An outpatient is someone who goes to a hospital or clinic for a procedure which does not require a stay overnight. Care provided to outpatients is sometimes known as ambulatory care, in a reference to the fact that the patients can often walk in and walk out, because the procedures are simple and quick. Many health providers like to offer as much care as possible on an outpatient basis, because it cuts down on costs for health providers and patients alike, and it can keep a clinic or hospital running smoothly.
Many people have been outpatients at some point in their lives; every time you go to the doctor's office for an exam, a diagnosis for a troubling cold, or a mole removal, you are an outpatient. Outpatients can go to clinics and hospitals for diagnoses, basic procedures, education, routine testing, and simple surgical procedures known as outpatient surgeries. Outpatients may also receive treatments ranging from psychological therapy to radiation for cancers, which may be offered on an outpatient basis, depending on the cancer and the patient.
For the patient, the obvious advantage of an outpatient procedure or treatment is that it is much less expensive than an inpatient procedure, which requires hospitalization. Many people also appreciate the ability to go home after a treatment, as people generally feel more comfortable and happy at home. Outpatient procedures are also much more efficient, with less waiting around for inpatient staff to perform the procedure or procedures the patient has come in for.
For medical providers, providing simple care on an outpatient basis is also efficient, and it frees up room in hospitals and private clinics for more serious cases which might require hospitalization. Emergency rooms often encourage doctors to offer outpatient services for things like stitching and other non-critical procedures which people often go to emergency rooms to receive. By allowing patients to make critical care appointments for conditions which might otherwise lead them to the emergency room, doctors can free up the emergency room for genuine emergencies, and reduce waiting times for emergency services.
As a general rule, when a patient schedules an outpatient procedure, the doctor should be able to give an estimate as to how long the procedure should take. Sometimes, patients may be asked to arrange a ride home after the procedure, because the treatment might make the patient feel woozy or ill, though not enough to warrant hospitalization and monitoring.