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In-Patient vs Out-Patient Care

When you receive treatment in a hospital, you’ll be treated as either an in-patient or an out-patient. But what are the differences between these two terms? Let’s go over what they mean for you.

avatar - Megan Lewis
Authored by

Megan Lewis

Commercial Lead

What is in-patient care?

In-patient care is given when someone stays overnight in hospital, even for a single night. Some in-patient care can last for weeks or even months.

With in-patient care, the patient will receive a bed in the hospital, with overnight monitoring from doctors and nurses, and a course of ongoing treatments.

In-patient care is essential after major surgery to ensure a full recovery. Life and limb-threatening accidents and illnesses may also require in-patient care. Childbirth is another situation that usually requires in-patient care, with both the mother and child placed under observation.

As an in-patient, you may be given a structured recovery programme, which doctors and nurses will help you to complete while you stay in hospital. All drugs will be administered by healthcare professionals.

What is out-patient care?

Out-patient care, also known as ambulatory care, doesn’t require a hospital stay, as the patient usually recovers at home.

As an out-patient, you will usually be discharged soon after treatment. You will be given a structured recovery programme to complete at home, with drugs or treatment apparatus given to you to administer yourself.

You are likely to be treated as an out-patient for routine medical procedures, treatments for minor diseases and injuries, and minor surgery.

Out-patient care is often the preferred option for both parties, because it puts less strain on a hospital’s resources while the patient gets to recover in the comfort of their own home.

What are the differences between in-patient and out-patient care?

What requires in-patient care?

Treatments that will require you to stay in a hospital for observation. This can include serious illnesses, major surgery, and childbirth.

What requires out-patient care?

Minor treatments where you can recover at home. Blood tests, minor injuries and physiotherapy are treated on an out-patient basis.

How much does in-patient care cost?

In-patient care can cost 2–3 times the price of out-patient care because the patient will need to pay the bill for their hospital bed, overnight monitoring and ongoing treatments.

How much does out-patient are cost?

Out-patient care is less expensive, because the patient will not need to pay for ongoing treatment.

What happens during recovery as an in-patient?

You will be kept in the hospital for a period lasting from one night to several weeks or months. You will receive observation from medical professionals, and may be expected to complete a recovery programme.

What treatments require out-patient care?

You will be discharged from hospital on the same day. You will be prescribed any drugs or apparatus you need, and you will be expected to administer these yourself. You may be given a structured recovery programme to complete at home. You can always return to the hospital if your situation does not improve.

What determines if you need in-patient or out-patient care?

This will depend on whether you need monitoring by doctors and nurses during your stay in hospital.

This is likely to be the case if you are admitted to intensive care, or if you have had major surgery. You might also need in-patient care for a serious acute or chronic illness, such as cancer or kidney disease.

Out-patient treatment, meanwhile, is for minor surgery like removal of cataracts or moles, minor diagnostic tests like blood tests and X-rays, and physiotherapy.

Some treatments might be provided on an in-patient or out-patient basis depending on the circumstances. You might be able to receive chemotherapy or dialysis treatment as an out-patient, for example.

There’s also a third category, day-patient care. If you’re treated as a day-patient, you’ll be given a hospital bed while you recover from your treatment, but you won’t stay overnight.

What are examples of in-patient care?

Some situations in which you might be given treatment as an in-patient include:

Serious illness

Such as a heart attack, stroke or a life-threatening infection.

Cancer treatment

Including radiotherapy and chemotherapy.


Emergency and ongoing treatment for serious injuries.

Major surgery

A hip or knee replacement will require a hospital stay.


Especially if a caesarean section is involved.

Intensive care

Required because of serious illness or after an operation.

Mental health

In some situations, you may be kept in for monitoring.

Chronic illness

Such as kidney or liver disease.

Severe burns

And other cosmetic procedures requiring extensive plastic surgery or reconstruction.

What should you look out for when choosing your insurance plan?
Find out more here

What are examples of out-patient care?

The kinds of treatment where you’re unlikely to be kept overnight include:

Minor diagnostics & screening

Such as X-rays, blood tests and ultrasound scans. Includes colonoscopy, mammogram, endoscopy.

Minor surgery

Removal of cataracts, and minor surgery on hands and feet, for example.


May be needed after a hospital admission.

In-patient vs out-patient costs

Not surprisingly, in-patient care costs more than out-patient care.

Not only do the kinds of procedures requiring you to stay as an in-patient tend to cost more (cancer treatment is far more expensive than minor surgery, for example), you must also take into account the cost of your hospital stay.

This adds bills for hospital admin, pharmacy costs, and paying for the service of doctors, nurses and other healthcare professionals who attend to you overnight.

One study in 2017 found that the average cost of knee surgery in the USA requiring in-patient care was US$46,845. The same surgery performed on an out-patient basis was just US$26,345 – a saving of over US$20,000, and just 43% of the original price. That goes to show the vast difference in expenses between in-patient vs out-patient treatment.

As an expat, the difference between in-patient and out-patient treatment could have a considerable impact on your expat health insurance policy. The higher costs of in-patient care may mean that you end up paying a higher excess, for instance.

Worse still, if you don’t have international health insurance, you may find yourself paying huge hospital fees out-of-pocket.

Does William Russell provide insurance for both in-patient and out-patient care?

All William Russell plans offer cover for inpatient and outpatient treatment. Cover limits vary depending on which plan you choose.

Bronze, SilverLite, Silver and Gold plans provide full cover for hospital treatment.






Annual limit for out-patient treatment
No limit
US$5,000 (option to
extend up to US$10,000)
No limit
No limit

All plans also offer cover for:

  1. Primary medical care
  2. Physiotherapy
  3. Acute flare ups of chronic conditions

The level of cover depends on the plan and the options you choose.

Selected plans offer cover for:

  1. Hormone replacement therapy
  2. Traditional Chinese medicine
  3. Monitoring and maintenance of chronic conditions

Again, the level of cover depends on your choice of plan.