Common Terms & Acronyms

You will come across many terms during your search for skilled nursing provider, and keeping track of all those words and meanings can be challenging without some assistance. Below is a list of the most common jargon in skilled nursing industry.


Activities of Daily Living (ADLs, ADL)

An individual’s daily habits such as bathing, dressing and eating. ADLs are often used as an assessment tool to determine an individual’s ability to function at home, or in a less restricted environment of care.

Advance Directive

A legal document outlining medical decisions to be made for a person should he or she not be fully capable of deciding for themselves due to the nature of his or her injury or illness. These directives can include Living Wills or Durable Power of Attorney.

Acute Care

A pattern of health care in which a patient is treated for an acute (immediate and severe) episode of illness, for the subsequent treatment of injuries related to an accident or other trauma, or during recovery from surgery. Specialized personnel using complex and sophisticated technical equipment and materials usually give acute care in a hospital. Unlike chronic care, acute care is often necessary for only a short time.

Assisted Living

Broad range of residential care services, but does not include nursing services. Normally lower in cost than nursing homes.

CCRC (Continuing Care Retirement Community)

A campus or community that provides multiple levels of care to residents based on their needs, including independent living, assisted living or skilled nursing care. Residents can move from one level to another based on their needs without having to travel far.


A person who is providing care for someone recovering from an illness, injury or disease.

Case Manager

A nurse, doctor, or social worker who works with patients, providers and insurers to coordinate all services deemed necessary to provide the patient with a plan of medically necessary and appropriate health care.

Census (Occupancy Rate)

A measure of inpatient health facility use, determined by dividing available bed days by patient days. It measures the average percentage of a hospital’s beds occupied and may be institution-wide or specific for one department or service.

Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS)

The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) is a Federal agency within the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Programs for which CMS is responsible include Medicare, Medicaid, State Children’s Health Insurance Program (SCHIP), HIPAA and CLIA. Formerly was HCFA. Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services has historically maintained the UB-92 institutional EMC format specifications, the professional EMC NSF specifications, and specifications for various certifications and authorizations used by the Medicare and Medicaid programs. CMS is responsible for oversight of HIPAA administrative simplification transaction and code sets, health identifiers, and security standards. CMS also maintains the HCPCS medical code set and the Medicare Remittance Advice Remark Codes administrative code set.

Discharge Planning

Required by Medicare and JCAHO for all hospital patients. A procedure where aftercare services are determined for after discharge from the inpatient facility.

Durable Power of Attorney

A legal document that designates a specific individual to act on a person’s behalf should they become disabled or incapacitated.


Various federal and state government programs that provide financial benefits or services to people who meet specific eligible conditions. Entitlement programs include Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, and more.


Washing hair and shaving as needed.

HMO (Health Maintenance Organization)

A type of care plan where a person receives health benefits from a specific network of doctors, hospitals, and other health care providers who receive compensation from a specific insurance company or entitlements program.

Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (HIPAA)

A Federal law that allows persons to qualify immediately for comparable health insurance coverage when they change their employment relationships. This legislation sets a precedent for Federal involvement in insurance regulation. It sets minimum standards for regulation of the small group insurance market and for a set group in the individual insurance market in the area of portability and availability of health insurance. As a result of this law, hospitals, doctors and insurance companies are now required to share patient medical records and personal information on a wider basis. This wide-based sharing of medical records has led to privacy rules, greater computerization of records and consumer concerns about confidentiality. In addition, HIPAA required the creation of a federal law to protect personally identifiable health information; if that did not occur by a specific date (which it did not), HIPAA directed the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) to issue federal regulations with the same purpose. DHHS has issued HIPAA privacy regulations (the HIPAA Privacy Rule) as well as other regulations under HIPAA. HIPAA gives HHS the authority to mandate the use of standards for the electronic exchange of health care data; to specify what medical and administrative code sets should be used within those standards; to require the use of national identification systems for health care patients, providers, payers (or plans), and employers (or sponsors); and to specify the types of measures required to protect the security and privacy of personally identifiable health care information. Also known as the Kennedy-Kassebaum Bill, the Kassebaum-Kennedy Bill, K2, or Public Law 104-191.

Hospice Care

An array of services that provides care for terminally ill patients. Hospice Care also provides support and counseling for families as well. Also see Palliative Care.

Independent Living

A facility for seniors who are healthy, mobile and capable of living on their own. Independent Living Facilities may also offer some level of care should residents need it.

Inpatient Care

Health care provided to an individual in a hospital or other institutional setting.

Length of Stay (LOS)

The duration of an episode of care for a covered person. The number of days an individual stays in a hospital or inpatient facility. May also be reviewed as Average Length of Stay (ALOS).

Long-term Care (LTC)

A set of health care, personal care and social services required by persons who have lost, or never acquired, some degree of functional capacity (e.g., the chronically ill, aged, disabled, or retarded) in an institution or at home, on a long-term basis. The term is often used more narrowly to refer only to long-term institutional care such as that provided in nursing homes, homes for the retarded and mental hospitals. Long-term care can be provided at home, in the community, or in various types of facilities, including nursing homes and assisted living facilities. Most long-term care is custodial care. Medicare doesn’t pay for this type of care if this is the only kind of care a person needs. However, Medicaid and long-term care insurance plans do provide some coverage for long-term care. Ambulatory services such as home health care, which can also be provided on a long-term basis, are seen as alternatives to long-term institutional care.

Long-term Care Insurance

Insurance designed to pay for some or all of the costs of long term care.

Managed Care

Systems and techniques used to control the use of health care services. Includes a review of medical necessity records, incentives to use certain providers, and case management. The body of clinical, financial and organizational activities designed to ensure the provision of appropriate health care services in a cost-efficient manner. Managed care techniques are most often practiced by organizations and professionals that assume risk for a defined population (e.g., health maintenance organizations) but this is not always the case. Managed care is a broad term and encompasses many different types of organizations, payment mechanisms, review mechanisms and collaborations. Managed care is sometimes used as a general term for the activity of organizing doctors, hospitals, and other providers into groups in order to enhance the quality and cost-effectiveness of health care. Managed Care Organizations (MCO) include HMO, PPO, POS, EPO, PHO, IDS, AHP, IPA, etc. Usually when one speaks of a managed care organization, one is speaking of the entity that manages risk, contracts with providers, is paid by employers or patient groups, or handles claims processing. Managed care has effectively formed a “go-between,” brokerage or 3rd party arrangement by existing as the gatekeeper between payers and providers and patients. The term managed care is often misunderstood, as it refers to numerous aspects of healthcare management, payment and organization. It is best to ask the speaker to clarify what he or she means when using the term “managed care.” In the purest sense, all people working in healthcare and medical insurance can be thought of as “managing care.” Any system of health payment or delivery arrangements where the plan attempts to control or coordinate use of health services by its enrolled members in order to contain health expenditures, improve quality, or both. Arrangements often involve a defined delivery system of providers with some form of contractual arrangement with the plan.

Medicaid (Title XIX)

A joint federal and state program that helps with medical costs for some people with low incomes and limited resources. Medicaid serves the poor, blind, aged, disabled or members of families with dependent children (AFDC). Each state has its own standards for qualification. A federally aided, state-operated and administered program that provides medical benefits for certain indigent or low-income persons in need of health and medical care. The program, authorized by Title XIX of the Social Security Act, is basically for the poor. It does not cover all of the poor, however, but only persons who meet specified eligibility criteria. Subject to broad federal guidelines, states determine the benefits covered, program eligibility, rates of payment for providers, and methods of administering the program. Medicaid programs vary from state to state, but most health care costs are covered for citizens who qualify for both Medicare and Medicaid. All states but Arizona have Medicaid programs.

Medicare (Title XVIII)

A federal program for the elderly and disabled, regardless of financial status. It is not necessary, as with Medicaid, for Medicare recipients to be poor. A U.S. health insurance program for people aged 65 and over, for persons eligible for social security disability payments for two years or longer, and for certain workers and their dependents who need kidney transplantation or dialysis. Monies from payroll taxes and premiums from beneficiaries are deposited in special trust funds for use in meeting the expenses incurred by the insured. It consists of two separate but coordinated programs: hospital insurance (Part A) and supplementary medical insurance (Part B) – and a separate drug coverage program administered by the private sector (Part D). Medicare covers more than 16% of population. It is the largest insurance program or health plan in the US. See also CMS.

Medicare Part A

The Medicare component that provides basic hospital insurance to cover the costs of inpatient hospital services, confinement in nursing facilities or other extended care facilities after hospitalization, home care services following hospitalization, and hospice care.

Medicare Part B

The Medicare component that provides benefits to cover the costs of physicians’ professional services, whether the services are provided in a hospital, a physician’s office, an extended-care facility, a nursing home, or an insured’s home.

Medicare Part D

A program to aid with the costs of prescription drug expenses for Medicare beneficiaries.

Medicare Prescription Drug Plan (PDP or MPDP)

A stand-alone drug plan, offered by insurers and other private companies to beneficiaries that receive their Medicare Part A and/or B benefits through the Original Medicare Plan; Medicare Private Fee-for-Service Plans that don’t offer prescription drug coverage; and Medicare Cost Plans offering Medicare prescription drug coverage. These stand-alone plans add prescription drug coverage to the Original Medicare Plan and to some Medicare Cost Plans and Medicare Private Fee-for-Service Plans. Managed by commercial and private entities, these PDPs are a type of managed care. When people join a Medicare Prescription Drug Plan, they use the plan member cards when purchasing prescriptions. When they use their cards, they will normally get discounts on their prescriptions, provided that the drugs are on the approved or covered lists and they are not operating within the “donut hole.” Costs will vary depending on recipients’ financial situations and which Medicare Prescription Drug Plans they chose. If an individual has limited income and resources, he or she may get extra help to cover prescription drugs for little or no cost. All MPDPs are not the same and will have varying costs, benefits, doctor choices, conveniences, and quality.


A Medicare supplement insurance policy sold by private insurance companies to cover areas that are not covered by typical Medicare plans.

Nutritional Management

A care service designed to assist patients with a balanced diet.

Occupational Therapy

Treatment given to help with resuming everyday activities such as bathing, preparing meals and housekeeping following an injury or illness.

Outpatient Care

Care given to a person who is not bedridden; also called ambulatory care. Many surgeries and treatments are now provided on an outpatient basis, while previously this had been considered the reason for inpatient hospitalization. Some say this is the fastest growing segment of healthcare.

Oral Hygiene

Brushing teeth or taking care of dentures.

Pain Management

A care service designed to assist patients with the prevention and treatment of pain.

Palliative Care

An array of services that provides care for terminally ill patients. Palliative Care also provides support and counseling for families as well. Also see Hospice Care.

Physical Therapy

Treatment of injury and disease via exercise, massage and other physical activities.

Post-Acute Care

Medical care specifically designed to help a patient recover after a hospital stay.

Public Aid

An entitlements program where the government provides financial benefits to the poor, elderly, or disabled


The process of sending a patient from one practitioner to another for health care services. Health Plans may require that designated primary care providers authorize a referral for coverage of specialty services. Normally, this type of referral means a written order from the enrollee’s primary care doctor for the enrollee to see a specialist or get certain services. In many HMOs or Health Plans, an enrollee must get a referral before the enrollee can get care from anyone except the primary care doctor. Without a formal referral, the plan may not pay for the care.


Rehabilitative services are normally ordered by a doctor to help a patient recover from an illness or injury. These services are given by nurses and physical, occupational, and speech therapists. Examples include working with a physical therapist to help a patient walk after surgery or working with an occupational therapist to help a patient learn how to get dressed after a stroke.

Respite Care

A care service designed to give the everyday caregiver a rest or break from providing care for their loved one. Nursing homes, assisted living facilities, and other long-term care facilities provide this service, caring for the loved one for a short period of time.

Restorative Nursing

A nursing program designed to assist persons who have a debilitating illness or injury. These programs help to restore the persons abilities so they can continue the healing process.

Secondary Coverage

Health plan that pays costs not covered by primary coverage under coordination of benefits rules. Any insurance that supplements Medicare coverage. The three main sources for secondary insurance are employers, privately purchased Medigap plans, and Medicaid.

Skilled Care

A type of health care given when a patient needs skilled nursing or rehabilitation staff to manage, observe, and evaluate care. Generally refers to a level of care that is lower, or less intense, than inpatient hospital care.

Skilled Nursing Care

A level of care that includes services that can only be performed safely and correctly by a licensed nurse (either a registered nurse or a licensed practical nurse).

Skilled Nursing Facility (SNF)

A licensed institution, as defined by Medicare, which is primarily engaged in the provision of skilled nursing care. SNFs are usually DRG or PPS exempt and are located within hospitals, but sometimes are located in rehab facilities or nursing homes. SNFs provide a level of care that requires the daily involvement of skilled nursing or rehabilitation staff and that, as a practical matter, can’t be provided on an outpatient basis. Examples of skilled nursing facility care include the provision of such services as intravenous injections and physical therapy. The need for custodial care (for example, assistance with activities of daily living, like bathing and dressing) may not, in itself, qualify for reimbursement in a skilled nursing facility by Medicare or other health plans.

Speech Therapy

Treatment to regain and strengthen speech skills typically following a stroke or other neurological injuries.

Sub-Acute Care

An inpatient care service for those recovering from an illness, injury, or disease who do not need to be treated for immediate or acute conditions.


Maintaining control of bowels and bladder or independently managing incontinence issues.


Walking from place to place as necessary, or at the very least, being capable of transferring from the bed to the walker or the wheelchair and back.

Transitional Care

A care service designed to provide health care to a patient during a transition from one healthcare setting to another, typically at a hospital, skilled nursing facility or the patient’s home.


A health care program for active duty and/or retired uniformed service members, as well as their families.