Is it Time to Say Goodbye to Outpatient Care?

outpatient [ˈoutˌpā sh ənt]

Labels can be very useful. They make our lives simpler, help us to compartmentalize, categorize, and make quick decisions. They can bring structure to our view of our world.

But we all know the inherent dangers that come along for the ride: Stereotypes, Biases, generalizations. Labels can be woefully inadequate in defining the true essence of what or whom we are attempting to depict. In the worst cases, we let them do our thinking for us. So with no more gravitas, I propose that we say goodbye to a popular label that we have all lived with for quite some time: outpatient care. 

What could be so wrong with such an innocent little term?

After all the Merriam-Webster dictionary defines “outpatient” simply as: a patient who is not hospitalized overnight but who visits a hospital, clinic, or associated facility for diagnosis or treatment. It even works as a noun or an adjective. And of course, we have its complement, inpatient care.

And I guess that’s where a little “word spark” ignites for me. I want all care to be framed as inpatient. Not in the traditional sense of where patient care is provided, but in a philosophical sense of patient inclusiveness and centricity.

This comes to mind on a daily basis for me when I think about the ways technology could help bring the patient closer to their health information and to their care team. What if we could keep a dialog between doctor and patient beyond the eight-minute appointment window? What if location was sometimes irrelevant to the care provided? What if the patient was an active participant in their health record?

Today we have the technologies to make this happen: to connect patients with their care team administratively and clinically—wherever, whenever. It’s exciting to ponder how patient care will evolve as web-based and unified patient and practice-facing technologies proliferate and begin to shift the dynamics of how we travel along our lifelong health journey.

Perhaps one day we will add a new label to our healthcare vernacular to take the place of “ambulatory care” or “outpatient care.” One that inspires and defines a new level of patient inclusion afforded by advancements in how we document, share and confer.

I can’t wait.

About the Author
Stephen Armstrong

Stephen Armstrong is senior vice president for Hello Health, the revenue generating EHR platform for primary care practices supporting practice vitality through patient engagement.