Doctor Decoded: The Difference Between Inpatient and Outpatient

Knowing this is essential when planning for a surgical procedure.

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You’re at the doctor. You just find out you need to have surgery. She then tells you that it’ll be an outpatient procedure. Wait ... heh?

Surgeries and medical treatments are placed into two categories: inpatient and outpatient. One difference between inpatient and outpatient is the time spent in the hospital after the procedure is done.

Inpatient care means you’ll be spending at least one night in the hospital after your procedure. Your care team will monitor as you heal, and send you on your way when they think you’re ready.

Lung and heart surgeries, and childbirth are often inpatient surgeries.

Outpatient (or ambulatory) care means that you’re in and out the same day.

These surgeries are usually less invasive than inpatient procedures. Ear, eye, mouth, nose, and throat surgeries are often outpatient procedures.

Most patients go home between 1 and 4 hours after outpatient surgery. Some patients are free to leave as soon as the procedure is over. This of course, depends on:

  • The type of surgery you have
  • The anesthesia used
  • The outcome of the procedure
  • Any medical conditions that you may have
  • Your insurance coverage
  • And the policy of the surgery center

If you’ve been given anesthesia, you may need to hang for a bit after the procedure until the doctor gives you the OK (you may also need to plan for someone to pick you up).

Not all patients are candidates for outpatient surgery. Your medical history and the advice of the surgeon and anesthesiologist are important in determining if the procedure is best performed on an outpatient or inpatient basis.

Thanks to advances in technology, anesthesia, and pain control, however, outpatient procedures are on the rise. (Learn more about how anesthesia has improved over the years.) Millions of procedures performed every year and complications from outpatient procedures are relatively uncommon, according to Johns Hopkins Medicine.

Now you can get the care you need easier, faster, and more efficiently than ever—maybe even on your lunch break.