Inpatient vs. Outpatient Rehab

senior using medical equipment for rehab

I have a question about inpatient rehab versus outpatient rehab. My husband recently came down with a bad case of pneumonia. He had to be hospitalized and while he’s making progress, he’s not yet back to his old strength. When he stands, I’m worried he’ll fall because he’s still a little shaky.

His doctor wants him to go to an inpatient rehab center for a few weeks of therapy. However, one of my husband’s brothers recently went to outpatient rehab after he sprained his elbow. My husband wants to come home and thinks he could go to outpatient rehab like his brother.

Can you help me understand the differences? I just don’t feel comfortable bringing him home yet, but maybe outpatient is best for him.


It does sound like your husband would be a good candidate for inpatient rehab — especially since that’s what his doctor advised.

Pneumonia can really take a toll on older adults, especially those who already live with chronic health conditions. It is definitely different than recovering from a sprained elbow!

Again, if your husband’s doctor has recommended that he go to an inpatient rehab center for therapy, I would follow that advice. But let’s go over the differences between inpatient and outpatient therapy to help you understand why his doctor gave that advice.

Outpatient Versus Inpatient Post-Hospital Rehab

To start with the basics, the main difference between outpatient and inpatient rehab is where the patient receives the necessary physical, speech or occupational therapy. In outpatient rehab, you can come in for your therapy session, receive services, then return home.

With inpatient rehab, you stay within the community until you’re ready to return home. You receive therapy on campus, while enjoying a variety of services and amenities.

A quick note: You’ll also hear inpatient rehab referred to as post-hospital inpatient rehab, because typically it’s for people like your husband who need a little more help recovering after a hospital stay.

More About Inpatient Rehab and Therapy Services

Here are the important things to know about inpatient rehab:

  • It sounds like safety is one of your worries. If your husband goes to an inpatient rehab center, there will be experienced healthcare professionals on hand around the clock. No worries about him falling and not being able to call for help.
  • The therapy team at an inpatient rehab center will be able to work with your husband throughout the day. He can rest in between therapy sessions, or join in activities and events that are taking place in the center.
  • If your husband chooses outpatient therapy and goes directly home from the hospital, you will have the worry about how to safely transport him to and from his therapy appointments. These trips can be taxing for both the patient and their family. Using inpatient rehab allows for less travel time and more recovery time.
  • While your husband is at an inpatient rehab center, his meals and other needs will be taken care of for him. And, as I touched on above, there will be plenty of things to keep him entertained, such as games, cooking programs, social gatherings and clubs.

Now, it’s possible that your husband may need some outpatient therapy, as well. What is increasingly common is for an older adult to transition from the hospital to a skilled nursing center for a few weeks. Then, once they are safely on the road to recovery, they can be discharged home, possibly with an order to continue their therapy at an outpatient rehab center.

By that time, they are usually stronger and better prepared for living on their own and making their way to and from rehab.


Related: Ask the Expert: Post-Hospital Rehab Insurance Questions


More About Outpatient Rehab and Therapy Services

We’ve briefly discussed outpatient rehab above, but let’s take a look at some other characteristics and offerings of outpatient rehab to help clear things up:

  • As with inpatient rehab, in outpatient rehab different therapy types will be offered, such as physical, occupational and speech therapies. Additionally, a quality therapy facility will offer multidisciplinary therapies tailored to specific treatment goals.
  • In most cases, a physician’s order is required. The patient’s doctor will be kept informed periodically of the progress being made.
  • As an outpatient rehab patient, your husband would likely be given “homework” to do on his own at home. The exercises are an important part of the recovery process.

Optalis communities can provide both outpatient and inpatient rehab. We offer state-of-the art therapy gyms, dedicated therapy professionals and patient-directed care. If you have any other questions or would like to know more about how we can help your husband, please feel free to contact us.