Ambulatory healthcare services describe any healthcare service that does not require a hospital stay. Ambulatory services may include rehab, diagnostic tests, and surgical procedures. Medical professionals may provide these services in a hospital outpatient center or an ambulatory surgery center (ASC). 

Ambulatory surgical procedures are an increasingly important aspect of healthcare in the United States. According to Business Wire doctors performed 129 million outpatient procedures in 2018, with expectations for that number to increase to 144 million by 2023.

What’s the Difference between Ambulatory Healthcare Services and an Ambulatory Surgery Center?

Patients sometimes confuse the difference between ambulatory healthcare services, ambulatory surgery centers (ASCs), and outpatient facilities. Ambulatory health care services refer to any medical treatments and surgeries completed without a hospital stay. Ambulatory surgical and hospital outpatient centers are the facilities where medical professionals perform those procedures. 

The difference between ASCs and outpatient surgical centers is facility ownership. An ASC is an independent facility, often owned or partially owned by doctors. Outpatient surgical centers are usually owned and operated by a hospital and are subject to the facility's rules and policies. 

In addition, ASCs often provide care to Medicare beneficiaries. As such, they must have federal government approval and hold state licenses. According to the Ambulatory Surgery Center Association, ASCs generated $28.7 billion in Medicare savings between 2011 and 2018, and will have generated over $70 billion in Medicare savings by 2028. 

What Can Be Classified as Ambulatory Care?

As ambulatory healthcare includes any same-day medical procedure not performed in a facility that requires admission, the term covers a wide range of treatments, tests, and surgeries. Common examples of ambulatory healthcare services include the following:

  • Biopsies
  • Cataract surgery
  • Colonoscopies
  • Cosmetic surgeries
  • Dermatology procedures
  • Endoscopies
  • Gallbladder removal
  • Hernia repair
  • Joint repair and replacement
  • Lumpectomy
  • Meniscus repair
  • Muscle and tendon repair
  • Nerve treatment
  • Tonsillectomies

While most ambulatory healthcare takes place in hospital outpatient or ambulatory surgery centers, some processes can be completed in a doctor’s office. 

Is There a Difference Between Hospitals and Ambulatory Healthcare?

The growing demand for ambulatory healthcare services has led many hospitals to establish outpatient facilities to serve the public’s healthcare needs. A hospital-owned outpatient facility may be in the hospital or an off-facility location. 

Patients on Medicare see savings when seeking ambulatory healthcare from ASCs. If performed under the authorization of a hospital, ambulatory healthcare falls under the hospital's rules, including fees and price structures. Typically, this results in higher patient costs than when the same ambulatory healthcare service is performed at an independent ASC. 

Final Thoughts on Ambulatory Healthcare Services

The increased importance of ambulatory healthcare services in US healthcare facilities goes hand-in-hand with the need for streamlined and automated compliance systems. Compliance is just as important at the level of ambulatory healthcare as it is for hospital staff. Working from multiple ASCs or hospital outpatient centers improves a doctor's ability to generate revenue and provide timely treatment options where and when patients need them. 

Contact us to learn more about ambulatory surgical care's role in the healthcare field.