Have you ever been confused by the language healthcare professionals
use when you request information regarding services that you want or
need? To ease your frustration during future visits at various
healthcare settings, we’ve compiled a list of patient statuses that will
help you comprehend the terminology so you can make appropriate
decisions about your healthcare.
Inpatient: A patient is admitted to a room for an overnight
stay or for numerous days with continuous general nursing services in an
area of an acute care facility. Examples of treatment areas for
admission: ICU, Labor and Delivery, Cardiology Units or General Medicine Units.
Outpatient: A patient receives a diagnosis and/or treatment
at a hospital, but does not stay overnight. Examples of treatment in
this environment (also known as ambulatory care): emergency department,
clinic, radiology (for x-rays), laboratory (for laboratory tests), or
respiratory therapy (for pulmonary function testing).
The following patient statuses are all part of the outpatient category:
Clinic: Patients visit either a clinic or a physician office
within a hospital and interacts with a physician or other healthcare
provider. Patients may be referred to an outpatient unit for testing,
admitted to an inpatient bed, or sent home following their visit. Remember: All clinic visits are outpatient patient status.
Emergency Department (ED): These units are within a hospital
and provide initial treatment to patients with a broad variety of
illnesses and injuries that could be life-threatening and require
immediate attention, hospital admission or surgery. The ED is open 24/7
and is a major entry point for hospital inpatients. Patients can either
walk into the ED or be transported via ambulance. Patients can be
admitted, discharged, or placed in observation from the ED—all depending
on the condition of the patient. Note: ED patients who are
discharged from the ED are considered outpatients. If the patient is
admitted to inpatient status an attending physician is assigned and an
order to admit to the hospital is written. Patients can be placed in
observation and remain in the ED or be transferred to a nursing unit.
Either way the patient’s status remains outpatient.
Outpatient Surgery: This term is also referred to as
ambulatory surgery, same-day surgery or day surgery in which patients
have a surgical procedure that does not require an overnight hospital stay. Outpatient surgery can be a distinct unit within a hospital or a stand-alone facility.
Retail Clinics: These are healthcare clinics located within
retail stores, supermarkets and retail pharmacies that are prepared to
provide treatment related to uncomplicated minor illnesses.) These
clinics (also known as convenient care clinics) are usually staffed by
advanced nurse practitioners, physician assistants, or in some
instances, physicians or residents.
Urgent Care: This is the delivery of outpatient services
(also known as walk-in clinic visits) in a hospital or free-standing
clinic outside of the normal emergency department environment. These
patients are usually unscheduled or walk-ins that require immediate
care, but whose conditions are not serious enough to warrant an
Observation: These hospital patients are neither inpatient
nor outpatient. Patients are placed in a hospital bed (often in an
inpatient unit) after displaying signs or symptoms that require
additional medical work up or evaluations in order to provide a more
definitive diagnosis—but do not need the level of services provided in
an inpatient setting. Observation stays are usually limited to 24 hours
then the physician must determine whether patients’ condition warrants
an inpatient admission or discharge. Note: Patients placed in
observation and then discharged are called observation status patients.
If patients are admitted to the hospital then status is changed to
Skilled Nursing Unit: This is an extended stay unit for
patients who require constant nursing care and have cognitive
deficiencies that require assistance with the activities of daily
living. These units are usually within another facility such as a
hospital or nursing home, and patients are generally elderly or young
adults who have suffered from a catastrophic injury or illness.
Patients must stay a minimum of three days and be able to participate in
therapies such as physical therapy, respiratory therapy or occupational
therapy. Patients on these types of units are not considered acute
Long Term Acute Care Facility: These are acute care
organizations that specialize in providing treatment to patients with
serious medical conditions. These conditions usually require an acute
care level of care but patients must stay for an extended length of
time. These patients are usually transferred from an intensive care unit
from a traditional hospital, and typically need life support assistance
or ventilator management.
Rehab: These are long-term facilities (free-standing or a
distinct unit within a hospital) that specialize in rehabilitative care
for patients including, physical therapy, occupational therapy, and
assistance with activities of daily living. Patients at these
facilities have extended stays as a part of their rehabilitation
program. During rehab, patients learn rudimentary skills such as
walking—following a catastrophic injury or condition. These patients are
not considered hospital inpatients because they are discharged from
acute care and then admitted to rehab.