epidemic.

For more info, see:

Pandemic Wave

A pandemic wave is the resurgence of a virus after a period of declining case numbers.

Passive Immunity

Passive immunity is the transfer of antibodies from one person to another to provide immediate protection against infectious diseases. Passive immunity can occur naturally, from mother to baby, or artificially from medicine.


AYGO refers to the Pay-as-You-Go Act of 2010 that limits spending increases in order to control the budget.


It’s not just for vampires–photophobia, or sunlight sensitivity, is a condition where eyes are particularly sensitive to bright sunlight. Migraines or other health problems can bring on photophobia.


Pollen is one of the most common allergens, spreading airborne from trees, grass, and other plants. Pollen allergies are especially bad in the spring and fall, with symptoms such as runny nose and sinus congestion.

Postpartum Depression

Postpartum depression is depression a mother has after giving birth. Postpartum depression affects approximately 15% of births.


PPE stands for Personal Protective Equipment, which includes facemasks, goggles, gowns, gloves, and other equipment designed to protect the wearer from injury or infection, most commonly used by healthcare workers.


A preferred provider organization (PPO) offers more flexibility and does not require you to have a primary physician and does not require referrals for any doctor within your network.


Your premium is the fixed amount you pay for your health insurance every single month whether you use your insurance or not.


PrEP, or pre-exposure prophylaxis, is medicine people at risk for HIV take to prevent getting HIV. PrEP reduces the risk of getting HIV from sex by about 99% and by at least 74% among people who inject drugs, when taken as prescribed.

Preventative Care Mandate

The preventative care mandate was a provision in the Affordable Care Act that made preventative care, like doctor visits for cancer screenings, free.

Preventative Dental Care

Preventive Dental Care involves regular dental checkups that help identify and prevent the main causes of tooth loss (decay and gum disease), as well as conditions such as oral cancer.

Preventive Screening

These are tests (like a screening mammogram) which detect treatable illnesses to catch chronic diseases before they become a problem. They help avoid costly hospital care, surgeries and even terminal disease.

Price Cap

The insulin price cap in the Inflation Reduction Act limits the cost of insulin to $35 per month for seniors.


Psoriasis is an autoimmune condition that causes skin cells to multiply too quickly, leaving skin inflamed and itchy. While treatable, there is no cure.

Public Health Emergency

The Secretary of HHS (Health and Human Services) can declare a public health emergency in cases of significant outbreaks of infectious diseases or bioterrorist attacks, etc. This declaration allows the Secretary to take certain actions in response to the PHE.


Qualifying Life Event

Dramatic changes in your life that might occur that makes you eligible for a “special enrollment period” for insurance.



The R-naught, or reproductive number of a disease, is the estimated number of cases directly transmitted by one case. For example, if the R-naught is greater than 1, every infected person will infect one more person.


An insurance policy health insurers purchase to protect them from high claims, thus protecting healthcare consumers.


RSV (Respiratory syncytial virus) is a common respiratory virus that usually causes mild, cold-like symptoms but can be serious, especially for infants and older adults. It is the most common cause of lung infections like bronchiolitis and pneumonia in infants.


Saturated Fats

Saturated fats are typically solid at room temperature and are commonly found in meat, full-fat dairy products, eggs, and oils like coconut and palm. They are also linked to cholesterol problems.


Sequestration refers to automatic spending cuts due to the withdrawal of funding for certain government programs.

Serology Test

A serology test is a test for whether or not a person has contracted a virus, and now has antibodies that can fight the virus. These tests are important to know how many people have contracted a particular virus and recovered safely.

Side Effects

A side effect is a secondary effect from a vaccine. Not everyone gets side effects, and with the COVID-19 vaccine they’re typically mild and last only one or two days.


SLE is the most common type of lupus and can affect multiple organs. Lupus is an autoimmune disease where the body’s immune system attacks itself.

Social Determinants of Health (SDOH)

Social determinants of health (SDOH) are the conditions in the environments where people are born, live, learn, work, play, worship, and age that affect a wide range of health, functioning, and quality-of-life outcomes and risks.

Social Distancing

Social distancing is the practice of maintaining a specific amount of distance (the recommendation for COVID-19 is six feet) from other people to prevent the spread of an airborne illness.

Social Isolation

Social isolation is the inadequate quantity and/or quality of interactions with other people, at the individual, group, or community level. One can live with others and still experience perceived social isolation. It can have a significant effect on health and well-being.


A stroke occurs when the blood supply to a part of the brain is interrupted or reduced, preventing the supply of oxygen and nutrients.


Sunburn is a type of skin burn from too much exposure to ultraviolet (UV) light, causing skin to become inflamed, swollen and painful to the touch. Prevent sunburn by wearing sunscreen and sunglasses, avoiding tanning beds and remaining aware of sun-sensitizing medications and cosmetics.


A superspreader, or superspreader event, is when a group of people are not practicing CDC guidelines such as social distancing or wearing a mask, and result in a drastic increase in virus cases.



A transfusion is the process in which blood is introduced into a person’s bloodstream intravenously.


Uncompensated Care Costs

The cost of providing health care that is unpaid by patients or insurers.

Unsaturated Fats

Unsaturated fats are “good” fats that improve cholesterol and provide other health benefits. Examples are fats in avocados, nuts, and fish.

UV Ray

Ultraviolet (UV) radiation is a form of electromagnetic radiation that is emitted by the sun, and artificial sources like tanning beds. Most skin cancers are a result of exposure to the UV rays in sunlight.


Ultraviolet A (UVA) and Ultraviolet B (UVB) radiation are forms of electromagnetic radiation that come from the sun and man-made sources like tanning beds. UVA/UVB rays are linked to long-term skin damage, sunburns and skin cancer.



Vaccines can provide immunity to individuals for specific diseases. Until a vaccine has been approved for COVID-19 relief, it’s important that everyone wears a mask while in public to help keep themselves safe and those around them safe.

Vaccine Eligibility

Vaccine eligibility is when you’re able to get your #COVID-19 vaccine. This depends on your age, pre-existing conditions you might have, and other factors.

Variant (or Virus strain)

Viruses constantly change through mutation, and new variants of a virus (also known as strains) are expected to occur over time. Sometimes new variants emerge and disappear; other times, they remain.

Vitamin D

Vitamin D is essential for bone health, and may help with muscle strength and protecting against cancer and type 2 diabetes. It is found naturally in only a few foods. Ultraviolet light from the sun helps form vitamin D in the skin.


Well-Woman Visit

Similar to an annual physical, a well-woman visit is a visit between a woman and her provider to discuss health habits, undergo routine exams, and set health goals.


The German word for the feeling of solitude walking through a forest. If you can, get out for a hike and help improve your mental health!