Inpatient vs. Outpatient Physical Therapy

There are many different types of physical therapy, but they all have the same overarching goal. “A physical therapist helps the patient regain control of the situation and work towards their own functional goal,” explains Amanda Benedict, DPT, Lead Inpatient Therapist at St. Clair Health. Inpatient and outpatient physical therapists work toward this same objective, but they do it under varying circumstances.

Inpatient Therapy

Inpatient therapists work with people who have been admitted to the hospital. They work with people with a variety of health concerns. Sometimes they work with surgical patients, but other times they work with patients who have experienced medical conditions such as illnesses, stroke, or cancer. “I work with any patient in the hospital who could use assistance moving safely while admitted, patients who have had a change in their medical status resulting in decreased mobility, and patients who may need to be discharged to a rehab setting,” explains Amanda.

A major role of an inpatient therapist is discharge planning. Amanda explains that “Many patients have a decrease in their prior level of function as a result of their illness, decrease in mobility, or surgery.” Discharge planning involves evaluating a patient’s ability to complete the activities of their daily living and how well they are able to safely move within their environment. This evaluation will have a large impact on the patient’s discharge location – whether a patient can go back to their home or if they would benefit from additional therapy at a rehab prior to returning home.

Due to the fact that inpatient therapists often focus on mobility and the ability to complete daily tasks, many of the exercises that therapists practice with patients revolve around those types of activities. Some patients may be given activities to increase their ability to sit, stand, and walk without assistance, while others may be given activities that recreate the dynamic environment that we all encounter daily.

Outpatient Therapy

Outpatient therapists work with individuals who travel to their facility for treatment. These patients are generally more mobile and are able to function well enough to be living at home. Outpatient therapists help those struggling with a wide variety of orthopedic and neurological conditions.

Outpatient therapy takes place over a longer period of time than inpatient therapy. An outpatient therapist generally sees their patients for 45-minute sessions a couple of days a week for an extended period of time, whereas inpatient therapists generally only see their patients for one to four days.

“We focus on helping people get back to the things they like to do in their homes and within their community,” explains Ian Chronister, an Outpatient Physical Therapist. Many patients choose to see a physical therapist because there is something wrong that is impacting their ability to function. “We want to help our patients get back to work or help them restore their ability to work without pain,” says Ian.

Therapy can involve a range of different activities based on the patient’s level of health. The activities are generally of a higher intensity than activities completed in an inpatient setting. Patients may have to focus on strength and progressive resistance training exercises in the area where they are affected. They may also work on building their balance by balancing on one leg or on various surfaces. Individuals with athletic injuries may even work on drills that help with agility, speed, and power.

“I think that a big part of physical therapy that is often overlooked is the fact that we are movement experts, but we are also whole body holistic experts,” explains Ian. The goal is to help patients relieve pain and function to the best of their ability. Getting to that point can also include a healthy diet and exercise, so physical therapists are also there to guide their patients and help them make healthy life choices.

If you are searching for outpatient therapy you can learn more about the services offered at St. Clair Health’s Dunlap Family Outpatient Center and Village Square Outpatient Center here.