A close-up of a patient's wrist with a needle inserted. A close-up of a patient's wrist with a needle inserted.

The Difference between Inpatient vs Outpatient Care

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

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

doctor checking the blood pressure of a patient.
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1. Inpatient vs Outpatient Care

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.

1.1. Inpatient Care:

Inpatient care requires hospitalization of the patient. Patients are formally admitted for a hospital stay in 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.

1.2. 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.

1.3. 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 of 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.

2. Basis of Difference in Inpatient and Outpatient

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

3. Detailed Information about Inpatient Care

A patient lying at a hospital bed with the digital screens and devices.
Image by Parentingupstream from Pixabay

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.

3.1. Types of Inpatient Care

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

3.1.1. Complex Surgery

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

A group of surgeons performing surgery in an operation theatre.
Image by Sasin Tipchai from Pixabay

3.1.2. Serious Medical Issue

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

3.1.3. Child-Delivery

The period near 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.

A newborn baby crying in an operation room during a child delivery process.
Photo by Vidal Balielo Jr. from Pexels

3.2. Inpatient Care Facilities

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

3.2.1. Critical Care Facility

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

3.2.2. Psychiatric Hospitals

These involve the patients under the umbrella of brain-related diseases, be it anxiety, depression, or other mental disorders. It allows inpatient care to reduce suicidal risks, and 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 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.

4. Detailed Information about Outpatient Care

A doctor and a patient talking while sitting on a hospital bed.
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Outpatient care describes any medical situation or treatment that does not require a patient to stay overnight as compared to inpatient services.

Outpatient care can include bodily examinations or one-time and continuous treatments, such as chemotherapy for cancer patients. When surgeons decree lab work 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.

4.1. Types of Outpatient Care

4.1.1. Minor Injuries

Minor surgeries or injuries involve patients with minor accidental injuries treated with medication and self-care.

4.1.2. X-rays & CT Scans

These could help diagnose fractures internal organ disorders, and dysfunctionalities.

4.1.3. 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.

The blood test involves testing the blood sample to check for chronic disease with invisible symptoms that affect bodily functions. It also helps in checking the electrolyte and other constituent levels in the body.

4.2. Outpatient Care Facilities

Comparing services with inpatients involves annual physical checkups, preventive care, and pre-surgery treatments.

Some other facilities under this unit are:

4.2.1. Clinical Services

A doctor doing a normal check-up of a child patient as an outpatient care.
Photo by Pavel Danilyuk/ Pexels Copyrights 2020

The services for outpatients include facilities ranging from wellness, prevention, surgical procedures, and weight loss.

4.2.2. Emergency Room Services

The doctor can demand the patient access to outpatient services such as X-rays, CT scans, and certain pathological tests be undertaken before certain surgery or treatment without asking to stay overnight.

4.2.3. 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.

5. 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 and outpatient. Their responsibilities range from administration, teaching, assistance, and research.

5.1. 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 patients with medical issues such as pain and severe injuries. There are also women nurse practitioners who assist women patients who have breast cancer or need assistance in child delivery.

A nurse in scrubs taking care of a patient in a hospital room.
Photo by Gustavo Fring/ Pexels Copyrights 2020

5.2. Outpatient Nurse Practitioners

They, too, have psychiatric nurse practitioners and women nurse practitioners in 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 vary for patients. 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 are performed). However, for the inpatients, the bills are usually much higher as they include additional hospital-facility-based charges.

6. End Note

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 was helpful to you.

7. Frequently Asked Questions

7.1.  What is the basic difference between outpatient and inpatient care?

In inpatient care, it is required for the patient to be admitted to a hospital for the day(s). In outpatient care, it is not required for the patient to stay and the care is provided.

7.2. Ambulance Services Come Under Which Category in Inpatient and Outpatient?

Any care given in an ambulance comes under outpatient care in which the patient is taken care of without getting admitted to the hospital.

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