Related terms include "expectant management", "active surveillance" and "masterly inactivity". The term masterly inactivity is also used in nonmedical contexts.
A distinction can be drawn between "watchful waiting" and "medical observation", but some sources equate the terms. Usually, watchful waiting is an outpatient process and it may have a duration of months or years. In contrast, medical observation usually is an inpatient process, often involving frequent or even continuous monitoring, and may have a duration of hours or days.
Watchful waiting is often recommended for many common illnesses such as ear infections; because the majority of cases resolve spontaneously, antibiotics will often be prescribed only after several days of symptoms. It is also a strategy frequently used in surgery prior to a possible operation, when it is possible for a symptom (for example abdominal pain) to either improve naturally or become worse.
Other examples involve:
Canadian Association of General Surgeons and American College of Surgeons Evidence-Based Reviews in Surgery. 26. Watchful waiting versus repair of inguinal hernia in minimally symptomatic men
Oct 01, 2008; Selected Article Fitzgibbons RJ Jr, Hurder-Giobbie A, Gibbs JO, et al. Watchful waiting vs. repair of inguinal hernia in...