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Understanding The 3 Types of Acute Care & The Staffing Needs of Each

When people talk about healthcare, they can mean many things. A doctor’s visit, an outpatient procedure, or a lengthy hospital stay—and everything in between.

Assessing what type of care is called for in any situation, as well as what types of patients will be involved, is essential for a properly functioning clinical environment. Equally vital to achieving the best patient outcome and the most efficient care is identifying what types of care providers are called for in each setting, and how their duties will differ.

Here’s a look at the three major areas of care, and what’s involved in their delivery from a staffing standpoint:

What Is Acute Care?

This category is how most providers might describe a hospital stay or outpatient procedure. Acute care is active, short-term treatment for a severe injury or episode related to illness, an urgent medical condition or recovery from surgery.

Providers in this scenario range from admissions personnel for a planned procedure to emergency-room staff for an emergency situation, all the way to and through the involvement of surgeons, nurses, and support staff ranging from housecleaning to dietary. Non-clinical staff also will include billing and other post-care support.

What Is Subacute Care?

Often seen as a stepdown from, or precursor to, acute care, subacute care usually takes place in a skilled-nursing facility where patients receive a limited amount of treatment. Examples include rehab centers where physical, occupational and/or speech therapy are delivered. Other types of subacute care include wound care, IV antibiotic therapy, pain management, dialysis, and physician-mandated treatment for cardiac, pulmonary and other conditions such as diabetes or hypertension. Subacute care also can include short-term, post-surgical care with the patient remaining in the facility vs. visiting it for treatment.

As with acute care, there is a wide array of staffing needs for acute care. Fewer triage-oriented physician and ensures will be required, but a great deal more nurses with specific skill sets, along with  nurse practitioners and various types of therapist. Depending on the facility’s capacity for residential treatment, there also will be a need for housekeeping, dietary, and other maintenance staff to provide services for those patients.

What Is Post-Acute Care?

There is some crossover here with subacute care, in that post-acute care can also include rehabilitation and other services after an acute-care episode. Post-acute care, however, also covers palliative services for patients who are nearing the end of life, and these along with other post-acute services can be delivered in a facility or via outpatient treatment in the patient’s home.

Of the three, there is significant growth in the post-acute care area due to a growing aging population, many of whom desire to age in place and so require more in-home and outpatient services. The marketplace for these providers, as with the other two, is regulated at varying levels depending on the municipality and state, and all fall under the overarching guidelines at the federal level, such as those set forth by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.

Staffing volume can sometimes be found in those mandates, so it’s always wise to look at the protocols for any specific city or state to ensure that staff levels meet, or even exceed, the protocols set forth.

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