What’s The Difference Between Inpatient Care And Outpatient Care

inpatient outpatient care facility

If you or a loved one is sick, the recommendation is to seek medical help for prompt diagnosis and medical treatment. The best place to seek intervention is in the clinic or hospital. When it comes to medical services, the two types include inpatient and outpatient care. But what are the differences between the two?  Who are involved in providing these services and what types of services are expected?

In this article, you will learn the difference between inpatient care and outpatient care in terms of expected medical services, healthcare providers involved, and cost, among other things.

What is Inpatient Care?

Inpatient care would require the patient to be admitted to the hospital overnight, or for a few days or so. During this time, the patient would remain under the direct supervision of the attending nurse and physician for round-the-clock monitoring and treatment.

Here are some examples of inpatient care facilities:

a   Acute Care Hospital: This type of hospital provides inpatient healthcare and other related services, such as those offered by . Patients are treated for their acute injuries or short-term medical conditions, and surgery can be performed. 

b Addiction Treatment Center: It is type of medical facility that caters to medical services to patients who are suffering from substance abuse, such as alcoholism and illicit drug addiction. Detoxification and other addiction treatment services are provided in this type of long-term care facility, wherein patients usually stay weeks or months. 

c Psychiatric Hospital: It’s another type of long-term medical facility where patients suffering from psychological problems are admitted for inpatient care. Healthcare professionals handle patients with depression, anxiety, and schizophrenic disorders. Patients are given antipsychotic, antianxiety, or anti-depressant drugs for weeks, depending on their present signs and symptoms. Other treatments include occupational therapy and individualized treatment plans. 

d Nursing Homes: Seniors who need long-term medical care are managed in nursing homes under the supervision of trained geriatric doctors, nurses, caregivers, and other health professionals. 

e Rehabilitation Center: All types of rehabilitative medical services are offered in this facility, such as catering to patients needing long-term physical therapy due to accidents.

What is Outpatient Care?

Outpatient care caters to sick and injured patients without requiring overnight monitoring. It’s also called ambulatory care. 

Here are some examples of outpatient care facilities:

a Emergency Department: It is also called the emergency room or ER. While an emergency room is located within the hospital, it is technically categorized as outpatient care. Emergency rooms are staffed by emergency-care-trained nurses, doctors, radiologists, and other allied health professionals. They provide a wide range of emergency medical services, such as prompt treatment of traumatic injuries and illnesses. ERs serve as front liners against unexpected hospital deaths. 

b Urgent Care Center: This outpatient clinic provides medical services to patients needing immediate injury and illness treatment, but are not life-threatening enough that would otherwise require the patient to be brought to the emergency room (ER). Urgent care centers help relieve patients of less emergent problems, allowing them to convenient and timely receive healthcare.

c Community Health Clinic: It offers primary care services to local patients with limited healthcare access, such as low-income families, homeless individuals, patients without health insurance, and seasonal and migrant workers.

d Primary Care Clinic: Patients have access to primary care physicians, who direct patients to other medical specialists, as necessary. They are regular doctors that patients can visit for annual checkups. Good examples include pediatricians, medicines, OB/GYN, and internists with their own private clinics in local streets, commercial buildings, and malls.

e Specialized Outpatient Clinic: It offers specialized medical care services, such as wound care, pain management, cardiology, nephrology, urology, and cancer treatment areas. 

f Home, School, And Employer Healthcare: Healthcare services expand to patients at home, school, and in the workplace. Home care patients include seniors, those with disabilities, or those suffering from chronic illnesses. These patients require regular monitoring and rehabilitation, most especially those who sustained an injury from a slip, fall, or car accident. These patients need occupational therapy (OT) or physical therapy (PT). Healthcare professionals involved in this type of medical service include home care doctors, school nurses, home care nurses, case managers, speech therapists, and social workers.

g Pharmacy: It is a retail store where over-the-counter and prescribed medications are sold. Pharmacies nowadays expand their services, such as helping patients review drug interactions. Also, pharmacies provide patients with education and basic prevention services, like blood pressure readings, blood glucose monitoring, and giving flu shots.

h School-Based Health Center: At school, children are provided healthcare services, such as basic medical services (treating minor illnesses and injuries), nutritional education, dental services, and psychological counseling. School health programs cater to all children, most especially children who come from uninsured or underserved families.

i  College-Based Health Center: Students can seek medical help from college-based health centers that usually provide preventive and primary care screenings and health services.

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Inpatient Care and Outpatient Care Services

Outpatient care services include medical procedures, such as lab tests and scan studies, and other services that don’t involve an overnight stay in the hospital. Some specific examples of these services include the following:

  • Consultations and follow-ups with an attending specialist
  • Wellness and prevention services, like weight loss programs and psychological counseling
  • Rehabilitation, like physical therapy
  • Routine physical exams
  • Diagnostic services, like urine and blood laboratory tests, x-rays, MRI, and CT scan
  • Treatments such as minor surgeries, radiation therapy, and chemotherapy
  • Stitches for minor cuts or wounds, and same-day emergent care

On the other hand, inpatient services include all services that outpatient settings can provide, including more intensive treatments requiring a hospital stay, such as the following:

  • Major surgeries, such as appendectomy or removal of the inflamed appendix (appendicitis)
  • Illnesses requiring continuous monitoring, such as cardiac arrythmia, diabetes, shock, and dehydration
  • Diseases requiring treatment for at least a day, such as infections, stroke, and heart attack
  • Childbirth
  • Rehabilitation services for substance misuse, severe injuries, and some psychiatric conditions

Healthcare Providers in Inpatient and Outpatient Care Settings:

Providers of outpatient or ambulatory healthcare include general medical practitioners. Health practitioners in outpatient care primarily provide medical services to people who visit the doctor’s clinic. It also applies to medical professionals who visit patients in residential settings. Dentists are also considered ambulatory care professionals.

On the other hand, inpatient healthcare professionals are generally specialists in various departments, such as the following:

a Pediatricians: They are doctors who are specialized in giving care to children up to 21 years old. 

b  Obstetricians And Gynecologists: They are specialized doctors who give medical care to pregnant women and their newborn babies right after childbirth. Also, they diagnose different obstetric and gynecologic problems, such as fertility issues, ectopic pregnancy, and erectile dysfunction.

c Neurologists: They assess, diagnose, and treat patients showing signs and symptoms of possible nervous system problems, such as stroke, aneurysm, Parkinson’s disease, and Alzheimer’s disease. 

d Endocrinologists: They are doctors who are specialized in diagnosing and treating patients with endocrine problems, such as pituitary disorders, thyroid disorders, and adrenal insufficiency. 

e Psychiatrists: These mental health professionals help patients who are showing manifestations of psychological problems, such as anxiety, depression, and schizophrenia (patients experiencing delusions and hallucinations).

Many doctors divide their time between outpatient and inpatient services. For instance, obstetrician-gynecologists (OB/GYN) provide inpatient care during labor and childbirth. In an outpatient care setting, they provide assessment, as well as offer pre-natal consulting, patient education, and medication prescription to pregnant women.

Generally, when you stay overnight or so in a hospital, you’ll interact with a larger group of healthcare professionals, including nurses, doctors, pharmacists, laboratory technicians, nurse aides, and physician assistants.

Cost Comparison in Inpatient Care and Outpatient Care Services

Generally, outpatient care services are less costly than inpatient care services. Being considered an inpatient would mean you’ll have to undergo various medical procedures, and each procedure has a corresponding fee. In addition, hospital admission or hospital stay per day would require room and service computations.

A 2017 study shows that 50% cost-savings can be achieved in outpatient unicompartmental knee arthroplasty (UKA). Such outpatient service resources allocation for busy hospitals and reduces inpatient bed occupancy.

Here are the findings of the said study:

a Charges: The outpatient UKA service charges USD$20,500 less per patient as compared to the inpatient care service average charge of USD$46,845. 

b Cost Savings: Researchers attribute primary cost savings to the USD$3,800 average outpatient care surgical facility fee. Inpatient care services usually charge 350% at USD$13,200 per patient. Outpatient services give approximately USD$9500 savings.

c Reimbursement: When it comes to the average reimbursement, it reached USD$25,550 or 55% for inpatient care services. For outpatient services, the average cost reimbursement was USD$12,370, or 47%. In terms of readmissions or complications, there was no marked difference between the two patient groups.


There are many differences between inpatient care and outpatient care. For one, inpatient care would require overnight hospitalization, whereas outpatient doesn’t. Outpatient services are usually provided in community health clinics, private doctor offices, and emergency departments of hospitals, while inpatient services are offered by lying in clinics, acute care hospitals, rehabilitation centers, and medical care centers.

Healthcare providers in inpatient and outpatient care settings involve general health practitioners and specialists. Physicians can be assigned in both inpatient and outpatient areas of the hospital. Generally, the costs of inpatient care services are higher than outpatient services since the former would include room rates and more complex medical services.

This post was last modified on November 12, 2022 3:01 am

Piya C: Piya C is internet savvy health and lifestyle blogger. She covers beauty, relationship, diet and many more topics. #blogger #author Want to connect with me? Follow me. I reply my every DM & tweet.
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