By Dr Bilal Shirazi | 23 Oct 2020

What is In-patient vs Out-patient Healthcare?

What is the difference between in-patient and out-patient healthcare? Understanding the differences will help you get the right private health plan.


A private health plan with outpatient cover only will typically be by far the cheapest choice available.

However, opting for the most affordable plan could end up costing you more in the long run in out of pocket medical expenses.

If you move overseas, your employer will typically offer a level of private health cover, but this might cover outpatient costs only. Therefore, you might not have an adequate level of cover for yourself and your family.

Understanding the differences between inpatient and outpatient healthcare will help you get the right private health plan.

What is inpatient and day patient care?

If you go into hospital for an overnight stay, you're an inpatient. Your stay might last one night, or you might be in hospital for several weeks. The length of your hospital stay will depend on the treatment you need and the extent to which your doctors wish to observe your recovery.

Sometimes, you might be admitted to hospital during the day. In these instances, although you are an inpatient, some hospitals will differentiate between an overnight admission by calling you a day patient.

Private health plans will often treat inpatient and day patient care as the same but be sure to check the details of your plan.

What is outpatient care?

In contrast, if a consultation or treatment doesn't require hospital admission, you're an outpatient.

Typically, appointments where you attend a hospital or clinic for check-ups or aftercare following treatment would fall under outpatient care. In some locations, you won't attend hospital to undergo outpatient care, but a specialist clinic or general practitioner. However, many hospitals in countries around the world also offer comprehensive outpatient care and have specific outpatient departments for this purpose.

You might also be classed as an outpatient if you attend hospital for emergency treatment but leave on the same day without being formally admitted.

What if I’m admitted under observation?

It is also possible that you might need to stay in hospital overnight to undergo observation. When looking for a private health plan, it’s worth checking how admission for observation is treated from an outpatient or inpatient perspective, as it can be a grey area.

Does the quality of care I’ll receive change?

Other than the cost, which we'll explore shortly, whether you're an inpatient or an outpatient shouldn't make much difference from your perspective. Sometimes, you might have the choice of receiving outpatient treatment rather than being admitted to hospital. When given a choice, people usually choose outpatient treatment as it means they don’t have to spend a night away from home and their families.

On other occasions, whether you will be an inpatient or an outpatient may depend on the specific treatment you need, as well as how your doctor wishes to treat you.

Common examples of inpatient care












What about dental and maternity care?

If you add dental care to your health plan, you will usually receive dental treatment as an outpatient. You'd also typically visit a dental surgery rather than a hospital, unless, for example, you were in hospital because of an injury. However, in some countries, you may attend hospital for specific dental procedures, like orthodontic work or x-rays.

Maternity care will be a mix of both inpatient and outpatient care.

  • Appointments pre- and post-birth will typically be conducted on an outpatient basis.


Why is outpatient care cheaper?

Outpatient care is cheaper as costs typically only need to cover the doctor and any tests you need to undergo. When you're admitted to hospital as an inpatient, factors like the use of facilities and any equipment necessary to monitor your health come into play on top of what outpatient care would cost.

What influences the cost of inpatient care?

If you’re an inpatient, your medical costs will continue to grow for each additional night you need to spend in hospital; private hospitals typically have a per day or per stay charge. However, your out of pocket costs will depend on your deductible.


The availability of beds and the type of hospital you are treated in may also influence costs.

For example, the World Health Organization’s most recent data for Europe suggests there are just under 400,000 private hospital beds for inpatients across the continent. Yet, availability differs from country to country, while both for-profit and not-for-profit private hospitals are included in the data.

Do I need to know anything else for my private health plan?

Adding inpatient cover to your private health plan will increase your premium. Still, it could protect you against vast out of pocket costs in the event you need inpatient care.

You should also check how your deductible applies to different types of care.

For example, with a Now Health International plan, your deductible will typically apply only to inpatient treatment or dental and maternity care. Instead, you may have an outpatient per visit excess payable for outpatient treatment depending on the options you choose when you take out your plan.

Choosing the right plan for you

Take the time to choose the right private health plan for yourself and your family. Not only will this help you relocate with peace of mind, but it will also ensure you can get the treatment you need when you need it and be covered for your medical expenses.

While an outpatient only plan may be more affordable, you should consider adding inpatient care to your plan, too.



By Dr Bilal Shirazi

Dr. Bilal has more than 17 years of experience working across clinical medicine and the health insurance sector, with particular expertise in health insurance administration and operations. In addition to his Bachelor of Medicine and Bachelor of Surgery degree (MBBS), he has an MBA and is an Associate Member of the Life Office Management Association (LOMA).  

See Dr Bilal Shirazi's profile