An inpatient is a patient who must be hospitalized for at least one night in order to receive medical treatment. This is contrast with an outpatient, a patient who only needs to stay at a hospital or clinic for a brief period of time for medical care before returning home. Inpatients are often in the hospital for surgical procedures, or for monitoring after accidents or serious medical events which compromised their health in some way.
Most hospitals try to minimize the number of inpatients they have, restricting bed space specifically to those who need it, and encouraging their staff to perform as many outpatient procedures as possible. This is done for reasons of efficiency, as outpatients are less expensive to care for, and they often appreciate being allowed to go home after procedures are finished. Sometimes, however, a patient's condition warrants hospitalization.
In the case of scheduled medical procedures like surgeries, an inpatient is usually given an estimate about the length of stay, with a caveat that complications could extend the stay. In the case of emergent conditions requiring immediate care, providers may be less able to predict how long a patient will need to stay, as the patient's condition will require careful assessment. Chronic conditions may require lengthy hospital stays, as do some terminal conditions, due to the complexity of care required.
Being an inpatient can be frustrating, as a lot of lying around is often required, and it can also be extremely expensive. Every inpatient in a hospital requires the care of nursing staff, along with attention from doctors and technicians to diagnose and treat the patient's condition. Hospital stays also tend to involve costly medical tests and procedures, and the bill can rapidly get quite large. Mysterious emergent conditions can be especially costly, because doctors may try several courses of diagnosis and treatment before they are able to resolve the issue.
Many hospitals recognize that people do not generally enjoy being patients, and they provide diversions for their hospitalized patients to make the experience more pleasant. At a minimum, a hospital has scheduled inpatient visiting hours, so that family and friends can stop by for conversation and to bring requested comfort items like books or movies. Many hospitals also have outreach programs with therapy animals, visiting clergy, and other visitors who can connect with patients to reduce their boredom and frustration.