Acute care is short-term health care that involves treatment and care that are active but not over a long period of time. This type of care is typically used for injuries, illnesses, urgent and emergency needs, and for recovery or rehabilitation after surgery. Acute care is in contrast to long-term care, sometimes called chronic care, for recurring illnesses and progressive or terminal conditions.

There are many types of acute care, from emergency to pre-hospital care to urgent care. Regardless of the type, you or your loved one has a right to receive care that meets certain standards. Your caregivers are responsible for doing all that is reasonably possible to help you and to inform you of your condition and your options for treatment so that you can give informed consent for any procedures or before being discharged or transferred to another type of care.

What is Acute Care?

Acute care is a type of secondary health care. Secondary care describes care that is not received from a person’s primary caregiver, or doctor. It is more specialized than primary care. Acute care is treatment that is necessary but only for a short period of time. It is more specialized than primary care because it may involve emergency health care workers, urgent care specialists, trauma specialists, and other health care provides that are not primary care physicians.

Types of Acute Care

Acute care is a diverse group of medical specialties, but it can be organized into a few different types:

  • Emergency care. Emergency care is any acute treatment that is administered for a life-threatening illness or injury. It may also be used to treat illnesses or injuries that are causing severe pain or may lead to serious consequences if not addressed immediately.
  • Urgent care. This is a type of outpatient, or ambulatory care that is administered from a clinic rather than an emergency room and that typically does not require an appointment. Urgent care is used for pressing, but not emergency, health care needs.
  • Trauma and acute surgery. Acute surgery is used to treat patients with immediate needs, such as the removal of the appendix before it bursts. It may also be used for treating traumatic injuries, like internal bleeding after a car accident.
  • Prehospital care. This is care provided for a patient before they arrive at the hospital. It may be emergency care administered by paramedics or EMT, or it may be evaluation by an urgent care or other doctor who then decides to transfer the patient to the hospital.
  • Critical and intensive care. Intensive or critical care units are typically found in hospitals and are used to treat and monitor patients who have life-threatening conditions but do not require emergency treatment. Patients are often transitioned from emergency to critical care after emergency treatment.
  • Short-term stabilization. This is a type of care that is used to stabilize a patient ahead of the actual treatment. For example, a patient may need to be stabilized and hydrated with

The Importance of Acute Care

This kind of care provided in an acute setting is important to individuals and to the community at large. Acute care facilities, such as hospitals, have a responsibility to be prepared for any eventuality, including natural disasters, widespread illness or epidemics, and accidents involving a lot of people. Acute care plays an important role in saving lives and preventing disability in patients. When practiced with high standards of care, acute care is a valuable part of medicine.

Responsibilities of Health Care Facilities in Providing Acute Care

As with all types of care, professionals who provide acute care must adhere to certain standards of care and quality of care. The facility, the nurses, the doctors, and other professionals have a responsibility to give you quality care to the best of their abilities and training, doing all that is reasonable to assess, diagnose and treat your condition, and to advise you if there are choices to be made.

Informed consent is an important part of many instances of acute care. This means that you have a right to have the information necessary in order to make a choice about your care. For example, if you have a choice between undergoing surgery for an injury or waiting to see what happens, your caregiver should give you the most expert advice so that you can make a decision that is informed. Even if your decision goes against what the doctor advises, it was informed.

After Receiving Acute Care

Many types of acute care require some type of follow up, to evaluate the condition or injury or to determine if further treatment is needed. Being discharged from acute care may also require that you make an important decision. For some situations, simply going home is the best option. A child with a broken arm that has been casted or family member with an infection and a prescription for antibiotics are likely to be able to go home to recover with follow ups with doctors later.

Other situations may be more complicated. Depending on the injury or illness and the overall stability and health of the patient, he or she may need to be transferred to a rehabilitation facility, intensive care, or home but with skilled nursing support. Your medical team should explain your options to you and answer any questions you have before you make a decision. This planning for discharge and post-acute treatment is an important part of the standard of care because it allows patients and their caregivers to make informed decisions. And, follow up after acute care is an important part of good quality health care.

Most people will require some type of acute care during their lives, often many times. Getting sick, suffering an injury, having a heart attack, and other health issues are what leads people to seek out acute care. This is a very important part of health care because it saves lives and prevents or minimizes disabilities patients might otherwise suffer. You have a right to good care when you seek out acute care from health professionals. Know what to expect and be informed so that you can demand and ensure you get the best possible care.