Oct 04, 2016 8:00 AM

Author: Jen Jenkins, MPC


Have you ever talked to a receptionist, doctor, or health insurance rep and felt like this?

Sometimes we health care peeps forget that the words we use can sound a bit foreign.* It’s not like you need a vocabulary lesson when you don’t feel well! Always ask if you don’t understand something your health care provider says, but just in case, here are the definitions of 10 common health care terms.

1) Primary care: General health care, such as for regular checkups or visits for aches and pains, colds, the flu; you usually have to see a primary care provider before you can see a specialist or be referred to another medical professional. Learn about everything primary care treats.

2) Primary care provider: The health care doctor or caregiver that gives you general care—checkups, prescriptions, and tests. This provider could be a clinician, such as an advanced practice nurse clinician, or a person with a medical (MD) degree.

3) Family practice: A clinic or group of clinicians that provide general care (primary care!). (Maybe you’ve had a family doctor before? That doctor is a family practice doctor.)

4) Physical: A checkup by your health care provider of your overall health.

5) Co-pay: A fixed amount of money you pay when you have health insurance at the time of a health care service, such as seeing a doctor, getting lab tests, and other things.

6) Medical records: Your health information as recorded by health plans and health care providers.

7) Inpatient (vs. outpatient): A patient who is staying overnight (admitted) at a hospital or other health care facility.

8) Outpatient: A patient receiving care at a health care facility, but not staying the night. (Outpatient procedure means you may be having some kind of treatment, but you don’t have to stay overnight in the facility.

9) Out-of-pocket payment: The amount of money you pay that is not covered by insurance. This can include deductibles, coinsurance, and copayments for covered services.

10) Urgent care: Treatment for emergencies that are not life threatening but are emergencies. View this comparison of urgent care and emergency room care.

Are there more health care terms or practices you find confusing? Feel free to leave a comment, and we'll do our best to make things clear. With good communication you can better work with your health care provider to manage your care.


*FYI, I didn't know most of these until I started working in health care.

patient tips

comments powered by Disqus

Sign Up for Weekly Health Updates

Get weekly emails of the latest news from HealthFeed.

For Patients

Find a doctor or location close to you so you can get the health care you need, when you need it