What is Ambulatory Care? Learning More About the Future of Healthcare

What is Ambulatory Care

Today, you can have surgery on your gallbladder, knee or wrist and be back at home within hours, without ever having checked into a hospital. Fifty years ago, you could expect to be in the hospital for up to 10 days after delivering a baby. Now, you may be able to go home the same day. Crazy, isn’t it?

Same-day surgeries and services are the beginning of a new trend in healthcare: Ambulatory care. Also known as outpatient care, ambulatory services have been consistently on the rise. From 2000 to 2004, the percent of registered nurses working in ambulatory care grew five percent, while the percentage of registered nurses working in hospitals dropped four percent. This shift in the healthcare field affects you as a patient and as a future healthcare professional. But what is ambulatory care? We broke it down so you can understand what it is and why it is the future of healthcare.

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What classifies as ambulatory care?

Ambulatory care can be a misleading term, as it actually encompasses a wide range of care and services. By definition, ambulatory care is any same-day medical procedure performed in an outpatient setting. This refers to any medical service that is not performed in a hospital or facility that requires admission. We can further divide ambulatory care into four smaller sub-categories to better help you understand all that ambulatory care encompasses:


This is normally what you think of when you imagine going to the doctor. Ambulatory wellness services are mostly for prevention and basic medical care. They include doctor’s clinics, such as primary care, as well as counseling centers for mental health and weight loss.


Diagnostic services can be provided on their own, or as part of a wellness or treatment program. They include X-Rays, lab and blood tests, MRIs and screening for various cancers and illnesses.


These include same-day surgery centers, substance abuse clinics, chemotherapy and other forms of therapy.


Rehabilitation includes post-operative therapies, occupational and physical therapy and rehabilitation for drug and alcohol abuse. 

In addition to these procedures and services, ambulatory care encompasses newer forms of healthcare, such as telemedicine. Telemedicine allows doctors and nurses to “see” and interact with patients via email, phone and video-chatting. Amelia Roberts, BSN RN, uses telemedicine to assess her patients.

“Ambulatory care is different from hospital care in that my assessments happen via phone and email. My questions have to be very specific as I am not there to make vital observations,” Roberts says.

Who works in ambulatory care?

Ambulatory care, while outside of a hospital, employs almost all of the same healthcare professionals as inpatient care. Doctors, registered nurses, LPNs, physical therapists, physical therapy assistants, surgical techs, medical lab techs and medical administration staff can all be found in various ambulatory care settings.

While no further training or education is needed to work in an ambulatory care setting, nurses can specialize to become an ambulatory care nurse (ACN). Nurses who work in ambulatory care often have more predictable schedules than nurses who work in hospitals. In addition, there are fewer emergencies and complications in outpatient care, making ambulatory care nursing perfect for nurses who don’t want the added stress of working in an emergency room or a large hospital.

How is ambulatory care shaping healthcare?

Hospitals are diverting many services to outpatient facilities. In 2008, outpatient visits rose from 624 million to 675 million. So there’s no doubt that ambulatory care is growing and expanding into the traditional hospital space, but why and how does it affect patient care?

Justin Yeung, MD and CEO of ShareSmart, says, “Ambulatory care is growing in popularity because it is a money-saving measure for hospitals. Inpatient hospital stays are extremely costly and demand a lot of resources.”

To further that reasoning, Roberts says the current financial structure is “not sustainable” and compares current hospitalization costs and conditions to “a very expensive hotel room.” Ambulatory care offers hospitals a cost-effective alternative: They can provide the same services to patients at a fraction of the cost and in a fraction of the time.

With the implementation of the Affordable Care Act, hospitals have been pressed to cut costs and make healthcare more accessible and affordable to all. Ambulatory care provides a solution to both of these. As hospitals begin to turn to outpatient care, patients can expect to see a future of quick, same-day health services.

How does it affect you?

The increase in ambulatory care services and providers is a good thing for you as a patient and a future healthcare professional.

“Having worked in in-home care for many years, I can say that I would always prefer to work on an outpatient basis,” says Eddie Chu of Qualicare. “It addresses both physical and emotional needs and, therefore, provides a more attentive and well-rounded health service looking at the full picture.”

Besides more personalized care, patients who receive outpatient services are able to go home and resume their normal lives and activities more quickly. No overnight hospital stays means more time saved for patients and healthcare professionals alike.

In addition, the costs saved from having overnight stays reveals itself in lower medical bills. Doctors and nurses are also able to hold more routine schedules—no crazy overnights, and some who work in clinics may even have holidays and weekends off.

Be the future

As hospitals transition to more outpatient facilities, traditional healthcare positions will be shifting. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, employment in outpatient care centers is projected to grow 49 percent from 2014 to 2024. Where do you see yourself fitting into this new healthcare dynamic?

Now that you know more about what ambulatory care is and how it is shaping the future of healthcare, compare and contrast two of the most in-demand healthcare settings with our article, Acute Care vs. Ambulatory Care: Which Nursing Environment is Right for You? With so many nursing specialties and settings available, it’s worthwhile to look into all of your options, so you can excel in this exciting and changing field.


About the author

Anna Heinrich

Anna is a Copywriter at Collegis Education who researches and writes student-focused content on behalf of Rasmussen University. She believes the power of the written word can help educate and assist students on their way to a rewarding education.

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