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Ambulatory care is a type of medical care that is provided to patients who do not need to be admitted to a hospital for treatment. The types of procedures and treatments are sometimes referred to as “outpatient care.” As the “ambulatory” in the term would seem to suggest, classically the patient can get into a medical facility for treatment under his or her own power.
Many hospitals provide ambulatory care in their emergency rooms for patients who can be treated without being admitted, such as a child with a simple broken arm. Urgent care clinics, optometrist's offices, and doctor's offices also provide this type of care. In all of these cases, the patient's medical treatment does not require hospitalization.
Many chronic conditions can be managed with regular appointments, as for example when an asthma patient goes to a medical professional for a checkup. Basic diagnostic tools, including X-rays, ultrasounds, some biopsies, and blood samples, can also be used to diagnose or manage a medical condition. Many simple procedures can be performed on an outpatient basis as well. Pregnant women, for example, have many appointments as part of their prenatal care plan to monitor the progress of the pregnancy, and these visits can include ultrasound scans, amniocentesis, and other procedures and diagnostic tools.
For patients, ambulatory care tends to be preferable to hospitalization, because most people want to avoid spending time in the hospital. Care on this level can also be substantially less expensive, which can be a concern for some people. Hospitals may also encourage patients to seek outpatient care whenever possible to ensure that the medical facilities will be free when they are needed by critical patients and to cut down on overall operating expenses.
A wide variety of medical professionals, including doctors, nurses, paramedics, and medical technicians, can work in ambulatory settings. In addition to treating patients on site, they can provide referrals for patients who may benefit from treatment elsewhere, along with hospital admissions in cases where they are warranted. A pediatrician, for instance, would refer a child to the hospital for treatment if a routine blood draw indicated that the child had leukemia.
Some outpatient facilities specialize in addressing particular types of medical conditions. For instance, a clinic might provide chemotherapy and radiation treatments for cancer patients, dental care, or physical therapy for people recovering from accidents. These facilities can often be found adjacent to a hospital, or in a clinical complex that has a number of different clinics and offices to serve a wide variety of patients.