Understanding types of care is important for planning care. There are so many different kinds of care that are possible, that making choices regarding care can be daunting. The more you know about care and all the available options, the more empowered you will be to make good choices. You will also be better able to expect and demand quality and certain standards of care for yourself or a loved one.

Short-Term vs. Long-Term Care

In some ways care can be broken down into simpler subtypes, such as short-term or acute care and long-term care. The differences are fairly obvious, but short-term care could range from a few minutes of first aid to a few days of treatment in the hospital for a mental health crisis. There is a lot of variation, but in general, short-term care is any care that is not ongoing for weeks or longer.

When care is required on an ongoing basis, for several weeks, for months, or even for years, it is referred to as long-term care. Examples of long-term care include months of regular physical therapy to restore mobility after an accident, permanent residency in a nursing home for an elderly parent, or years of regular treatment and checkups for a chronic illness, like diabetes.

Inpatient and Outpatient Care

Care can also generally be classified as outpatient care, also known as ambulatory care, or inpatient care, also known residential care. A lot of short-term care is ambulatory, such as when you break a leg and go to the emergency room or when you have a regular visit to your doctor to treat the flu. Short-term care may be inpatient care, such as an extended stay in the hospital to treat a serious condition like pneumonia for a week or two.

Residential care is more often associated with long-term care. For instance, if you have a family member struggling with drug addiction, you may find a residential treatment facility in which he can stay for intensive treatment for a few months. Residential care is also often used for illnesses like Alzheimer’s disease or dementia, which require more round-the-clock care than can be provided at home.

Types of Residential Care

Residential, or inpatient, care can be a very important type of care because it is often used for people with chronic, serious, or terminal illnesses, or for patients who can no longer live independently. Choosing residential care is a big deal and it is important to understand options and to be able to choose a facility that will provide the best possible care and support. There are different types of residential care, depending on a patient’s needs:

  • Mental health or addiction rehabilitation. These are mental and behavioral health facilities that provide treatment for mental illnesses or addictions that are severe enough to limit a person’s ability to function.
  • Assisted living. Assisted living facilities are designed for older adults who still have some degree of independence but still need help with household chores and some minor medical care.
  • Nursing homes. For people who need 24-hour care, nursing homes are an option. These are designed for older adults, but also people of any age who cannot live independently and need a lot of care.
  • Facilities for Alzheimer’s and dementia. There are also facilities that specialize in housing patients with these debilitating brain disorders. They provide specialized care and services.

Emergency and Urgent Care

Two important types of short-term care are emergency and urgent care. Emergency care is provided in an emergency room, usually in a hospital. This type of care is for situations that require immediate medical attention, such as serious burns, broken bones, or psychiatric emergencies, such as when a person is suicidal. Urgent care is for medical needs that are not necessarily emergencies and is often provided in clinic that may be open 24 hours a day. Urgent care can be used for something that is not life-threatening or that does not require immediate treatment. For example, a minor cut can be treated at urgent care, while a large wound that is bleeding a lot is an emergency.

Hospital Care

There are many reasons to seek care in a hospital and there are many different types of care offered in hospitals. Care may be acute, such as is provided in the emergency room, or it may be more long-term, such as ongoing chemotherapy for cancer care. In addition to emergency rooms, most hospitals have an intensive care unit, or ICU. Care in the ICU is for patients who need more monitoring and more intensive treatment. This can include premature babies, cardiac patients, or surgical patients.

Hospitals may also provide many different types of care that is not intensive, such as prenatal care for women, radiology for diagnosis and imaging tests, psychiatric units for mental health care, pediatric units for children, surgical units for all types of surgery, oncology units for cancer care, critical care units for patients stepping down from the ICU, and many more.

In-Home Care

Some people with chronic or long-term illnesses or disabilities can stay home with good care. An older adult may benefit from in-home care if he or she is still mostly independent but needs some assistance with medication, IVs, bathing, or other regular activities. Depending on a person’s finances, more intensive care can be used in the home, even for someone who is not independent at all. More care, and more specialized care, costs more. Specialized care may require a registered nurse.

Adult Day Care

For adults with disabilities, who are struggling with independence, or who have dementia symptoms, adult day care is an option for daytime supervision. This is a good choice of care for someone living with a family member who needs to work during the day. An adult day care facility can provide supervision, socialization, and activities.

Rehabilitative Therapy

Therapy can be a type of care that complements medical care. Physical therapy, for instance, can be used to increase mobility and reduce pain after surgery. Occupational therapy is used to help disabled or injured patients learn how to use adaptive devices and complete normal activities. Speech and language therapy is typically used for children with speech impediments or a disability that makes speaking difficult. Respiratory therapy is care for people with conditions that make breathing difficult.

Mental Health Care

An important area of care is for mental illnesses. Mental health care includes a wide range of care types from hospitalization for psychosis or suicide to regular therapy sessions for depression or anxiety. There are many different types of psychotherapy that can be used to treat mental illnesses, and these can be conducted one-on-one, in groups, or with families. Mental health care may take place in residential facilities as well, for those patients who need more intensive care. Most mental health care is ongoing, long-term care because mental illnesses have no cure.

Hospice and Palliative Care

For end of life care, patients can benefit from palliative care and hospice care. Palliative care is any care plan with the main goal of making the patient as comfortable as possible. This can include pain management, physical therapy, alternative therapies, and other types of care. Hospice care includes palliative care but is also residential so that patients can get 24-hour medical care as needed.

Specialist Medical Care

Medical care comes in many different forms, and while most people get regular care from a general doctor or family practitioner, many will also need specialty care at some point in their lives. Getting care from a specialist typically begins with an evaluation by a general doctor and then a referral. Examples of specialist care includes cardiology for heart problems, oncology for cancer, obstetrics for pregnancy, dermatology for skin conditions, or neurology for nerve and brain disorders and damage.

The types of care that are possible are seemingly endless. Before you make any care decisions for you or for a loved one, be sure you understand what all the options are. In many cases there will be more than one right answer for your care needs. You have to match your most important needs with the benefits that various types of care can provide. With information about care types you can make better choices.