Inpatient vs. Outpatient Care

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About Inpatient vs. Outpatient Care
Many important procedures do not require inpatient care.
It's a myth that a patient is always better off staying in the hospital.
More and more services that used be offered on an inpatient basis are now offered for outpatient care.

Inpatient vs. Outpatient: Exploring Your Options

In the old days, doctors provided care in their offices—or even at the patient’s home. The trend reversed to where many treatments, tests and surgeries were performed in a hospital setting. These days, many treatment options exist, and your health care plan and your doctor can recommend what makes sense for you, along a spectrum from less intensive to more intensive care.


Outpatient care is any health care service provided to a patient who is not admitted to a facility. Outpatient care may be provided in a doctor's office, clinic, the patient's home or hospital outpatient department.


Outpatient treatment in a doctor’s office or clinic, often supplemented by medications administered at home, remains the norm for most routine care. Thanks to advances in treatments and technology, many tests and surgical procedures formerly conducted in the hospital can be done in an office setting. Outpatient care also provides the norm for most mental health and chemical dependency treatment. 

Home health care services are rendered in the home to an individual who is confined to the home. Such services are provided to individuals who do not need institutional care, but who need nursing services or therapy, medical supplies and special outpatient services.

In an urgent care facility, treatment is provided for conditions requiring prompt medical attention but that are not emergencies. Examples of urgent care needs include ear infections, sprains, high fevers, vomiting and urinary tract infections.


A care center provides a setting where a patient can receive live-in care and more consistent treatment than can be provided in a doctor’s office, but at lower cost than a hospital. It may be used after a hospital stay to provide treatment or physical therapy, or may be used as the initial therapy or after hospitalization for mental health or chemical dependency treatment. It may also make sense for people who are not completely capable of self-care, such as certain mentally disabled or elderly persons.


Residential treatment (or a halfway house) provides a supportive place to live but does not offer any treatment-related mental health, alcoholism or chemical dependency activities during the day. It is a good option for patients who are in school or working, but who have an unstable living situation or are trying to make the transition to independent living. A counseling staff usually provides support and may run evening meetings to review the day's events. However, there is not usually a full range of mental health professionals on staff. Residents most often visit a therapist and/or psychiatrist elsewhere.


Outpatient hospitalization takes advantage of hospital equipment and expertise during a visit, but without the expense (or life disruption) of an overnight stay.


Partial hospitalization (sometimes called a day program) may occur all day during weekdays, or may provide evening programs, but the patient goes home overnight. This approach provides therapy and support with a transition to home, generally for mental health, alcoholism or chemical dependency treatment.


An alternative birthing center offers a non-traditional setting for giving birth, from freestanding centers to special areas within hospitals. Birthing centers are generally known for a more comfortable, home-like atmosphere, allow more participation by the father and have more procedural flexibility than commonly found in hospitals.


Inpatient care is care given to a patient admitted to a hospital, extended care facility, nursing home or other facility. Long term care is the range of services typically provided at skilled nursing, intermediate-care, personal care or eldercare facilities. 

An extended care facility is a medical care institution for patients who require long term custodial or medical care, especially for a chronic disease or a condition requiring prolonged rehabilitation therapy. 

A hospice is a health care facility that provides supportive care for the terminally ill.

Inpatient hospitalization makes sense for major diagnostic, surgical or therapeutic services, where the patient’s condition or response to medication must be closely monitored. In the case of mental health treatment, a hospital stay may make sense if the person is suicidal or self-destructive or poses a threat to others. In the case of chemical dependency or alcohol treatment, a hospital stay may be needed during the detoxification stage to monitor symptoms during withdrawal. Inpatient hospitalization also allows a combination of individual care, group therapy, community meetings and activities.


Regardless of the setting, in the case of mental health or alcohol/chemical dependency treatment, family members are often invited to participate. This allows the care team to gather information about the patient's history, address critical relationship issues and plan long term care.


ã A.D.A.M., Inc.

The information presented in these articles is provided for educational purposes only. It is not intended as a substitute for medical advice or treatment. Always seek the advice of your doctor or other medical professional if you have questions about any medical condition, diagnosis or treatment. A.D.A.M., Inc. will not be liable for any damages arising from the use of this information, and makes no warranties or representations of any kind with respect to the information contained herein.