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What are the Reasons for Outpatient Treatment?

By Maggie Worth
Updated May 17, 2024
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Outpatient treatment is any type of medical treatment that does not require a hospital stay of one or more nights. This includes services such as physician office visits, blood tests, x-rays, mental counseling, emergency room treatment that does not result in admission and outpatient surgery. The opposite of such treatment is inpatient treatment, which does include one or more overnight stays in a hospital or other medical facility. Outpatient treatment is usually chosen over inpatient treatment for a combination of reasons that may include need, effectiveness and cost.

Inpatient treatment is generally far more expensive than outpatient treatment because it requires sustained use of hospital facilities, including staff time, food services, linen services, to name a few. Insurance providers and governmental insurers usually require that the least expensive option be used to treat a patient as long as the treatment is effective. Patients who pay for their own services also generally prefer to choose the least expensive effective option. As long as outpatient treatment is effective, most payers prefer it as the less expensive option.

Outpatient treatment is often all that is necessary for effective patient care. For example, a visit to the doctor for an annual checkup and blood work carries no cause for hospitalization unless a dangerous and urgent condition is detected in the course of the exam. A patient who needs to have his ankle x-rayed to see whether it is broken or merely sprained has no cause to be admitted to a hospital. Likewise, an individual visiting a grief counselor for an hour-long session need not be hospitalized unless he presents a danger to himself or others.

Surgery patients have often been found to convalesce more comfortably and even heal more quickly when recovering at home instead of in the hospital. Any surgery that can be completed in a few short hours, that does not entail high risk complications and that does not involve a patient who has serious risk factors or underlying conditions can be completed on an outpatient basis. If, however, any risk factors exist, inpatient treatment may be indicated.

For example, elderly patients and those with conditions such as diabetes are more susceptible to infection. The surgeon may wish to admit such patients into the sterile environment of a hospital where they can be closely observed, at least until the healing process has begun and the risk of infection decreases. Certain surgeries, such as organ transplants, carry a higher risk of complications, so the surgeon may deem hospitalization necessary for any patient undergoing such a procedure, even if the patient presents no risk factors.

WiseGeek is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.

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