Inpatient vs Outpatient Care: What Is The Difference?
With the abundance of healthcare information and resources available today, many people like to stay educated about medical conditions, treatments, and terminology. Healthcare can be complicated: many aspects of it may cause confusion. The difference between inpatient and outpatient care, for instance, is often misunderstood. Many patients wonder what exactly the difference is and why it is essential to recognize the distinction between the two. Medical students, too, must learn the intricacies of inpatient vs. outpatient care before they embark on their medical careers.
What Is the Difference Between Inpatient and Outpatient Care?
The basic difference between inpatient and outpatient care is that inpatient care requires a hospital stay and outpatient care does not. As an inpatient, you receive medical treatment as well as food and lodging in a hospital. Inpatient care often deals with serious ailments, treatments, or trauma that require monitoring, repeated or continual treatment, and time for recovery.
Outpatient care, also called ambulatory or day patient care, does not require hospitalization. An outpatient visits a hospital, clinic, or similar facility for diagnosis, treatment, or a procedure, and then is free to leave. In some cases, outpatient care may include an overnight hospital stay. As an outpatient in an emergency room, for example, you may be asked to stay overnight for observation. Without a doctor’s order to admit you as an inpatient, however, you remain in outpatient care.
Inpatient vs. Outpatient Care—Patient Costs
Aside from general medical knowledge, the most important reason to know the difference between inpatient and outpatient care—in the United States, in particular—is the cost. Your patient status affects how much you pay for hospital services. Inpatient care typically costs more than outpatient care, even for the same services, because it includes facility costs beyond the costs of the treatment and physician. Your inpatient vs. outpatient status may also affect how insurance covers your care.
In the United States, the average cost of a three-day inpatient hospital stay (the average length of a hospital stay) is around $30,000. Outpatient care costs depend on the purpose of the visit and where the treatment takes place, but they average about $500 per visit.
Medical Student Journey—Inpatient vs. Outpatient Care
It is also important for doctors and medical students to understand the nuances of inpatient vs. outpatient care. Physicians often have different approaches to each type of care, and many have a preference for one or the other. Medical students at accredited medical schools such as American University of the Caribbean School of Medicine (AUC) learn about inpatient vs. outpatient care, particularly during their clinical training. Most internal medicine clerkships concentrate on inpatient care while also covering outpatient care, but many teaching hospitals have separate clerkships dedicated to the practice of ambulatory (outpatient) medicine.
Examples of Inpatient vs. Outpatient Care
Most people experience some form of outpatient care every year. For example, your annual physical or going to a hospital for a colonoscopy are examples of outpatient services. Other common types of outpatient care include:
- Bloodwork and other lab tests
- Mammograms, MRIs, X-rays, and other types of imaging
- Chemotherapy/radiation treatment
- Consultations with a specialist physician
- Emergency care that doesn’t require hospitalization
- Minor surgery
- Rehabilitation/physical therapy
- Substance abuse treatment
- Mental health services
Patients undergoing inpatient care tend to have serious, sometimes life-threatening, conditions. Depending on the severity of their condition, a patient may stay in the hospital for a few weeks or only a couple days. Examples of inpatient care include:
- Rehabilitation services
- Serious illnesses that require a patient to be monitored in a hospital
Inpatient vs. Outpatient Physicians
In general, primary care physicians practice outpatient care and specialists provide inpatient care, but most physicians can treat patients in both settings. For example, your family physician will provide outpatient treatment for routine conditions, but they also will coordinate with specialist doctors on inpatient care. If you have an oncologist, the doctor can provide cancer care as either an inpatient or outpatient service, depending on the procedure. Psychiatrists also work in a variety of patient care settings. They see patients in their office for routine appointments and may also care for psychiatric patients who have been hospitalized.
Aspiring doctors and medical students have a lot to consider when comparing inpatient and outpatient care. You also have a lot to consider regarding medical schools. If your dream is to pursue a career as a physician, discover why American University of the Caribbean School of Medicine’s Doctor of Medicine (MD) program might be right for you. Our students learn the foundations of medicine according to the U.S. medical school curriculum model, and our MD graduates attain residencies, get licensed, and practice medicine throughout the United States, Canada, and beyond. Check out AUC School of Medicine’s admissions requirements, contact an admissions representative, and, if you’re ready, apply to AUC today!
Frequently Asked Questions
What are the similarities between inpatient and outpatient care?
Inpatient and outpatient care are similar in that they both typically take place at a hospital. An inpatient may undergo the same treatment as an outpatient, but the outpatient is at the hospital for treatment and then leaves; the inpatient is hospitalized.
Does hospitalized mean overnight?
A hospitalized person has been admitted to a hospital as an inpatient—usually (but not always) with an overnight stay.
What is a day patient?
Day patient is a predominantly British English synonym of outpatient.