Inpatient VS. Outpatient Care: Difference Between 2 Certified Medical Procedures

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This post is an introductory guide on the two medical concepts: inpatient vs. outpatient care. 

Understanding the difference between 2 certified medical procedures

Medical treatment and surgeries are usually categorized into two main active units in the health care world, that is inpatient and outpatient care.

Inpatient vs. Outpatient
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Inpatient vs. Outpatient

The difference between inpatient vs. outpatient care depends on the duration for which a patient remains under the surveillance of medical professionals in a hospital’s service unit.

Inpatient Care:

Inpatient care requires hospitalization of the patient. Patients are formally admitted for hospital stay under a hospital care facility. The medical procedure lasts for at least one night.

All this time, the patient is made to stay under the skilled nursing facilities of a nurse practitioner or health care professional.

Outpatient Care:

Outpatient service doesn’t require spending a night in the hospital. They’re free to leave the doctor’s office and outpatient services of the clinic or hospital at once. This service is also known as ambulatory care.

Outpatient services define services and treatments that don’t require special medical treatment or skilled nursing facility from the medical team.

Inpatient vs. Outpatient in Details:

With the abundance of healthcare research, information, and resources available today, many patients take action to stay educated and aware about their health conditions and medical issues.

Still, there are aspects of medical care that may confuse many patients. The difference between patient care procedures — inpatient and outpatient care is often misunderstood.

If you receive inpatient care, you will be monitored by a healthcare team in a hospital throughout your treatment and recovery with medicare plans. Outpatient care which is also named ambulatory care does not require hospitalization services.

Basis of Difference:

  • Specialty facility & health care service
  • Cost of care & medical bills
  • Severity of illness
  • Treatment and Operations
  • Healthcare providers

Inpatient Care:

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Speaking in the most basic terms, an inpatient is a person who has been admitted to the hospital due to the severity of illness or some medical treatment and operation. The main ways in which a person would become an inpatient is through:

  • Emergency department
  • Severity of illness
  • Pre-booked treatment or operations.

Generally, when patients are in inpatient care, they are given a certain clinically sanitized gown or uniform to change into and a special room or bed in a clinic or specialty facility, depending on their medical status.

When assigned the discharge allowance slip, only then will the inpatient be allowed to leave the inpatient care unit and be classified as an outpatient.

These patients can receive the necessary care in long-term facilities that provide physical, mental, and emotional well-being and psychological support.

Types of Inpatient Care:

Multiple types of inpatient care depend on the severity of medical treatment or the patient’s medical condition.

1. Complex Surgery

This involves patients who have undergone complex surgeries such as organ transplantation, major operation, and surgeries that would require a long recovery than usual and require deep and keen observation over the patient.

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Image by Sasin Tipchai from Pixabay

2. Serious medical issue

Patients under the effect of chronic disease and serious health issues require special care and hospitalization—inpatient care examples: lung cancer, or brain disease.

3. Child-delivery

The period near to parturition during which the mother undergoes labor can range from a few hours to a day. So to avoid any complications, the mother is shifted to the inpatient care unit for medical observation.

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Photo by Vidal Balielo Jr. from Pexels

Inpatient Care Facilities

A variety of inpatient care facilities are made available for inpatients to avoid serious issues and situations.

  • Critical Care facility:

These facilities provide patients with medical health care depending upon their illness, surgery recovery, or treatment recovery.

  • Psychiatric hospitals

These involve the patients under the umbrella of brain-related diseases, be it anxiety, depression, or other mental disorders. It allows them inpatient care to reduce suicidal risks, self-harm risks and provides them with a safe and secure environment with proper medical care.

  • Long-term care facilities involve nursing homes, skilled facilities, and assisted hospitality living facilities to help people who cannot care for themselves due to a major operation or treatment.
  • Addiction rehabilitation treatment facility: Patients under the effect of alcohol and drug addiction or substance misuse require special medical care services from health professionals. Not only medical facilities but also need emotional support, which the patient under such addictions requires. Special rehabilitation centers are set up to treat them and bring them out of the trap.

Outpatient Care:

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Outpatient care describes any medical situation or treatment that does not require a patient to stay overnight as comparing inpatient services.

The outpatient care can include bodily examinations or one-time and continuous treatments, such as chemotherapy for cancer patients. When surgeons decree lab works before performing surgery, patients can attend labs in outpatient centers to save time, effort, and costs.

The data obtained in the outpatient care visit is then rationed with the surgeon, enabling them to deduce if underlying health issues may cause inconveniences during a surgical treatment.

Hospitals typically generate more revenue from inpatient services. Nonetheless, in recent years, a transition toward outpatient care has been visualized growing.

Types of Outpatient Care:

  1. Minor surgeries or injuries involve patients with minor accidental injuries treated with medication and self-care.
  2. X-rays & CT scans: These could help diagnose fractures and internal organ disorders, and dysfunctionalities.
  3. Urine and other pathological tests: Doctors and pathologists use these tests to detect causes of kidney and urinary bladder disorders and test for chronic diseases that might not be detected by physical visibility.
  4. The blood test involves testing the blood sample to check for chronic disease with invisible symptoms but affects bodily functions. It also helps in checking the electrolyte and other constituent levels in the body.

Outpatient Care facilities:

Comparing services with inpatients involves annual physical checkups, preventive care, and pre-surgery treatments. Some other facilities under this unit are:

  • Clinical Services: The services for outpatients include facilities ranging from wellness, prevention, surgical procedures, and weight loss.
  • Emergency Room Service: The doctor can demand the patient access to the outpatient services such as X-rays, CT scans, and certain pathological tests to be undertaken before certain surgery or treatment without asking to stay overnight.
  • Ambulatory surgery services: This facility involves same-day surgery services that don’t need patients staying in the hospital due to their minor nature or safe and secure success rate.

Role of the nurse practitioner in Inpatient and Outpatient care:

Inpatient vs. outpatient care differs based on the needs of the patients. Healthcare service providers, primary care physicians, and nurse practitioners respond differently to each situation. Nurses, for instance, can work both as primary health care providers as well as specialty health care providers.

They help the patients in assuring optimal care assistance and delivery, but the duration of the healthcare services varies between inpatient vs. outpatient. Their responsibilities range from administration, teaching, assistance, and research.

Inpatient nurse practitioners

They help the patients with diagnostic tests, write prescriptions for them, and perform physical exams. Some specialized nurse practitioners, such as psychiatric nurse practitioners, are involved in assessing, diagnosing, and treating patients with substance misuse addiction, mental disorders, and related mental diseases.

Some of them are trained to work in intensive care units and critical care units to help the patients with medical issues such as pains and severe injuries. There are also women nurse practitioners who assist women patients who have breast cancer or need assistance in child delivery.

Outpatient nurse practitioners:

They, too, have psychiatric nurse practitioners and women nurse practitioners like the inpatient unit. But, in addition to that, they have specialized nurse practitioners for families. They work with patients in all age groups.

Pediatric nurse practitioners perform physical health examinations, maintain observation status, prescribe medications, and maintain good mental health.

They help assist in preventive care, long-term monitoring, and regulating diseases and injuries. Some of them are focused on treating the younger population’s health.

Inpatient vs. outpatient care costs varies for patients. The hospital bills are often higher for in-patient care.

For outpatient care facilities, bills include just fees related to the doctor’s basic charges and tests (if any performed). However, for the inpatients, the bills are usually much higher as it includes additional hospital-facility-based charges.

Even though the difference between outpatient and inpatient care is pretty straightforward, you should still always consult your primary physician and health care provider before determining which type of care is suitable for you.

I hope this article on inpatient vs. outpatient care was helpful to you.

Our content is medically reviewed periodically by professionals for accuracy and relevance. We pride ourselves on our high-quality content and strive towards offering expertise while being authoritative. Our reviewers include doctors, nurses, mental health professionals, and even medical students. -----------------------------------

Any information found on the site does not constitute legal or medical advice. Should you face health issues, please visit your doctor to get yourself diagnosed. Icy Health offers expert opinions and advice for informational purposes only. This is not a substitute for professional medical advice.


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