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Patient Status Explained

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 emergency department.

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 inpatient.

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 care inpatients.

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.