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HCA Houston Healthcare provides a glossary of key medical terms, and patient condition status terms.

Acute Care

Patients receive short-term treatment for an urgent medical condition, severe injury or illness.

Advance Directive

Written document stating how an individual wants medical decisions to be made if he or she should lose the ability to make their own decisions.

Ambulatory Care

Health services rendered to patients who are not confined to a hospital bed as inpatients.

Ancillary Care

Wide range of healthcare services which support the work of a primary physician. These include laboratory, radiology, pharmacy and physical therapy.

Beds, Licensed

Number of beds a hospital is licensed or certified by the state to maintain.

Beds, Operational

Number of beds licensed, physically set up and available for use in a hospital.

Centers of Excellence

Healthcare facilities specially equipped for and specializing in complex procedures.

Chronic Care

Medical care that addresses pre-existing or long-term illnesses.

Critical Care

Specialized care of patients with life-threatening conditions.


Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act established in 1996 to help consumers maintain their health insurance coverage if they lose or change their job. HIPPA also mandates regulations that govern privacy standards for healthcare information.


Physician who assumes care from the patient’s primary doctor when the patient is hospitalized, communicates with the primary doctor and returns the patient to the care of primary doctor when the patient is discharged from the hospital.

Freestanding ER

Facility licensed by the state to provide 24-hour emergency services to patients at the same level as a hospital-based emergency room.

Informed Consent

Legal concept requiring a patient or patient’s guardian to be advised of and to understand the risks associated with a proposed procedure or treatment prior to approving such procedure or treatment, usually indicated by a signed written statement.


Patient who receives medical services while in a hospital or other healthcare institution for a minimum of one night.

Intensive Care Unit

Hospital unit where specialized medical equipment and services are provided for seriously injured or ill patients.

NICU (Neonatal Intensive Care Unit)

Hospital unit for babies requiring extra care.

Neonatal Care Levels

Established by the American Academy of Pediatrics to categorize hospitals according to the care they can provide to newborns. Facilities offering neonatal intensive care must meet healthcare standards through federal/state licensing or certification.

Level I: Basic newborn care for healthy, full-term babies while stabilizing babies born near term for transfer to facilities for advanced care.

Level II: Advanced newborn care for babies born at greater than 32 weeks gestation or who are recovering from more serious conditions.

Level III: Care for babies born at less than 32 weeks gestation and babies born with critical illness at all gestational ages.

Level IV: the most acute care including the surgical repair of complex congenital or acquired conditions.

Medical Ethics Committee

Established to promote patient rights, shared decision making between patients and their clinicians and to enhance the ethical environment for health care professionals.

Nurse Navigator

Professional registered nurse who offers individualized assistance to patients, families and caregivers.

Nurse Practitioner

Registered nurse who has successfully completed an advanced formal program of study designed to prepare registered nurses to provide primary healthcare.

Patient Bill of Rights

Outlines the basic rights of each patient in a healthcare facility.

Power of Attorney

Legal document granting authority for an individual to act for another person in specified or all legal or financial matters

Primary Care

Basic or general healthcare traditionally provided by doctors trained in family practice, pediatrics and internal medicine.

Primary Stroke Center

Hospital-based center with the resources and processes to care for acute stroke patients.

Tertiary Care

Sophisticated treatment of complex or serious conditions provided by highly trained staff in specialized units.

Trauma Care Levels

Established by the American Trauma Society, trauma care levels (I, II, III, IV or V) refer to the resources available in a trauma center.

Level I: Total care for every aspect of injury with 24-hour coverage by general surgeons and prompt availability of care in orthopedic surgery, neurosurgery, anesthesiology, emergency medicine, radiology, internal medicine, plastic surgery, oral and maxillofacial, pediatric and critical care.

Level II: Care for all injured patients with 24-hour immediate coverage by general surgeons along with coverage of orthopedic surgery, neurosurgery, anesthesiology, emergency medicine, radiology and critical care.

Level III: Prompt assessment, resuscitation, surgery, intensive care and stabilization of injured patients and emergency operations. 24-hour immediate coverage by emergency medicine physicians and the prompt availability of general surgeons and anesthesiologists.

Level IV: Advanced trauma life support (ATLS) prior to patient transfer to a higher level trauma center. Provides evaluation, stabilization, and diagnostic capabilities for injured patients with basic emergency department facilities for ATLS protocols and 24-hour lab.