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What is the Difference Between Outpatient and Inpatient Medicine?

Often, one may hear the terms outpatient or inpatient used when referring to a type of diagnostic or therapeutic procedure. "Inpatient" means that the procedure requires the patient to be admitted to the hospital, primarily so that he or she can be closely monitored during the procedure and afterwards, during recovery. "Outpatient" means that the procedure does not require hospital admission and may also be performed outside the premises of a hospital.

A computed tomography (CT) examination of the head is a very common diagnostic imaging examination and can be performed on either an outpatient or inpatient basis. In either case, the CT imaging examination carried out is basically the same. Most hospital diagnostic imaging departments in fact perform imaging of outpatients in an inpatient setting (inside the hospital), but the outpatients are fully ambulatory and do not have to be formally admitted to the hospital in order to have the exam.

More and more surgical and therapeutic procedures can be performed on an outpatient basis. Thus the procedure does not require a lengthy hospital stay, and allows the patient to recover and resume an active life or go back to work with a minimal delay.

Minimally invasive and interventional procedures which are guided by diagnostic imaging have assisted this shift from inpatient to outpatient medicine. The benefits are many, including lower costs for the therapeutic outcome, faster and less painful procedures and recovery for patients, and greater well-being of people in general.

Updated: June 11, 2008