Acute care refers to necessary treatment of a disease for only a short period of time in which a patient is treated for a brief but severe episode of illness. Many hospitals are acute care facilities with the goal of discharging the patient as soon as the patient is deemed healthy and stable, with appropriate discharge instructions.
The term is generally associated with care rendered in an emergency department, ambulatory care clinic, or other short term stay facility. An important aspect of the current health care crisis in the US is the result of the growing need for acute care despite a decrease in the number of facilities which provide that care. This mismatch has resulted from the dramatic increase in the number of patients who are uninsured or underinsured, and therefore unable to pay for services rendered. Those patients often turn to emergency departments for their acute care needs. That has resulted in overcrowding and made it increasingly difficult to focus adequate resources on those patients who present with true emergencies.