Ambulatory care refers to any kind of care that is provided on an outpatient basis. This is the kind of health care that most people receive on a regular basis, from getting a broken bone fixed in the emergency room to visiting an internist for a diagnosis of a nagging illness. There are many different kinds of caregivers that may provide this care in a range of settings, from hospitals to clinics and private practices.

You may have a choice between inpatient and outpatient care, which means you need to be informed of risks and benefits. Doctors and other caregivers have a responsibility to provide the best care, but also to help you make the right choices. Expect the best care, regardless of your choice, and know what options you have if something goes wrong and you don’t get quality ambulatory care.

Inpatient vs. Outpatient Care

Ambulatory care is also known as outpatient care. It is any kind of care that does not require an extended stay in a health care facility. An extended stay is anything that requires staying overnight. Whether your receive inpatient or outpatient care depends on your needs. Sometimes the choice is obvious. For example, if you need major, complicated surgery, an inpatient stay in the hospital is necessary. On the other hand, if you cut your finger and need a few stitches, you can receive care and then go home to heal and rest.

Outpatient care is typically used for medical examinations, tests, and screenings used for diagnostic purposes. It is also used for rehabilitation services, like physical therapy, for treatments like radiation therapy for cancer, and for minor procedures. When the patient is able to function after a procedure, and after any anesthesia used has worn off, outpatient care is usually chosen. If a patient needs more observation, monitoring, or care after a procedure, inpatient care may be needed. Ambulatory care is often also less expensive.

Types of Ambulatory Care

This type of outpatient care can take many forms, depending on the needs of the patient. Any typical visit to a doctor’s office is considered outpatient care. This can be for a regular checkup, for an illness, or for minor procedures such as a mole removal in a dermatologist’s office. Care received at an urgent care clinic, or other type of clinic is also considered outpatient care.

Ambulatory care can take place in a hospital too. Any time you need to visit the hospital for any type of care, but do not stay overnight, you are receiving care on an outpatient basis. Reasons to be in the hospital for outpatient care include imaging tests, like X-rays or MRIs, diagnostic tests and screenings, outpatient surgical procedures, treatments like chemotherapy, or rehabilitation sessions.

Ambulatory care may also be used to treat patients with chronic conditions, as a way to prevent inpatient stays or hospitalizations. This may be a strategy used for things like chronic respiratory illnesses, cancer, or diabetes. For many patients it is a better option to be able to return home than to be hospitalized, so ambulatory care can help prevent the need for an extended stay.

Other types of ambulatory care include wellness care, alternative medicine and treatments, mental health therapy, and other therapies, such as respiratory therapy or occupational therapy. Wellness care may include meetings with a nutritionist or preventative care, while alternative treatments may include sessions of acupuncture or homeopathy. Therapy sessions, such as working with a physical therapist are outpatient sessions. Mental health care is also done on an outpatient basis, with group or individual therapy sessions.

Ambulatory Care Settings

Settings for outpatient care are numerous. Any doctor’s office or a specialist’s office can serve as a facility for ambulatory care. A hospital may provide outpatient care, and some even have an outpatient center separate from other units in the hospital. Urgent care clinics, family planning clinics, mental health care facilities, and therapy offices, are also settings where patients may receive ambulatory care. There are also many ambulatory centers that are set up for specialized care, including cancer centers, cardiology centers, or pain management to name just a few examples.

Ambulatory Surgery

When you need to have a surgical procedure you may have a choice between hospitalization and outpatient surgery. To make the right decision, be sure to talk to your regular doctor and your surgeon about the benefits and risks of each option. If there are few risks of not being hospitalized, outpatient surgery is often a popular choice.

With ambulatory surgery you spend less time in the health facility and more time at home where you are likely to be more comfortable. Outpatient care is also typically less expensive. Another reason to choose ambulatory surgery is that it is often performed at specialized facilities where the staff is experienced in caring for patients with your specific needs, such as plastic surgery or orthopedic surgery. One reason to choose inpatient surgery may be if you do not have anyone to care for you or help you at home while you recover.

Follow up for Ambulatory Care

Good quality ambulatory care should not end once the care is given. Most care offered on an outpatient basis requires some type of follow up and it is the responsibility of your caregivers to inform you of what is needed. If you have had surgery, for instance, you need follow up appointments to ensure the wound is healing and is not infected. For a diagnostic screening, like an MRI, you need a follow up appointment to review the results and receive a diagnosis or to determine if you need more testing.

Ambulatory care is an important part of health care because it provides patients with a type of care that is efficient, timely, and effective if provided by diligent health care professionals. If you have a choice between inpatient and outpatient care, there are pros and cons on both sides. Make sure you have all the information before you make a decision and rely on the expertise of your doctors in making that choice. If you do receive ambulatory care, know what care you are entitled to and act if you think you have not received the best care.