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What is the Difference Between Inpatient and Outpatient?

Tricia Christensen
By
Updated Mar 03, 2024
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Inpatient and outpatient are common terms in the medical field that can be used to describe a variety of care or facilities available to patients. Some medical facilities, like hospitals, may offer both types of care, depending upon the needs of the persons involved. The terms can be confusing, but there are several key differences that can help make them understandable.

Outpatient care can refer to any type of service offered that does not involve an overnight stay in a medical facility. The typical visit to a doctor’s office is outpatient, but so is a surgery in a hospital where the patient returns home the same day. Blood tests, lab work, x-rays, mammograms and the like are usually outpatient and may take a few hours to perform. However, such tests may also be performed on those who are hospitalized. Similarly a same day surgery can become inpatient if complications arise and the person must be hospitalized overnight.

The term isn’t exclusive to types of care offered by a hospital, lab, or doctor’s office. It may also be applied to clinics or facilities that don’t have overnight care plans. Clinics or sports medicine facilities, for instance, could be called outpatient because any patients using the facilities go home at night. Surgical centers may specialize in same day surgeries and would transfer any patients needing prolonged care to inpatient care centers. There are even drug treatment and mental health programs conducted on a “day care” basis, where people might spend the majority of their day in such a program, and then spend their evenings at home.

It can get a little confusing when some clinics do have overnight facilities but also offer day care services. A mental health facility might offer day care services and also have a thriving inpatient program. Alternately, people might graduate from inpatient to outpatient care.

Many have noticed the significantly increased number of programs, medical care, and even surgeries and major medical procedures that are no longer inpatient. It is certainly the case that medical programs have attempted to reduce inpatient care. There are several reasons for this reduction.

First, it’s been noted that not all medical conditions require overnight hospitalization. While it used to be standard to hospitalize people for conditions like pneumonia, improvement in drug treatment means far fewer people need to actually stay in the hospital unless they have aggressive forms of pneumonia or other very grave conditions. It’s been found that quality of rest and care is frequently better at home than it is in hospital settings. Other refinements in medicine, like improvements in surgical technique and anesthesiology, have also led to reduction in types of surgeries that require overnight care in a hospital.

Another thing driving increased outpatient services is cost factor. It costs much more to hospitalize patients overnight or for several nights than it does to send them home. When it is safe for a patient to recover at home, it greatly reduces the cost of medical care. An additional plus to decreased inpatient care is that it helps to save room in already crowded hospitals for those people who really do require the more extensive care a hospital can give.

The Health Board is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Tricia Christensen
By Tricia Christensen
With a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and years of experience as a The Health Board contributor, Tricia Christensen is based in Northern California and brings a wealth of knowledge and passion to her writing. Her wide-ranging interests include reading, writing, medicine, art, film, history, politics, ethics, and religion, all of which she incorporates into her informative articles. Tricia is currently working on her first novel.
Discussion Comments
By anon139576 — On Jan 05, 2011

There is a suggestion that Collagen Crosslinking is an outpatient treatment. Is this correct? - Kingcobra

By Bhutan — On Nov 03, 2010

GreenWeaver-Sometimes patients seek outpatient counseling from the outpatient psychiatry unit of the center.

Many counseling centers like Saint Barnabas offers comprehensive counseling services to treat children as well as adults. They offer family therapy, marriage counseling, group therapy and psychological assessments.

They specialize in stress counseling, family issues, bereavement, physical and sexual abuse along with domestic violence.

Many of these types of centers also offer counseling for those suffering from debilitating disease that have led to chronic depression.

These centers also offer social workers that help the rest of the family cope with the troubled family member and help them improve the family dynamic.

By GreenWeaver — On Nov 03, 2010

Cafe41- It may also include teaching them how to cook for themselves if they suffered some injury to their hands.

Also, these centers tend to offer speech therapy as well in case the patient had been involved in a car accident that impaired his or her speech. Care One is an inpatient and outpatient rehab center that offers physical therapy, occupational therapy and speech therapy.

Patients that need in bed treatment and stay in the center can also receive treatment after they are discharged on an outpatient basis.

For those patients with Medicare, Medicare usually pays the first twenty days of treatment. After that Medicare pays 80% of the rehab costs and if there is a secondary insurance like AARP then they will pick up the remaining 20% for up to a total of 100 days.

If there is no secondary insurance, then the daily charge would be about $135 with the Medicare contribution.

By cafe41 — On Nov 03, 2010

Sneakers41-Many outpatient centers include outpatient rehab. Usually people recovering from surgeries such as hip replacement or knee replacement require rehab and some will go to an outpatient rehab depending on their condition prior to the surgery.

Often these treatment programs include occupational therapy which teaches the patient how to function in manner that they did previously before they had the surgery. This can include having them practice walking by taking steps and going up and down stairs.

By sneakers41 — On Nov 03, 2010

Outpatient treatment is really the ability to receive medical treatment without requiring hospitalization.

Common outpatient surgery includes Lasik eye surgery to correct impaired vision as well as plastic surgery procedures.

This form of outpatient surgery is often not very invasive and allows the patient to return to work the next day. Sometimes outpatient healthcare involves outpatient programs like outpatient radiology for those needed radiology treatments for cancer.

Often a patient suffering from cancer will go to an outpatient facility and receive radiation and chemotherapy treatments based on the staging of their cancer.

Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen
With a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and years of experience as a The Health Board contributor, Tricia...
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