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Glossary > Outpatient Care

Outpatient Care

We hear about in patient care, nursing homes, outpatient care or ambulatory services all the time. Hospitals and drug companies run commercials during TV shows talking about what services they offer to patients at their establishments. We are bombarded with information, with signs and placards for places we can go when we are sick. Not only that, our health insurance providers sometimes make clear of which service we are eligible for and which are out of our realm.

So, how can we decide where to go? Is it outpatient unit or inpatient that we should check in? An important part of getting treatment for our illness especially when resources are limited is to make a decision between the two.

What Is Outpatient Care?

Outpatient care, also called ambulatory services, is treating a patient without any stay in the hospital or medical facility. It can happen anywhere, in a medical office or a clinic but mostly the treatment is provided in a medical office. Your body is often its own healer, and if you are given enough time, most symptoms can go away on their own. Doctors use this theory when treating a patient as outpatient. It is also true that initial care as early as possible is the best way to manage many illnesses. Additionally, the treatment and prescriptions given at outpatient medical care units are mostly the safest and most effective form of care.

So, does it mean the patient is compelled to let go of some of the benefits of being admitted to the hospital? Surely, not, because outpatient care is the first step to treating an illness and making sure that patient is right on track with future care. Not only that, outpatient medical care involves treatment that is beyond the initial care that are explained in detail below.

What Services Are Included In Outpatient Care?

Outpatient services include tests and medical procedures that are done on the patient without him or her required to stay at the hospital overnight. Most of these tests and procedures take only a couple of hours after which the patient is good to go home and rest. The list of services includes, but not limited to, wellness and prevention, diagnosis, weight-loss programs, counseling, treatment, rehabilitation, lab tests and body scans.

Outpatient Care Vs. Inpatient care

The difference lies in the amount of time the patient spends in the hospital, clinic or medical office where treatment or care is provided. For outpatient care, the patient need not spend more than 24 hours in the facility whereas inpatient care needs at least one overnight stay. The reason is, during an inpatient care, the patient needs to be under the supervision of a doctor or nurse. Sometimes, the medication or procedure needs time to make the body heal. Other times, it takes at least more than a day for treatments such as certain drugs and anesthesia to wear off.

When To Seek Outpatient Medical Care

There are many reasons for choosing an outpatient medical care over inpatient care. If you are suffering from a mild fever or cold and ready for a checkup, then outpatient care is the way to go. Not only will it save you a lot of time and money, but prevent you from going through unnecessary medications and treatments as well. Besides, outpatient care services or ambulatory services let you recover in the comfort of your home which means you are unlikely to be exposed to other patients and their illnesses. Again, outpatient care services cost only a fraction of inpatient care, so when money is tight, and your insurance terms are unclear, this is your best bet.

Even patients with good health insurance are told to go for outpatient care first. Why? Because outpatient treatment is easier and more economical for physicians and patients alike compared to inpatient treatment. However, note that many health conditions can interfere with your decision to choose outpatient care services or ambulatory services. Diseases that are severe, such as organ failure, accidents and other debilitating symptoms almost always need inpatient care.

Your doctor should tell you which type of care or treatment is best suitable for your health situation.

  • Is the inpatient care intended to prolong your life?
  • Can the outpatient care services completely relieve your symptoms?
  • Which one is the right choice to improve your ability to function?

These questions will be answered by your physician. Finding the right outpatient care services center also involves a little homework on your part.

  • Does the center accept your health insurance?
  • Is the center clean, comfortable, organized and equipped with relevant professionals and medical equipment?
  • Will you get all the care at the center?
  • Will you be able to return home or work on time?
  • Will you get instructions before and after the procedure?
  • Is the center able to treat your other symptoms as well?
  • It may be up to you to ask these questions with your health provider.