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The Latest Word

January 1, 1998
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The business of healthcare has sprung a language all its own, and so has information technology. But put the two together and you’ve got what may be the most inaccessible argot of acronyms and assertions an industry has ever depended upon.

What’s the difference between EDI and EFT? Between an IPA and an HMO? Between an Experience Rating and Outcomes Measurement? For this first edition of The Latest Word, contributing writer Pamela Tabar scoured the business, healthcare and computer press for words, acronyms, and usages that are the currency of intellectual exchange in healthcare today. Nearly 30 sources were mined for the most current vocabulary contributions; more than 90 percent of the terms were verified in at least three sources. And you don’t have to be a programmer to read the definitions.

You’ll find more space devoted to hard-to-find words. Entries are cross-referenced in bold type, and acronyms/abbreviations are cross-listed with definitions following whichever form is best known. Many terms relate to the Internet and the Web, where healthcare is rapidly heading. Keep this industry glossary handy for future reference.

Send us your comments--and especially your recommendations for future editions to: Terry Monahan

AAPCC: [managed care] Adjusted Average Per Capita Cost. The amount of funding a managed care plan receives from the Health Care Financing Administration to cover costs. The formula, calculated by region, allows for 95 percent of fee-for-service rates.

ACR-NEMA: [telemedicine] American College of Radiology and the National Equipment Manufacturers Association. Together, these two groups have determined many of the standards for teleradiology, including DICOM.

ActiveX: An object-oriented programming language developed by Microsoft. Originally designed to run in Windows, ActiveX is now used in Web sites and the Internet Explorer browser. Also See Java.

Admission-discharge-transfer system (ADT): A software system healthcare facilities use to track patients from their arrival to their departure.

AI: See artificial intelligence.

Alpha site: An initial test site for a prototype system or product, usually in a controlled setting such as a laboratory. Compare beta site.

Ambulatory care: [managed care] Services for patients who do not need to stay in a healthcare facility overnight. Also called out-patient care.

American National Standards Institute (ANSI): The many committees and accreditation boards of this non-profit organization work to establish acceptance of electronic data standards. ANSI is the U.S. member of the International Standards Organization (ISO).

Analog transmission: A method of information transfer that transforms varying frequencies and volumes of sound into electric impulses. Standard telephones use this, but other communication forms are quickly gaining popularity such as cellular (radio waves), digital and satellite. Compare digital transmission.

Ancillary services: Tests, procedures, imaging and support services provided in a healthcare setting.

ANSI: See American National Standards Institute.

Applet: See Java.

Application server: Unlike a general file server, this server is loaded with sophisticated hardware geared toward performing a few specific application tasks.

Architecture: This structure term refers to a system’s form and how its pieces communicate and work together. Also see client/server and tiered architecture.

Artificial intelligence (AI): Both a system and a concept, this refers to the idea of a computer system that can think and "learn" like a human. A computer with artificial intelligence could update and increase its knowledge based on previous problems and results, making itself "smarter." Also see expert system and symbolic reasoning.

ASCII: American Standard Code for Information Interchange. This coding language translates each character into a numeric form readable by any computer. This "universal" language allows otherwise incompatible systems to exchange information.

Asynchronous transfer mode (ATM): A telecommunications method for relaying images, sound and text simultaneously at very high speeds.

Attachment: Any extra information appended to a claim or electronic message, and may include graphics as well as text. Also see MIME.

Audit trail: A software tracking system used for data security. An audit trail is attached to a file each time it is opened so an operator can trace who has accessed a file and when.

Backbone network: The electronic spine that joins multiple networks together, including the Internet, most commonly via T1 lines.