Monthly Archives: August 2010


Inpatient VS Outpatient

I was in a meeting yesterday, and the terms, inpatients and outpatients, were referred to numerous times.  Going back and forth with these terms, I ended up coming out of the meeting a bit confused on their definitions.  I thought I had these terms figured out pretty damn clear!  Therefore, I decided to look them up and distinguish them once and for all.  Here is what I found.


  • Inpatient is a patient whose care requires a stay in a hospital.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • The term inpatient dates back to at least 1760.


  • Outpatient is a patient receiving his/her care usually not in a hospital setting, but in places like a doctor’s office, clinic, or day surgery centre.  When an outpatient is admitted to a hospital, this patient does not require an overnight stay.
  • 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.
  • Outpatient surgery eliminates inpatient hospital admission, reduces the amount of medication prescribed, and uses the physician’s time more efficiently.  More procedures are now being performed in a surgeon’s office, termed office-based surgery, rather than in a hospital-based operating room.  Outpatient surgery is suited best for healthy people undergoing minor or intermediate procedures (limited urologic, ophthalmologic, or ear, nose, and throat procedures and procedures involving the extremities).
  • The term outpatient dates back at least to 1715.  Outpatient care today is also called ambulatory care.

Alternative terminology

Due to concerns such as dignity, human rights and political correctness, the term “patient” is not always used to refer to a person receiving health care.  Other terms that are sometimes used include health consumer, health care consumer or client.  These may be used by governmental agencies, insurance companies, patient groups, or health care facilities.  Individuals who use or have used psychiatric services may alternatively refer to themselves as consumers, users, or survivors.

In nursing homes and assisted living facilities, the term resident is generally used in lieu of patient, but it is not uncommon for staff members at such a facility to use the term patient in reference to residents.  Similarly, those receiving home health care are called clients.

Reference: Wikipedia and Google

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