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.