Outpatient centers are facilities that treat individuals for minor physical problems, and perhaps some very minor surgeries that does not require an overnight stay. Outpatient differs from inpatient simply because of that overnight stay. A hospital will usually offer both outpatient and inpatient services. Outpatient services make no provision for an overnight stay. If one does become required, then it is likely the center will recommend a good hospital in the area.
Outpatient centers specifically offering surgical services may be referred to as outpatient surgery centers. They are somewhat less common than the more general outpatient centers, but they are gaining in popularity. Surgery at such a center is often cheaper for the patient and insurance company simply because there is no built-in expense for overnight visits. Whether or not a patient requires an overnight stay in an inpatient facility, the overall costs are generally higher at such a facility. Ear tubes and vasectomies are types of surgeries that could be performed at an outpatient surgery center.
Some outpatient centers may also treat patients without requiring an appointment beforehand, though many are happy to schedule an appointment, which may save time. These are generally known as urgent care centers. This can be a valuable tool when illness hits suddenly. While an emergency room in such cases is an option, the wait is generally longer and the cost is more expensive.
Another advantage to outpatient centers is their hours of operation. The vast majority are open outside of regular doctor's hours. Some may be open late into the night. Others may be open all weekend long. These provide a cost-effective alternative to the hospital during such times.
These outpatient centers, as well, treat minor illnesses that do not require a great deal of intensive treatment. If more intensive treatment is desired, then the patient can be transferred to a hospital. For example, if a person receives a deep cut, an outpatient center can clean and suture the wound, as well as provide a tetanus shot, if needed.
Many may use outpatient centers for most of their primary medical needs, though this is usually not recommended. Outpatient centers cannot guarantee that you will see the same doctor every time. The most effective treatment plans are those in which the doctor and patient form a relationship so that everything can be shared the doctor can be familiar with the patient's medical history. There is no good substitute for this type of relationship and care.