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What is Outpatient Surgery?

Tricia Christensen
Updated May 17, 2024
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Outpatient surgery refers to those surgeries that usually don’t require people to stay overnight in a hospital after they’re performed. Also called same-day surgeries, most people go home a few hours after having an uncomplicated outpatient surgery. Surgeries and other medical interventions undertaken on an outpatient basis may be performed in doctor’s offices, at surgical centers, or in hospitals where option to hospitalize a patient for longer is available.

There are now many outpatient surgery options for people, especially when the surgery is relatively simple and the patient does not have any health conditions that might necessitate hospital stay thereafter. In fact, there has been a growing trend toward increasing the number of outpatient surgeries. There are several reasons why outpatient surgery has become much more popular and safer.

First, surgical techniques have been significantly refined over the last few decades. Some surgeries don’t even require huge incisions anymore, which means risk from surgical wounds is extremely minimal. Technology in anesthesia has also improved, making it much easier for people to recover from general anesthesia very quickly and without complication. Studies have also shown that many people recover better at home than they would in hospitals, which can be noisy and may increase risk of infection.

Another driving force behind outpatient surgery expansion is the way that it lowers cost of medical care. Hospital stays can be expensive and complicated. When they’re not necessary, cost reduces significantly, especially when people have surgeries performed in surgical centers or doctor’s offices.

Some people are not always ideal candidates for outpatient surgery. Complicated health issues may make surgery in a hospital a better choice so that lengthier hospitalization is an option. Usually most same-day surgeries are minor ones, and can include things like many cosmetic procedures, tonsil removal, most laparoscopic procedures, and things like simple hernia repair. A doctor lets patients know what surgery options would be best, given type of surgery and general health of the patient.

There can be some downsides to outpatient surgery. People who do not have someone to care for them may not get adequate care or may do too much after a surgery. Sometimes people must pay for private nursing after going home if they don’t have a reliable person to help them out. Some doctors do consider the personal situation of patients who may be at risk if they go home and have no help, though not all doctors evaluate this.

If another person can help, burden for care can be on that person who is not a medical professional. Aftercare can be worrying and exhausting for caretakers and may significantly impact ability to care for other people too, like children. Some people feel resentful of this shift in the burden of care from medical professionals to lay people and would much prefer that people undergoing surgery get care in a hospital.

All surgeries have an element of risk and some people worry about what may happen if an emergency arises and they are not having surgery at a hospital. Patients with complications that have operations in surgical centers or at doctor’s offices may need to be transferred to a regular hospital if extreme complications arise or if recovery is not as expected. People may not want to risk this, and given the option between a surgical center and a hospital, they may prefer to choose hospitals if a doctor has privileges there, just in case problems arise.

However, most studies on outpatient surgery conclude that with general precautions this form of surgery is extremely safe. If people have concerns about the safety of a particular procedure performed outpatient, they should discuss risks and benefits with their physician. For many people getting to recover at home proves of especial benefit, and not getting astronomical medical bills after a surgery can be a helpful thing too.

WiseGeek is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Tricia Christensen
By Tricia Christensen
With a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and years of experience as a WiseGeek contributor, Tricia Christensen is based in Northern California and brings a wealth of knowledge and passion to her writing. Her wide-ranging interests include reading, writing, medicine, art, film, history, politics, ethics, and religion, all of which she incorporates into her informative articles. Tricia is currently working on her first novel.
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Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen
With a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and years of experience as a WiseGeek contributor, Tricia...
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