The ABCs of health IT: 26 terms to know

The health IT lexicon is so diverse and technical it can often seem like leaders immersed in the field are speaking a different language. To help keep up with the lingo, here are quick definitions of 26 commonly used words and phrases.

A is for analytics. Analytics is the systemic analysis of data. The type of clinical analytics is determined by the data involved, the information's users and the clinical decisions supported by the analysis, according to HIMSS. Analytics can be retrospective or prospective.

B is for big data. Big data is a catchall term referring to the technologies and actions necessary to solve a problem using large amounts of unstructured data, according to HIMSS. Big data and analytics go hand-in-hand. 

C is for the cloud. At the most basic level, the cloud is an intangible network of servers that provide services or run applications, according to Mashable. Users are able to pay to use a cloud-provided service, rather than purchasing their own hardware. The service will run through the Internet, rather than through an application downloaded to a physical computer. 

D is for data breach. A data breach occurs when an unauthorized individual or group views, copies or steals protected information, whether with malicious intent or on accident. External hackers are often the first culprits to come to mind when discussing data breaches, but breaches can also be caused by malicious or negligent insiders. 

E is for EHR. An electronic health record is an electronic version of a patient's medical history, according to CMS. EHR adoption is driven largely in part by federal mandates, such as meaningful use. Many competing health IT vendors, such as Epic and Cerner, offer EHRs. 

F is for FHIR. Fast Healthcare Interoperability Resources were developed by Health Level 7. FHIR is a standards framework created to support interoperability. The standards can be applied to mobile phone apps, cloud communications, EHR-based data sharing, server communication and more. 

G is for genomics. Genomics is the study of genes and their functions. Genomics, as opposed to genetics, focuses on all genes and their relationships with one another to better understand their influence on growth and development of an organism, according to the World Health Organization. Genomics is a key element of precision medicine, which takes into account people's gene variability, environment and lifestyle to tailor disease treatment and preventive healthcare to individuals. 

H is for HIPAA. The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, designed to protect healthcare information security and confidentiality, was enacted in 1996. HIPAA regulations apply to all healthcare providers, health plans and healthcare clearinghouses. HIPAA violations can come with both civil and criminal penalties administered by HHS. 

I is for interoperability. Interoperability is the term used to describe the ability of disparate health IT systems to exchange and interpret data, according to HIMSS. Interoperability is a key goal in the health IT field, and a complex one to achieve, considering the multitude of different vendors and users. 

J is for Java. Java is a programming language first released in 1995. Many types of software in health IT run off of and continued to be developed in Java. 

K is for KLAS. KLAS is a research firm focused on healthcare technology. The company compiles insight from healthcare professionals, analyzes the data and releases the research. The company's reports include vendor performance reviews and industry analyses. KLAS is well known for its "Best in KLAS" report, which ranks healthcare software and services across a range of categories. 

L is for legacy system. A legacy system, often used to describe an older EHR, refers to any software system that is difficult and expensive to maintain and upgrade, according to the Texas Medical Association

M is for meaningful use. Meaningful use is the federal government's EHR incentive program, first established under the Health Information Technology for Economic and Clinical Health Act of 2009. MU is broken into three stages. The first stage of the program focuses on data capture and sharing. Stage 2 focuses on advanced clinical processes. Stage 3 is geared toward improved outcomes. The program is facing an overhaul, as announced in January. The revamped program will have an increased focus on outcomes, innovation and interoperability. 

N is for network. A hospital or health system's network will be comprised of its computers and devices that are able to communicate and share information.

O is for the ONC. The Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology is under the umbrella of the Office of the Secretary of HHS. The federal entity is focused on nationwide efforts to implement health IT and support the electronic exchange of health information. 

P is for PHI. Protected health information includes:

• Names
• Birth dates, death dates, treatment dates, admission dates and discharge dates
• Telephone numbers and other contact information
• Addresses
• Social Security numbers
• Medical record numbers
• Photographs
• Finger and voice prints
• Any other identifying numbers

Q is for query. A query is the term used to describe the search of a data collection, such as records stored in a database, according to the Academy of Managed Care Pharmacy.

R is for ransomware. Ransomware is a type of malware designed to restrict a user's access to a network or device and demand ransom in exchange for restoring access. The three most common types of this malware include locker ransomware, crypto ransomware and hybrid ransomware. 

S is for SaaS. Software-as-a-service is a software distribution model. In this model, users access software hosted, typically on the cloud, by a vendor, according to Power Your Practice. The software is delivered via the Internet. 

T is for telemedicine. Telemedicine is two-way, real-time interactive communication between a healthcare provider and patient or another provider at a distant site. The communication is supported by, at minimum, audio and video equipment. Telemedicine has been cited as particularly helpful in rural areas, where access to healthcare and healthcare specialists can be difficult.

U is for user interface. A user interface refers to how users interact with a computer program, the display users see and the processes required to view and enter information into the program. 

V is for virus. A virus is a type of malicious software program that can infect a computer or entire network.

W is for workflow. Workflow refers to the series of physical and intellectual tasks performed within a work environment, according to the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality. In the context of health IT, the term is discussed to better understand how technology can support, rather than disrupt, day-to-day tasks. 

X is for XML. XML stands for "extensible markup language." It is a text-based format for sharing data. The format allows for the automated creation of queries against an EHR for quality reporting, according to the National Quality Forum

Y is for Yottabyte. A yottabyte, a data storage term, is the equivalent of a billion petabytes, according to Forbes. A single yottabyte could store 250 trillion DVDs, according to Gigaom. The term may not be used all that often in health IT now, but has big data continues to grow it could become a standard part of the field's vocabulary. 

Z is for zombie startup. Healthcare is rife with startups, some wildly successful and others just a flash in the pan. "Zombie startups" refer to faltering companies, while "unicorn startups" refer to those companies that reach a billion dollar valuation.

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