Ambulatory care involves the diagnosis and treatment of patients on an outpatient basis. The term “ambulatory” technically indicates an ability to ambulate, or walk, with little to no assistance, although it also includes babies who are too young to walk and those who use wheelchairs or other aids on a regular basis. Types of ambulatory care services include annual check-ups, routine tests, and the care of minor illnesses that do not require overnight admission to a hospital. Outpatient surgical procedures are also considered ambulatory care.
The treatment of minor illnesses is one of the most common types of ambulatory care services. The majority of this care is performed at a patient’s primary care physician’s office or a clinic. Minor illnesses include upper respiratory infections, short-term stomach bugs, headaches, and other illnesses that are not life threatening. As long as the condition does not require frequent monitoring or extensive medical interventions, patients are diagnosed, treated with medications when applicable, and sent home to recuperate.
Minor injuries are also typically treated through ambulatory care services. Examples include cuts that are deep enough to require stitches, animal bites, and minor puncture wounds. Broken bones can also be treated on an outpatient basis as long as they do not require surgery to repair. Injuries that result in a significant loss of blood, however, may require overnight hospitalization to replace the lost fluids.
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Outpatient surgeries are quickly becoming one of the more common types of ambulatory care services. Advances in medicine have reduced the recovery time for many types of surgeries, allowing patients to leave the facility on the same day. Many surgeries that once required large incisions can now be performed through smaller laparoscopic incisions. Ambulatory surgical centers are typically less expensive to operate, and those savings are passed on to the patients.
While emergency treatment and outpatient surgeries make up the bulk of ambulatory care services, routine physicals, well-baby checkups, and most types of diagnostic tests also fall under the category. Some patients may also require ongoing tests to monitor a condition, such as imaging scans to follow the growth of a tumor or blood glucose test for diabetics. These tests are typically performed on an outpatient basis as well.
As continuing advances in medicine allow more illnesses and injuries to be treated on an outpatient basis, ambulatory care services may increase in popularity. Illnesses that once required long stays in a hospital can now be treated quickly with medications or other minor interventions. Outpatient services can be less of a drain on both monetary and human resources for hospitals and patients, which often makes them an attractive choice for all involved.