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.


Active Immunity

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

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.


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.


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.

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.

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.


Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP)

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


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.


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.

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.


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

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.


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


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.


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.

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.


Health Equity

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


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.



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.



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


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


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

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.


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.

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.



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:


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.


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.


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.

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.


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.



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.


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!