outpatient vs. ambulatory

Discussion in 'English Only' started by word_up, Apr 10, 2009.

  1. word_up

    word_up Senior Member


    I look for three words expressing the type of medical care received.
    As I understand:

    inpatient (care/unit/ward) - is the one where a patient stays for 24h

    outpatient (...) - is the one where a patient spends most of the day (e.g. 8 hours)

    ambulatory care - is the one where a patient visits their doctor from time to time (e.g. 1-hour appointments every Monday - definitely a case in psychiatry, don't know about other specialties)

    Am I right?
  2. Loob

    Loob Senior Member

    English UK
    Hi word up

    I agree with you on "inpatient".

    An "outpatient" visits the hospital etc for treatment, but does not stay overnight. There's no suggestion of the treatment lasting a set period of time. I'm sure the vast majority of outpatient appointments take far less than 8 hours - even when queues are bad;)

    I hadn't heard "ambulatory care" before (maybe it's AmE?), but Wiki tells me it's
    It doesn't, therefore, necessarily imply regular appointments.
  3. sdgraham

    sdgraham Senior Member

    Oregon, USA
    USA English
    Generally speaking in the U.S.

    Inpatient = one who has been formally admitted to the hostpital and has an assigned bed, probably at least overnight.

    Outpatient = one who goes to a hospital for treatment and then departs even though he/she might occupy a bed for a short time. For example, ocular lens replacement for cataracts is now an outpatient treatment.

    Ambulatory = a patient who can walk.

    The actual length of stay and types of treatment are irrelevant.
  4. word_up

    word_up Senior Member

    Thank you both! I'm in the light, now.

    I agree - there's a much less distinct difference between outpatient and ambulatory ( I just hoped this last term is used in English, as I would have a problem how to differentiate two "outpatient" categories).

    By the way - our system (Polish) is similar to the one in the US - but I guess it must be similar in GB, at least in medical (not linguistical) practice.
  5. panjandrum

    panjandrum Occasional Moderator

    Belfast, Ireland
    English-Ireland (top end)
    In the UK, an outpatient does not occupy a bed, however briefly.
    A patient who attends for care, occupies a bed, and leaves the same day is a day case or day patient. That, however, is a technicality rather than a matter of common terminology :)

    Ambulatory care:
    Health Services where people do not stay in hospital overnight e.g. out-patients, x-ray, day surgery and medical diagnostics.
    An individual visiting hospital for treatment without being admitted.
    Day case:
    Operation, treatment or tests undertaken in one day.
    Hospital patient who remains in hospital overnight.


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