October 12, 2021 | Net Health

3 Minute Read

Acute Care Therapy vs. Inpatient Therapy: What is the Difference?

If you’re a newcomer to the industry, the rehab therapy space can be a little confusing. There are a variety of settings, care modalities, and industry terms to wrap your head around. Even seasoned rehab therapists have a hard time keeping it all straight.

Of the various rehab therapy spaces, two of the most commonly confused are acute care therapy and inpatient therapy, more commonly referred to as inpatient rehab.

In this blog post, we will discuss what the two have in common and where they differ.

Acute care therapy and inpatient rehab: commonalities

Both types of rehab therapy help people recover from injury or illness. They use physical, occupational, and speech therapies to assist patients in regaining their independence. Mental health services may also be integrated, as needed, during time of care.

In addition, both acute care therapy and inpatient therapy can be provided either on an individual basis or as part of group sessions.

How acute care therapy and inpatient rehab differ

For starters, it is important to understanding that “inpatient” refers to simply staying in a hospital, care facility, or in some situations, in a skilled nursing facility (SNF). For this reason, technically, acute care and inpatient rehab are both considered “inpatient” care.

The distinguishable differences are in the nuances. Acute care therapy and inpatient rehab use a different timeline for recovery due to varying treatment requirements, often depending on the severity of the injury, illness, or recovery time required.

When a patient has discharged from an acute care setting, but they need continued rehab, they may then move to inpatient rehab.

Because of the differences in injury severity, they can also require varying levels of professional strategy to deliver outcomes. The treatment team sizes, for example, can be very different between acute therapy and inpatient rehab.

Let’s take a closer look at the differences between acute care therapy and inpatient rehab. We have also added a bonus section that uncovers the differences between inpatient acute care and therapy at post-acute facilities, such as Skilled Nursing Facilities (SNF) or Assisted Living Facilities (ALF).

What is acute care therapy?

When discussing acute care meaning, we first look at the condition. An acute condition is one that doesn’t require extended hospitalization. Therefore, acute care therapy, which is specifically designed to treat acute conditions, is typically shorter than inpatient rehabilitation.

Acute care therapy is provided in acute care settings (hospitals typically being the acute nursing facility) for those who need short-term assistance recovering from surgery.

The goal of acute care therapy and acute care services is still to provide the patient with the skills they need to function independently once they leave the hospital. This usually includes redeveloping essential skills such as lifting an arm or walking.

Because acute care therapy is about rehabbing essential skills and motor functions, treatment occurs daily or multiple times a day. Once patients regain function, they are typically discharged, either to another rehab setting or home.

It’s important to note in the distinction that with acute care therapy, it’s part of full care treatment. For instance, a patient may have had shoulder surgery and acute care therapy is just one part of their care. However, with inpatient rehab, patients are there specifically for rehab therapy.

What is acute inpatient therapy (or inpatient rehab)?

One way physicians may provide inpatient rehab is through an IRF (inpatient rehabilitation facility). Separate from the hospital at which they would have been discharged, IRFs offer intense rehab programs and therapy for those who have experience a severe illness or debilitating injury.

Those suffering from stroke, joint replacements, or brain injuries often find IRFs a good fit, since the goal is to provide a full suite of medical and personal services while focusing intently on a carefully prescribed rehab regimen. The ultimate outcome is for the patient to be able to return home at some point after their therapy.

Inpatient rehabilitation usually lasts for weeks to months. It’s administered either through partial hospitalization (PH) or residential (RR), depending on the patient’s needs.

The length of inpatient rehabilitation stays depend on the severity of the condition and how quickly the patient is expected to progress with recovery. Inpatient therapy is often used for conditions that will benefit from an intensive period of therapy, such as a spinal cord injury or stroke.

The goal is of inpatient therapy is to help patients gain independence by teaching them how to manage their condition at home or in a community setting. This kind of physical rehabilitation is focused on improving strength and function to increase mobility, so that once discharged home, patients will be able to continue making progress safely.

Because of these goals, therapists spend significant time with patients in inpatient therapy. Therapy sessions occur daily and can range from an hour to several hours at a time.

Acute Rehab versus SNF (Post-Acute Facilities)

Acute care therapy and therapy provided at post-acute facilities, like skilled nursing facilities, have different purposes and roles in patient recovery, based on the severity of the patient’s condition and the progression of their recovery.

While acute care therapy typically occurs in a hospital setting immediately after a surgery, injury, or onset of a serious illness. The main goal of therapy at this stage is to stabilize the patient’s condition, manage pain, prevent further complications, and start the early stages of rehabilitation.

Therapists, including physical, occupational, and speech therapists, work in acute care and often have to make quick, critical decisions regarding the patient’s care due to the severity and immediacy of the medical situation. Acute care therapy is typically more intensive and frequent, aiming to quickly address urgent medical issues.

On the other hand, therapy provided at post-acute facilities, like skilled nursing facilities, is geared towards long-term recovery and rehabilitation. Once the patient’s condition has been stabilized in an acute care setting, they may be transferred to a post-acute facility for continued care.

Therapy in these settings often focuses on improving functionality, increasing strength and endurance, and teaching new skills or adapting old ones to accommodate any changes in the patient’s abilities. The pace of therapy in skilled nursing facilities may be slower, with a greater emphasis on sustained progress and the potential for extended lengths of stay. Post-acute therapists have a longer period to work with patients, allowing for a more thorough and detailed rehabilitation plan.

Overall, while both acute care therapy and therapy in post-acute facilities play critical roles in patient recovery, they differ significantly in terms of the immediacy of care, the goals of therapy, and the pace and timeline of treatment. Both settings are integral to the healthcare continuum, providing vital services to patients at different stages of their recovery.

Different tools and systems

Because of the unique nature of the acute therapy environment and its individual operational demands separate from those in inpatient therapy, hospitals and care networks often use specialized software platforms, such as Net Health Therapy for Hospitals, within acute therapy departments and acute care facilities.

These electronic health record (EHR) systems help streamline tasks like patient documentation, treatment plans, staff scheduling, patient visits, and billing.

For inpatient therapy, many hospitals use institution-wide EHR systems that are more general and are used across several departments.

What does each form of care look like for patients?

Inpatient rehab requires pre-admission in most cases, and once there, patients will be assigned a care team to tend to all their health and wellness needs. This often includes more than just the rehabilitation activities; wound care, medication, occupational, speech, and mental wellness professionals will all have a role in making sure the patient returns as close to their whole self as possible. This also includes preventive and primary care providers.

Inpatient rehab in acute care facilities and inpatient PT requires a careful coordination of many skilled professionals, so forming a plan for care may take time. Once accepted and implemented, however, inpatient rehab can provide a minimum of three hours a day to a patient, as well as giving the access to the recreational and personal development activities that are appropriate for this point in their recuperation.

There have been many advancements in how inpatient rehab is delivered, and patients can expect to see even more specialized professionals involved in their recovery than in the years’ past. From meals to meds to movement, recovery via an inpatient setting is a significant commitment but one that can create incredible outcomes for patients who follow through.

Acute rehab, on the other hand, will likely rely on the healthcare professionals already tending to the patient at the hospital and a few therapy experts connected to the facility.

While numerous individuals will continue to follow up with rehab efforts after discharge, the nature of acute rehab is that it isn’t designed to last long.

Whether it’s for a few weeks or months, patients prescribed with acute rehab are usually expected to make a significant recovery in far less time than those patients recommended for inpatient rehab.

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