Inpatient Vs. Outpatient: What Are The Main Differences?

Whether you need medical care and have no idea what the difference between inpatient and outpatient is and what category you belong to, or you’re simply curious about these terms and want to find out more, you’re in the right place.

Both terms refer to the way healthcare services are provided and the category you may fall into depends on the level of treatment required and various additional resources that may be needed for delivering said treatment. But let’s have a closer look at each type of healthcare to get a better understanding of them and see how they differ.


Inpatient Treatment

Inpatient Treatment

Inpatient treatment typically refers to any healthcare service that requires you to be officially admitted into a hospital. Therefore, it generally applies in cases of more severe ailments or trauma that require overnight stays or spending multiple days in hospital.

Usually, you may enter inpatient care either through an accident and emergency department or from previous ambulatory care, such as your physician’s referral.

Note that you can only become an “inpatient” officially only if a doctor writes you an admission note.

Therefore, if, for instance, you come to the emergency room with an issue and are recommended overnight stay for medical observation, you are not an inpatient unless a doctor officially gives the order to admit you.


Outpatient Treatment

Outpatient Treatment

Now that you know what inpatient is, it’s pretty easy to figure out outpatient services. The latter refers to any medical services provided to patients who visit the hospital or clinic for diagnosis or prognosis and treatment, but do not require overnight care or prolonged stay.

These include anything from routine checkups, minor injury or mild disorders, even to surgical procedures, as long as they allow you to leave the facility the same day. Even rehab or treatments for various mental disorders can be provided as outpatient services.

Many patients can be diagnosed and treated as outpatients before they are admitted as inpatients at a later date. Similarly, many inpatients, after they get discharged, may have to attend the outpatient department to get follow-up treatment and check-ups.


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The Differences Between Inpatient and Outpatient

Are the differences between outpatient and inpatient a bit clearer now? Let’s recap and see exactly what separates the two types of healthcare services.



  • Inpatient entails being admitted into a hospital overnight or for multiple days, according to a physician’s admission note.
  • Outpatient refers to medical services offered to people who do not require to spend the night or more days in hospitals.
  • Inpatient care is usually provided for more serious medical cases or patients who need constant supervision.
  • Outpatient care is usually provided in less severe cases, where it would be safe to let the patient unattended.
  • Inpatient care involves more costs and hospital resources (bed, medication, staff, etc.)
  • Outpatient care usually entails fewer costs.


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