Abbreviations and acronyms are shorthand for terms, and they’re commonly used in caregiving, nursing homes, and long-term care. There are thousands of abbreviations used in health care, which can confuse the average layperson. When you have a loved one receiving care, most providers will use an abbreviation in their communication.
Jump ahead to these sections:
- Common Caregiving Abbreviations and Acronyms Explained
- Common Nursing Home Abbreviations and Acronyms Explained
- Common Assisted Living Abbreviations and Acronyms Explained
- Other Long-Term Care Abbreviations and Acronyms Explained
The reason abbreviations and acronyms continue to dominate health care is the increasing documentation requirements for providers. Abbreviations save time when documenting care. Busy care staff has become accustomed to using these abbreviations when speaking with patients and their families. We won’t cover every abbreviation, but we’ll explain the most common ones you may encounter. Many of the same ones are used across healthcare settings.
Common Caregiving Abbreviations and Acronyms Explained
Caregiving is a broad category, but for our purposes, we’ll cover private caregivers hired through an agency or online company. The duties of a caregiver depend upon the setting in which they work. State regulations dictate the tasks that caregivers can perform, and many states restrict some caregivers from doing anything medical.
1. CNA (certified nursing assistant)
CNAs work across healthcare settings in caregiving situations where some medical expertise is required. For example, if your state permits a caregiver to provide injections, most agencies would require that a CNA do that task.
A CNA has basic training in checking vital signs and other medical duties. CNA training includes blood pressure, setting up medical equipment, checking vital signs, transferring, checking on catheters, and ADLs.
2. ADLs (activities of daily living)
ADL is one of the most common terms in health care due to the high need for assistance in these areas. ADLs include grooming, bathing, dressing, eating, walking, transferring, and toileting. Needing help with ADLs happens in response to an accident, hospitalization, or general decline in functioning. Sometimes a person requires assistance with ADLs temporarily, and other times the need is ongoing.
3. PCA (personal care assistant)
A PCA is someone who can assist an older or disabled person who needs help with ADLs. Many states and companies don’t require formal certification to be a PCA but do ask for training. PCAs generally make less per hour than CNAs because they don’t have any medical expertise. The care they provide, including companionship, is vital to the wellbeing of older adults and their families.
4. IADLs (instrumental activities of daily living)
There is a crossover between ADLs and IADLs, but generally speaking, IADLs require the ability to use judgment and organize. Activities in this category include managing finances, maintaining the home environment, shopping, planning and cooking meals, driving, using the phone, and engaging in preferred recreational and leisure activities. It is possible for someone to need help with IADLs due to dementia, for example, but have no ADL requirements.
5. DNR (do not resuscitate)
DNR is a term used across all healthcare settings and designates the patient’s wishes regarding actions if they stop breathing and their heart stops. Some people do not want resuscitation, and a DNR instructs first responders or health providers on those wishes.
6. CPR (cardiopulmonary resuscitation)
CPR is the action used when someone’s heart stops beating and they stop breathing. If someone does not have a DNR, efforts are made to resuscitate the person. Most caregivers have basic training in manual CPR.
Common Nursing Home Abbreviations and Acronyms Explained
Nursing homes have a wide range of medical professionals to help someone recover from a serious injury or illness. Some nursing homes are for long-term care, and others are strictly for rehabilitation. State and federal requirements for healthcare professionals in nursing homes are stringent. Nursing homes are often called SNF’s.
7. RN (registered nurse)
Registered nurses are the backbone of our healthcare system and perform a wide range of complex medical duties. In most cases, they oversee the CNAs and medical technicians who dispense medications. RNs can do wound care, change catheters, give injections, operate complicated medical equipment, and report to the doctor. RNs also work in home health, assisted living, doctor’s offices, and emergency rooms.
8. LPN (licensed practical nurse)
An LPN does not have the extensive training that an RN does, but an LPN can perform essential duties like changing bandages, feeding and bathing patients, and dispensing medications.
9. PT (physical therapist)
PTs are a vital part of the healthcare team in any nursing home. PTs assist patients with rehabilitation and learning how to walk, balance, and transfer safely. Most PT certification programs require a doctorate and extensive on-site training. PTs work in hospitals, home health, nursing homes, and outpatient clinics.
10. OT (occupational therapists)
Occupational therapists help patients recover the skills necessary to perform a job and do home and leisure activities. They focus on communication skills, problem-solving, and regaining the ability to perform ADLs and IADLs.
11. UTI (urinary tract infection)
UTIs can occur in both males and females in all settings, including at home. UTIs are prevalent due to lack of mobility, catheters, dehydration, and decreasing immune system. UTIs respond well to treatment and are often challenging to detect without a urinalysis.
12. COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease)
COPD is an incurable lung disease that is the third leading cause of death in the US. Nursing homes often have patients with COPD, which can complicate recovery from other conditions.
13. CHF (congestive heart failure)
Congestive heart failure is when the heart does not pump blood adequately, causing shortness of breath, fatigue, and elevated heart rate.
14. AFIB (atrial fibrillation)
AFIB is a common condition characterized by an irregular heartbeat. Some people are treated with medications, cardioversion, ablation, or a pacemaker.
15. BID and TID
BID stands for “bis in die,” which means twice a day. TID stands for “ter in die,” and means three times a day. Both terms refer to medications, blood pressure checks, or any other duties.
Common Assisted Living Abbreviations and Acronyms Explained
Most assisted living communities have nurses and aides to assist their residents and may use any abbreviations mentioned above. They also use the following common abbreviations.
16. ALF or AL
ALF and AL are used interchangeably to describe assisted living facilities or communities. These two abbreviations are used exclusively for communities that offer assistance with activities of daily living and a variety of amenities.
17. CCRC (continuing care retirement community)
A CCRC provides multiple levels of care on one campus or building. Depending on your changing care needs, you can choose between independent, assisted, or nursing home care or transition between them. Most CCRCs require a deposit along with a monthly fee.
Other Long-Term Care Abbreviations and Acronyms Explained
There are numerous other long-term care abbreviations and acronyms. Outpatient medical clinics, hospitals, and home care are changing all the time. Sometimes insurance dictates what disciplines, equipment, and medical services are paid for, and other times, the medical team decides what is appropriate.
18. ER (emergency room)
The ER is also sometimes referred to as the ED or emergency department.
19. HH (home health)
Home health is a time-limited medical service covered by insurance. Home health staff include nurses, PTs, OTs, and respiratory and speech therapists. Home health occurs at home or in assisted living, independent senior living, and CCRCs.
20. DME (durable medical equipment)
Durable medical equipment is equipment expected to withstand repeated use. Some examples include wheelchairs, walkers, oxygen, scooters, prosthetics, hospital beds, and kidney dialysis machines. DME is typically covered under most insurance if the patient qualifies for the equipment.
21. SSW (social service worker), LCSW (licensed clinical social worker), MSW (master of social work)
Social worker certification and licensure differ among states. Social workers assist patients with family and individual counseling, assessment of needs, and connecting people with resources. A social worker may also assist with referral to an appropriate level of care.
22. PCP (primary care physician)
A PCP is your primary care physician who oversees your health care. You could also have specialists like a cardiologist or ophthalmologist, but your PCP is your primary doctor who makes referrals to other specialties and manages your overall care.
23. PA (physician's assistant)
A PA works under the supervision of an MD and is a licensed medical professional who holds an advanced degree. A PA can direct care and diagnose and treat illnesses. PAs work in doctor’s offices and outpatient medical clinics, hospitals, and nursing homes.
24. APRN (advanced practice nurse) or DNP (doctor of nursing practice)
Advance practice nurses have either a master's or doctorate in nursing and usually practice in a specialty medical field. APRNs can practice independently and diagnose and prescribe treatment and medications.
25. LTAC (long-term acute care)
An LTAC is a specialty unit in a hospital or a free-standing unit that treats patients with complex and ongoing medical needs. An example would be a patient who has oxygen requirements that can’t be met in an outpatient setting. The care is intensive and round the clock.
26. ICU (intensive care unit)
Intensive care units are specialty hospital units for patients who have severe or life-threatening illnesses and injuries. An ICU is set up to provide more intensive staffing, close supervision, and life support equipment.
27. PRN (pro re nata)
PRN stands for pro re nata, which means “when the circumstances arise.” It can apply to medications or other treatment that is not scheduled but only used as needed. PRN usually refers to medications, an example being pain medication that the patient only uses when they need it.
28. I&O (intake and output)
Intake and output is used for measuring the intake of fluids via mouth or IV and the urine output.
29. POA (power of attorney)
A POA is a person with the authority to obtain healthcare information and act as an advocate. Any hospital, home health, nursing home, or other healthcare settings will want to know who the POA is in the event that the patient is not able to make decisions about ongoing or end-of-life care.
Caregiving, Nursing Home and Long-Term Care Abbreviations
The list of healthcare abbreviations and acronyms is not exhaustive but should give you a good idea of the terms most often used. Busy healthcare providers often use abbreviations without realizing you may not know what they’re referring to. Don’t hesitate to ask for an explanation so that you and your loved ones can be informed about care.