What is ambulatory care

What is ambulatory care?

November 16, 2021
November 16, 2021

The current care continuum is far broader than in the past, with healthcare environments designed for different kinds of care and a proliferation of specialized doctors, nurses, and other clinical staff trained to provide limited, specific kinds of care. Procedures in a hospital, such as operation to repair an injury or delivering a baby once required length hospital stays for recuperation. Now surgery often occurs on a same-day basis, without an overnight stay involved. This is one example among many of the different nature of ambulatory care.

What does ambulatory care mean?

According to Rasmussen University, ambulatory care "actually encompasses a wide range of care and services… [and] 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." The same source breaks ambulatory care down into four sub-categories:

  • Wellness – Preventive and basic medical care in a doctor's office, as well as counseling centers, including telemedicine
  • Diagnosis – Scans of many types, as well as blood tests
  • Treatment – Same day surgery, addiction treatment facilities, cancer treatments, other kinds of therapy
  • Rehabilitation – Post-operative therapy, including occupational therapy (OT), physical therapy (PT), and addiction rehabilitation

Why is ambulatory care important?

Rasmussen University also offers that for years now, "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." McKinsey has identified ambulatory care as an area of healthcare that will experience "a disproportionate share of growth in the coming years." The same report shares that non-hospital care will likely "account for almost 65 percent of projected profit pools by 2022, with an average growth rate of around 2 percent that started in 2019." Furthermore, "The healthcare and social assistance sector will generate around 3.4 million new jobs through 2028; more than half of these new jobs will be in ambulatory care services, while only 350,000 will be in hospitals, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics." McKinsey reinforces their predictions, stating that "Employment in outpatient care centers alone is projected to grow around 35 percent over the next decade."

Ambulatory care nursing

The Atlanta Journal-Constitutionquotes the opinion of registerednursing.org that "Ambulatory care is a great specialty for licensed RNs of any background, since the type of care provided can be so broad. It's also ideal for those coming out of nursing school who don't want to work odd hours or be in a stressful hospital environment." They describe the role of this clinician as "helping patients who require routine medical care for acute and chronic illnesses. The work is defined more by the setting than specific duties. Essentially, the job title covers nurses who work in non-acute surgical and diagnostic outpatient facilities — and does not apply to those who do their jobs at hospitals and other traditional inpatient settings."

Ambulatory care settings

Ambulatory Care means healthcare that occurs in a wide variety of environments. The Institute for Patient- and Family-Centered Care lists the following potential settings:

  • Offices of physicians and other health care professionals
  • Hospital outpatient departments
  • Ambulatory surgical centers
  • Specialty clinics or centers, e.g., dialysis or infusion
  • Urgent care clinics

To that, add the following locations identified by the Atlanta Journal-Constitution—military clinics, managed-care facilities, community health hubs, and telehealth.

What nurses can expect to encounter in ambulatory care

In addition to the specific care demands of the environments above, nurses working in ambulatory care should expect what the Atlanta Journal-Constitution calls  "an altered patient pool… [because] patients today often are sicker and have more chronic diseases." Despite these additional care challenges, "stays in the hospital are shorter, and complex medical procedures often are done on an outpatient basis. So the need for ambulatory nursing care is on the upswing." According to the same article, "As health care shifts away from a predominantly hospital setting… There will be many new opportunities for nurses in places that did not even exist five years ago, and outpatient facilities will make up many of them."

Workforce development solutions for ambulatory care

Delivering specialized clinical procedures and outpatient surgical care while battling high turnover rates and tight margins can impact a provider's ability to maintain compliance and consistency. HealthStream works with ambulatory surgery centers to simplify processes, mitigate risks, and address staffing challenges, such as retention, engagement, and knowledge gaps with tailored approaches. Learn about HealthStream solutions tailored to the ambulatory healthcare workforce.