In general, inpatient vs. outpatient care depends on how long you need to be in a hospital or clinic. Outpatient procedures are handled on the same day, while inpatient procedures require overnight or longer hospital stays.

The main difference between outpatient and inpatient surgeries and medical care is whether or not you need to stay overnight. Outpatient care does not require overnight hospitalization while inpatient care does.

The type of procedure you need determines the length of your hospital stay. Certain procedures, tests, and minor surgeries can be handled in an outpatient setting, allowing you to go home the same day. Inpatient hospital care is usually reserved for more major surgeries or less stable health conditions.

In this article, we dig deeper into the difference between outpatient and inpatient care, and which procedures are likely to be handled in each setting.

Outpatient care, or ambulatory care, is any medical procedure or surgery that allows you to go home on the same day as your procedure.

Usually, outpatient surgeries or procedures are scheduled to take place in a doctor’s office or hospital and are not considered medical emergencies.

Inpatient care is any surgery, medical procedure, or treatment that requires you to be admitted to the hospital on an overnight basis or longer.

As an inpatient, your care will be closely monitored by the healthcare team in the hospital throughout your stay. As an outpatient, your care ends once you are cleared to leave after your procedure.

There are also significant cost differences between inpatient and outpatient procedures.

As an outpatient, you or your insurance company will be billed for doctor’s fees and the cost of the procedure or test. Inpatient care is significantly more expensive, as it depends on the length of hospital stay and the specific professionals and treatments involved.

The differences between outpatient and inpatient medical include:

StaySame dayOvernight or longer
CostPhysician fee plus procedureVaries, based on stay and procedures
CareMonitored until released24-hour monitoring
Procedure typesImaging, lab tests, minor surgeriesMajor or emergency surgeries, unstable health conditions

There are many procedures and surgeries that can be handled on an outpatient basis. Some of the more common outpatient procedures and tests include:

Outpatient surgeries

Many minimally invasive surgeries or surgical procedures do not require hospitalization. Outpatient surgeries are usually scheduled and not considered medical emergencies. Outpatient surgeries may also have a faster recovery time due to improvements in less invasive surgical techniques.

Common same-day surgical options may include but are not limited to:

Inpatient surgical procedures and conditions requiring at least an overnight hospital stay can include:

In general, physicians and technicians practice outpatient care, while specialists are more likely to provide inpatient care. But most doctors and medical professionals can treat people in either setting.

For example, your main doctor can provide outpatient treatment for routine conditions but can coordinate with specialists on inpatient care if needed.

Outpatient care is usually any non-emergency surgery or medical procedure that does not require overnight hospitalization. Minor surgeries and procedures can be handled in an outpatient setting. Outpatient treatment is usually less expensive and less invasive than inpatient treatment.

Inpatient care is any medical treatment that requires you to stay overnight or longer in a hospital setting. In an inpatient setting, you’re under continuous observation by hospital staff.

Whether you’re having an outpatient or inpatient surgery or procedure, your doctor should be able to treat you in either setting.