Patient Care Key Terms

Patient Care Key Terms


Ambulatory care
Medical care, including diagnosis, observation, treatment, and rehabilitation, provided on an outpatient basis.


Dual loyalty
Role conflict between professional duties to a patient and obligations to the interests of a third party such as an employer, insurer, or the state. The conflict may be express or implied, real or perceived.


Essential medicines
Medicines that satisfy the priority health care needs of the population. Essential medicines are intended to be available at all times in adequate amounts, in the appropriate dosage forms, with assured quality, and at a price the individual and the community can afford.


Complete physical, mental, and social well-being, rather than merely the absence of disease or infirmity (World Health Organization).

Health care or patient care (see also Patient care)

  1. The prevention, treatment, and management of illness and the preservation of mental and physical well-being through the services offered by the medical, nursing, and allied health professions. This definition and similar ones sometimes are given for “patient care” as well. The World Health Organization states that this embraces all the goods and services designed to promote health, including preventive, curative, and palliative interventions, whether directed to individuals or populations.
  2. Any type of services provided by professionals or paraprofessionals with an impact on health status (European Observatory on Health Systems and Policy online glossary).
  3. Medical, nursing, or allied services dispensed by health care providers and health care establishments. (Declaration on Promotion of Rights of Patients in Europe, WHO, Amsterdam 1994). See also “patient care.”

Health care facility
Any health care institution such as a hospital, clinic, primary care center. May also be referred to as a medical facility.

Health care professional
Physicians, nurses, pharmacists, dentists, midwives, physician assistants, dieticians, paramedics, psychologists, therapists, or other health professionals.

Health care system
The organized provision of health care services.

Human rights in patient care
Concept that brings together the rights of both patients and health care providers and refers to the application of general human rights principles to all stakeholders in the delivery of health care. It encompasses all rights recognized under international law that are relevant to the provision of health services.


Individual rights in patient care
Rights that, when made operation, can be made enforceable on behalf of an individual patient. Individual rights in patient care are more readily expressed in absolute terms than are social rights in health care (Declaration on the Promotion of Patients’ Rights in Europe, World Health Organization, 1994). See also “social rights in health care” and “patients’ rights.”

Informed consent
A legal condition in which a person can be said to agree to a course of action based upon an appreciation and understanding of the facts and implications. The individual needs to be in possession of relevant facts and the ability to reason.

Informed consent in the health care context
A process by which a patient participates in health care choices. A patient must be provided with adequate and understandable information on matters such as the treatment’s purpose, alternative treatments, risks, and side-effects.

A patient whose care requires a stay in a hospital or hospice facility for at least one night.


Medical intervention
Any examination, treatment, or other act having preventive, diagnostic therapeutic, or rehabilitative aims and which is carried out by a physician or other health care provider (Declaration on the Promotion of Rights of Patients in Europe, WHO, Amsterdam 1994).


Neglected diseases
Diseases that almost exclusively affect underprivileged rural communities in low-income countries; such diseases generally receive inadequate attention and resources.


Patient receiving treatment without spending any nights at a health care institution.


A user of health care services, whether healthy or sick (Declaration on the Promotion of Patients’ Rights in Europe, WHO, Amsterdam 1994).

A person in contact with the health system, seeking attention for a health condition (European Observatory on Health Systems and Policies).

Patient autonomy
A patient’s right to make decisions about his or her medical care. Providers can educate and inform patients, but cannot make decisions for them.

Patient care (see also Health care)
The services rendered by members of the health professions or non-professionals under their supervision for the benefit of the patient. Similar definitions often are provided for the term “health care.”

Patient-centered care
Doctrine recognizing the provision of health services as a partnership among health care providers and patients and their families. Decisions about medical treatments must respect patients’ wants, needs,
preferences, and values.

Patient confidentiality
Doctrine holding that the physician has the duty to maintain patient confidences. This is to allow patients to make full and frank disclosure to their physician, enabling appropriate treatment and diagnosis.

Patient mobility
Concept describing patient movement beyond their catchment area or area of residence to access health care; mobility can take place within the same country or between countries.

Patient responsibility
A doctrine recognizing the doctor/patient relationship as a partnership with each side assuming certain obligations. Patient responsibilities include communicating openly with the physician or provider, participating in decisions about diagnostic and treatment recommendations, and complying with the agreed-upon treatment program.

Patients’ rights
Set of rights calling for government and health care provider accountability in the provision of quality health services. Associated with a movement empowering patients, particularly in countries where patients are assuming a greater share of health care costs and thus expect to have their rights as “consumers” respected.

A set of rights, responsibilities, and duties under which individuals seek and receive health care services (European Observatory on Health Systems and Policy online glossary).

Patient safety
Freedom from accidental injury caused by medical care or medical errors (Institute of Medicine).

Primary health care
General health services available in the community near places where people live and work; the first level of contact individuals and families have with the health system.

Public health
Collective actions of a society to ensure conditions in which people can be healthy (Institute of Medicine).


Secondary health care
General health services available in hospitals.

Social Rights in Health Care
Category of rights that relate to the societal obligation undertaken or otherwise enforced by government and other public or private bodies to make a reasonable provision of health care for the whole population. These rights also relate to the equal access to health care for all those living in a country or other geopolitical, cultural, social, or psychological. Social rights in health care are enjoyed collectively (Declaration on the Promotion of Patients’ Rights in Europe, World Health Organization, 1994). See also “individual rights in patient care.”


Terminal care
Care given to a patient when it is no longer possible to improve the fatal prognosis of his or her illness/condition with available treatment methods, as well as care at the approach of death (Declaration on the Promotion of Rights of Patients in Europe, WHO, Amsterdam 1994).

Tertiary health care
Specialized health services available in hospitals.