A crucial aspect of healthcare is ensuring that every patient receives timely treatment. This involves making a decision between inpatient and outpatient care. Doctors always attempt to clear any doubts an unwell person and their family might have, and it begins with explaining inpatient and outpatient services.

What Is Inpatient and Outpatient Care?

To break it down, inpatient care necessitates an overnight stay at a healthcare facility so that a physician can monitor a patient at close quarters. Depending on the seriousness of the medical condition, the doctor might recommend extended hospitalisation.

Outpatient care or ambulatory care, is any medical service or treatment that involves a short visit to a clinic or hospital. For instance, your annual health checkup falls under outpatient services. An unplanned health emergency that is treated instantly, allowing the patient to return home on the same day, also falls under ambulatory care.

While there is a clear distinction between inpatient and outpatient services, there are cases where a patient is given an observation status tag. This usually lasts no more than 24 hours and gives the doctor enough time to decide whether inpatient care is required or not.

It is important to remember, however, that the type of medical establishment or location itself is not a marker that separates inpatients from outpatients. It is the duration of a patient’s stay that establishes care status.

Examples of Inpatient and Outpatient Care

The following practical examples will help you further differentiate between inpatient and outpatient services.

Inpatient care:

  • Multiple traumatic injuries
  • Childbirth
  • Serious skeletal injuries
  • Septicemia
  • Respiratory failure
  • Serious mental health issues, substance use disorder, and/or overdoses

Outpatient care:

  • All types of regular health checkups
  • X-Rays, MRIs, and other medical imaging
  • Appointments with specialist physicians
  • Common dental problems
  • Blood tests and other lab work
  • Mammograms 
  • Colonoscopies

There are a few similarities between inpatient and outpatient hospital services. The main one being: You are always treated by experienced physicians and healthcare workers who care about your well-being. Whether you’re in for a routine checkup or you’ve been admitted with a fractured ankle, your welfare is always the main priority.

The Cost of Inpatient and Outpatient Services

If your physician has recommended inpatient care, the final bill will depend on the nature of the stay and the duration. Invasive surgeries and other serious conditions will naturally cost more than a routine checkup. Moreover, while being an inpatient, your bill will reflect pharmacy, lab and other miscellaneous hospital charges.

Your health insurance also plays a major role in determining the cost of inpatient vs. outpatient care. Make sure you ask the hospital administration to give you a breakdown of the bill, and confirm if your treatment is covered by insurance or not. At the end of the day, it all comes down to your diagnosis and the best form of treatment.

Are there Different Physicians who Specialize in Inpatient vs. Outpatient Care?

Conventionally speaking, primary care doctors provide outpatient services, while specialists are considered inpatient physicians. However, this theory always overlaps in modern healthcare.

For instance, an oncologist can have an appointment with a cancer patient to advise on the next steps of treatment. This would fall under outpatient care. The same oncologist can be directly involved in invasive cancer surgery and that would fall under inpatient care.

Modern healthcare has grown in leaps and bounds. This allows most physicians to treat patients who require either inpatient or outpatient care. At the American University of Antigua College of Medicine or AUA, students are afforded the opportunity to choose whether they want to be physicians who specialise in inpatient care or outpatient care. The MD Program imparts a solid grounding in preclinical and clinical sciences, allowing the students to decide whether they want to be a combination of an inpatient and outpatient doctor. This prepares them to deal with a variety of medical conditions.

Inpatient and outpatient care is the very foundation of healthcare. Knowing the difference between the two is the physician’s first task. More importantly, it offers the patient a clear view and a little relief in knowing exactly what their treatment entails.