9 Utterly Important Terms to Describe a Patient's Condition

9 Terms to Describe a Patient's Condition
In the event of a shootout or wreck, one often hears in the news that some victims are in 'critical' condition, while others are 'serious'. These terms can be intimidating and confusing at the same time. But what exactly does critical condition mean? And what is worse, critical or serious condition? Find the answer in this HealthHearty post, that deals with such terms used to explain a patient's condition.
HealthHearty Staff
Last Updated: Apr 9, 2018
Did You Know?
A patient who has suffered a stroke is usually reported as 'guarded' or 'serious' for the first 24 hours. On the other hand, heart attack victims are considered 'critical' for the first 24 to 48 hours.
Hospitals often have to deal with the tough task of conveying a patient's condition to his/her family. When such patients are wreck victims, or celebrities, then they have to answer an inquisitive news media as well. The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) passed by the US Federal Government in 1996, forbids hospitals from disclosing any information about a patient's condition without his prior consent, to protect his privacy. Moreover, most people inquiring about a patient just want to know if he is getting better, rather than complex details of his medical condition. For this reason, the American Hospital Association (AHA) advises physicians to use general terms while describing a patient's state.

Medical conditions expressed in general terms are not conclusive, and therefore, used more by laymen and the media, rather than by doctors in treating patients. While deciding a patient's state, a physician monitors his vital signs and indicators. The vital signs are body temperature, pulse rate, blood pressure, and breathing rate, which should be within prescribed limits. Indicators are signs shown by the patient, which helps physicians decide the next course of action, and also predict the likely outcome. The different terms used to describe a patient's condition are given below, in no particular order.
Undetermined
Hospitals often have to deal with the tough task of conveying a patient's condition to his/her family. When such patients The patient has not been assessed by a physician yet, so his condition is unknown, and treatment hasn't begun.
Good/Satisfactory
Patient feeling good
The patient's vital signs are stable and within the prescribed limits. He is conscious and feels comfortable. An excellent outcome is expected, and such a patient may be discharged from hospital soon.
Fair
Patient conscious about decease
The patient's vital signs may be stable and within the prescribed limits. While he may be conscious, there may be minor complications, making him somewhat uncomfortable. A favorable outcome can be expected. An example of such a case would be someone who has opted for elective surgery, but has suffered minor complications thereafter.
Serious/Poor/Guarded
Serious patient in ICU
The patient's vital signs may fluctuate and not adhere to safe limits. He may be seriously ill. The outcome is questionable, with indicators being unclear. Someone who has suffered major complications after undergoing a surgery will fall in this category. While sometimes, the term 'guarded' is often used instead of 'serious', it indicates someone whose condition has stabilized, but it is unknown if it will improve or get worse. Such a patient is still in some danger.
Critical
Patient in critical condition
The patient's vital signs are fluctuating and do not satisfy the prescribed limits. He may have lost consciousness. An unfavorable outcome―even death―is likely, due to adverse indicators. Such a patient usually requires critical care, or treatment in the intensive care unit.
Deceased
Patient in hospital
It is used to denote the death of a patient while receiving treatment at the hospital. Such a declaration is usually made only after notifying the patient's next-of-kin. However, the cause of death can only be decided by the medical examiner or the physician treating the patient.
Treated and Released
Doctor and patient
This term is used for a patient who has received treatment from a hospital, and released immediately, without being admitted.
Treated and Transferred
Patient transferred from hospital
This indicates a patient who has received some treatment from a hospital, after which he was transferred to another hospital or facility for further treatment.
Stable
It means that the vital parameters of a patient are stable, and may sometimes be used instead of the term 'fair'. It is rarely used alone, but often in conjunction with other terms such as 'serious but stable', 'critical but stable', etc. A 'critical but stable' patient is one who has a life-threatening condition, but his vital parameters are not likely to fluctuate in the next 24 hours. However, the AHA advises hospitals against using this term even in conjunction with other conditions. This is because terms like 'serious' and 'critical' indicate a degree of instability by themselves, and when used with the term 'stable', may cause some confusion.
In a comparison of critical vs. serious conditions, the latter involves more hope of recovery, as the indicators in this case are merely doubtful, while the former is a life-threatening situation, which can easily result in death. So, these conditions can be arranged in a progressively worse order, as good, fair, serious, and critical. However, it should be noted that all hospitals do not use the same criteria while deciding a patient's condition. So, a patient's condition may change just because he was transferred to a different facility, even without any change in his health.