Definition of hospital acute care

Updated April 17, 2017

Acute care is defined as the period of time or pattern of specialised health care during which a patient is treated for a severe injury or illness, trauma or during recovery time from surgery.


The philosophy behind an acute care hospital, or hospitals that have an acute care facility, is to discharge patients as soon as they are able to take care of or be taken care of on their own.

Hospital Acute Care

Hospital acute care is recovery time after surgery or treatment of severe illness or injury that is taken care of in a hospital setting and is most often done by highly specialised personnel. The use of sophisticated and multifaceted technical equipment is frequently involved.

Time Frame

While acute care may be involved with intensive or emergency care, the pattern is frequently only required for a short amount of time, unlike chronic care, according to Mosby's Medical Dictionary, Eighth Edition, 2009.

Acute Care versus Long Term Acute Care

Long Term Acute Care (LTAC) in hospitals is different from acute care in that most cases treated in a LTAC are there for 20 days or more. The actual length of time to fit this definition depends on the facility offering the long term care. Long Term Acute Care provides medically complex treatment and may include weaning patients off ventilators, occupational, speech or physical therapy, pulmonary, critical care and other rehabilitation.


Acute Care in a hospital and Long Term Acute Care is not the same as a nursing home or standard hospital care. The difference, according to is in the specialisation. Acute care is highly specialised and focuses on a smaller variety of illnesses than the traditional hospital or extended care facility.

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About the Author

Beth Richards, a freelance writer since 2002, writes about health and draws from her 25 years as a licensed dispensing optician. She has authored several books, writes for national magazines including "Country Living" and "Organic Family" and is a health and wellness features writer for several publications. She is earning a Bachelor of Arts in English from the University of Maryland.