What is an Inpatient?

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

An inpatient is a patient who must be hospitalized for at least one night in order to receive medical treatment. This is contrast with an outpatient, a patient who only needs to stay at a hospital or clinic for a brief period of time for medical care before returning home. Inpatients are often in the hospital for surgical procedures, or for monitoring after accidents or serious medical events which compromised their health in some way.

An inpatient stays in the hospital at least one night for treatment.
An inpatient stays in the hospital at least one night for treatment.

Most hospitals try to minimize the number of inpatients they have, restricting bed space specifically to those who need it, and encouraging their staff to perform as many outpatient procedures as possible. This is done for reasons of efficiency, as outpatients are less expensive to care for, and they often appreciate being allowed to go home after procedures are finished. Sometimes, however, a patient's condition warrants hospitalization.

Hospital inpatients are those who have been assigned a bed in a hospital.
Hospital inpatients are those who have been assigned a bed in a hospital.

In the case of scheduled medical procedures like surgeries, an inpatient is usually given an estimate about the length of stay, with a caveat that complications could extend the stay. In the case of emergent conditions requiring immediate care, providers may be less able to predict how long a patient will need to stay, as the patient's condition will require careful assessment. Chronic conditions may require lengthy hospital stays, as do some terminal conditions, due to the complexity of care required.

Inpatients are often in the hospital to undergo a surgical procedure.
Inpatients are often in the hospital to undergo a surgical procedure.

Being an inpatient can be frustrating, as a lot of lying around is often required, and it can also be extremely expensive. Every inpatient in a hospital requires the care of nursing staff, along with attention from doctors and technicians to diagnose and treat the patient's condition. Hospital stays also tend to involve costly medical tests and procedures, and the bill can rapidly get quite large. Mysterious emergent conditions can be especially costly, because doctors may try several courses of diagnosis and treatment before they are able to resolve the issue.

Chronic conditions may require lengthy hospital stays.
Chronic conditions may require lengthy hospital stays.

Many hospitals recognize that people do not generally enjoy being patients, and they provide diversions for their hospitalized patients to make the experience more pleasant. At a minimum, a hospital has scheduled inpatient visiting hours, so that family and friends can stop by for conversation and to bring requested comfort items like books or movies. Many hospitals also have outreach programs with therapy animals, visiting clergy, and other visitors who can connect with patients to reduce their boredom and frustration.

Every inpatient in a hospital receives care from the nursing staff.
Every inpatient in a hospital receives care from the nursing staff.
Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a wiseGEEK researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

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Discussion Comments


Moldova - I would imagine that the anxiety level of a person with anorexia must be huge because they already feel they are overweight so trying to get them to see that gaining weight is necessary for them to thrive must be really difficult.

I know that if the anorexia is severe enough there may be irreversible damage done to many of the body’s major organs.

This is why if you see early signs of the disorder in someone it is important to urge them to seek treatment right away.

They say that teenage girls are most susceptible to this disorder because they are so body conscious.


BrickBack - That is really too bad. I want to add that many inpatient treatment centers like Rosewood are widely respected and are effective in treating those with eating disorders.

They treat bulimia with cognitive behavioral therapy and try to change the patient’s eating habits before they deal with the anxiety of the weight issue.

They also examine the patient’s personal relationships in order to determine the source of the problem.

Since this condition involves a lot of shame many patients are embarrassed that they suffer from the condition and may not be as forthcoming which may make treatment more challenging.


SurfNturf - I wanted to say that many hospitals are cutting back on these services in effort to save money.

For example, St. Vincent Medical Center located in the Greenwich Village neighborhood in Manhattan says they will end their rehab, behavioral health and acute centers.

They said that patients needing these services will be given a referral to another inpatient facility. This is after employees took a 20% pay cut, but it was not enough because the hospital is over $700 million dollars in debt which is happening in a lot of hospitals.

Jackson Memorial Hospital in Miami is $200 in debt and it took will have to reevaluate the services that it offers its patients as well.


Anon116142- I agree that it was a great article. I just wanted to say that inpatient substance abuse treatment is critical because the patient has to orient themselves to a different reality.

They have to function without drugs and sometimes will need medication in order to deal with the withdrawal symptoms that arise.

The patent can also receive therapy that can get the patient on the right path. The patient needs help in so many different areas of their life that the only way for the them to have a chance at success involves an inpatient stay.

Once they have assimilated the rituals of the inpatient treatment center then they can seek a support group outside of the center in order to continue healing from the addiction.


Thank you. This was very helpful.

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