What are Outpatient Hospitals?

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  • Written By: wiseGEEK Writer
  • Edited By: O. Wallace
  • Last Modified Date: 20 October 2019
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Outpatient hospitals might be defined as medical facilities in which patients receive care on an outpatient basis. The term “outpatient hospital” is seldom used. Instead, people may name certain larger facilities that offer outpatient care, similar to what someone might receive in the hospital, as ambulatory care, urgent care, or ambulatory surgical centers. The most common of these is ambulatory surgical centers, which do many complicated surgeries that usually allow patients to return home the day of the surgery.

Many mainstream hospitals also offer plenty of outpatient hospital care. These can include same day surgeries and procedures, and some clinics that don’t require hospitalizations. For instance within a hospital, patients might go to all-day clinics to deal with significant mental illness. Instead of staying in the hospital at night, these patients go home at the end of the day.

Other all-day clinics that people may attend for several weeks or longer include pain management clinics. These and mental health clinics may also be called day treatment facilities. These day treatment programs don’t have to exist on hospital campuses, but can be located on satellite campuses or run privately.


When people use the term outpatient hospitals to refer to ambulatory surgical centers, they usually mean centers devoted specifically to surgery and medical procedures. These centers have recovery areas for people coming out of surgeries but do not provide other services associated with hospitals, like all night stays. Patients can stay a long time to recover if needed, provided they are not in medical danger. If care needed after a surgery is more extensive, these patients may be moved to standard hospitals for continued treatment.

To avoid transferring patients to a standard hospital, doctors usually plan low risk surgeries at outpatient hospitals. They may prefer to operate in a hospital with greater facilities if a person has a higher risk of complications from a surgery. This gives them the option to hospitalize patients thereafter, without having to move them by ambulance to another facility.

Occasionally, people define outpatient hospitals as an urgent care centers. These may have much longer hours than those associated with a doctor’s office. Some are even open 24 hours a day. People may choose to use these “outpatient hospitals” instead of hospital emergency rooms when they need medical care during off hours, but when they feel their condition doesn’t require hospitalization. Due to the fact that these centers are usually less expensive than emergency room care, many people may prefer to use them for minor illnesses or injuries.


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