What are the benefits of choosing outpatient services?
Outpatient services usually cost less, because you don't need to stay
overnight. Staff members at outpatient centers are well trained in the service
they provide. Most of the time, these centers specialize in one kind of
treatment or procedure. Often all the care you need can be provided in one
Who uses outpatient services?
Most people can choose an
outpatient center instead of a hospital if the needed service is available. But
not all medical procedures can or should be done at an outpatient
How can you find the right center?
Your doctor may
recommend a center. You can also ask family or friends who have used outpatient
services to tell you about their experiences.
To find the right
center to provide the service you need, you'll need to ask some questions, such
Does the center take your health insurance?
What costs will your insurance pay?
Will you get instructions
before, during, and after a procedure or test?
Can you get all the
care you need at the center?
Does your doctor think you may need
emergency services during the procedure? Can the center treat your other
problems if needed?
What kind of experience does the staff have?
How long has the center been in business? Are the doctors certified to provide
the care you need?
Will the outpatient center staff talk with your
doctor and give needed information quickly?
Is the center clean,
organized, comfortable, and private?
How can you know if the outpatient center is trustworthy?
Try to find out all you can about the outpatient
center before you use it. It’s a good idea to visit the center before you
Many health and government agencies rate or report on the
quality of outpatient centers. Check with your state’s board of medicine or
with your insurance company to learn more.
You can also use the
Quality Check website from the Joint Commission. For more information, go to
More and more medical
procedures are being offered in qualified
outpatient service centers.
services are offered in many settings. For instance, medical schools often
provide various types of outpatient services, such as pain clinics or
rehabilitation centers. Other types of outpatient facilities include:
Medical group practices.
clinics at hospitals or other medical facilities.
Many outpatient service centers specialize in a specific
area of medicine, such as orthopedics (bones) or cardiology (heart). These
centers, like many hospitals, have advanced equipment and highly trained
There are many benefits
outpatient services, depending on the type of medical
procedure you need and on what you prefer.
Outpatient services can be cost-effective.
Often, the procedure that you need may cost less at an outpatient
service center than at a hospital, especially since you are not billed for
separate hospital services. Outpatient service centers do not require an
overnight stay. This can reduce costs.
service centers usually specialize in one type of treatment or procedure. And the staff usually has a
lot of experience that is focused on the procedure you need. Also, the equipment
and techniques used may be the most advanced.
services may be more convenient for you. All of the care that you need before,
during, and after the procedure, surgery, or test may be conveniently provided
in one place.
When choosing an outpatient facility, consider:
The reputation and quality of the center. What
do you know about the care offered by the facility? Learning about the
particular center before the procedure may prevent you from receiving poor
care. For more information about finding out the quality of an outpatient
facility, see the Quality of Outpatient Services section of this
The center's ability to access emergency equipment. Does the
center have all of the possible equipment and knowledge it needs to treat you
in case of an emergency during your procedure, test, or surgery—such as
problems with anesthesia during surgery or your newborn needing intensive care
after delivery? If you have other health conditions, you may be at higher
risk for needing emergency care.
The center's connection to a major
hospital, in case you need emergency care, and how far away the hospital
The center's level of follow-up care. Find out if the center
offers follow-up care or designates someone to care for you after the
procedure, surgery, or test—even after the center is closed. Will you receive clear, written instructions on
how to care for yourself after your visit? Follow-up care can be an important
part of appropriate health care.
The center's location. Is the
facility close enough that if you need to return for additional care, you can
get there without too much inconvenience? Is there a center located closer to
you that offers the same service?
The type of communication that
will be available to your doctor. Will the facility send all test results and
reports to your doctor? If a center does not communicate well, it will be a
struggle to get helpful information to your doctor. Talk with your doctor and
others who have used the center to find out whether the staff will communicate
well with you and your doctor.
Your insurance coverage. Does your
health plan provide coverage for the outpatient service center? If the center is not
covered, you risk having to pay more for the services.
Quality of Outpatient Services
outpatient service centers are accredited and approved
for the types of treatment offered. But not all centers provide care that is right
for you. Be sure to find out whether the provider you're considering
is reputable and qualified. The following government and health agencies can
help you learn about the quality of outpatient service centers:
Quality Check, a service of the Joint
Commission on Accreditation of Healthcare Organizations. You can contact this
organization by phone at (630) 792-5000 or online at
Your state's board of medicine. Every state in the
United States has a state board of medicine that regulates complaints against
medical facilities and doctors. Although this agency will not reveal the
details about any facility or individual, you can find out if there have been
complaints filed against a facility or doctor. You can find your state board
of medicine through the local telephone directory. Or go online and
search for "Board of Medicine" for your particular state.
Commission on Office Laboratory Accreditation for Immunohematology. This group oversees the accreditation for laboratories and testing centers. Information
from this agency can be obtained through its website at
The American Osteopathic Association. This agency monitors approval of professional services by osteopathic physicians. You can
find this agency through your local telephone directory. Or you can find it online at
Your HMO, PPO, or insurance
carrier. Many insurance carriers keep quality indicator records for doctors and
facilities in your local area.
Finding the Right Provider
It is important to check
with your HMO, PPO, or health insurance provider to determine what outpatient services are covered. Your particular
health plan coverage may limit your choice of services.
a quality outpatient center before you have a medical procedure is the best way
to make sure that you'll receive excellent care. Friends and family who have
used outpatient services may tell you about their personal experiences. Often
your doctor will know about the quality of outpatient services in your area.
You may want to start your search by talking with your doctor about your options.
Next, find out which outpatient services are covered by your insurance company.
The following questions may help you find the outpatient service center that
best fits your needs:
Does the facility accept your health insurance,
HMO, or PPO coverage? Does your insurance cover any or all of the costs?
Is the outpatient service center conveniently located
or within a reasonable distance of your home or work?
Is more than
one facility in your area qualified to provide the service you
Will the facility communicate well with your doctor and
provide the information you need in a timely manner? Can your doctor verify the
accuracy of any tests you had?
Is the outpatient service center
accredited by a national medical board or other recognized agency? You can
find out by calling your state medical board or the Joint
Commission. For more information,
see the Quality of Outpatient Services section of this topic.
the facility clean, organized, comfortable, and private? You'll need to visit
the facility to find out. You may want to ask the facility or others
who have used the facility if the recovery room is well-staffed. Is there a
waiting room for your family?
Is information readily available to
you? Will you receive instructions before, during, and after a procedure or
Are brochures or literature available that explain the
outpatient center's services and fees? Does the facility provide information on
Do you have other health conditions that
should be considered? Can the facility accommodate treating your other
conditions if needed? Does your doctor think there is a risk that you may need
specialized attention or emergency services during the
Can you get all the care you need at the facility?
Will the center provide all the medicines or other treatment needed? Will you
have to go somewhere else for follow-up care?
What kind of
experience does the staff have? How long has the outpatient service center been
operating? What are the specialties of the doctors providing the care? Are they
board-certified in their specialty areas?
You may have more questions based on your own health
issues and the type of procedure or test you need. Ask questions, listen
to the recommendation of your doctor and those you trust, and visit the
facility to get the information you need to make the best decision for
your health care.
Other Places To Get Help
Joint Commission General Public Page
This Joint Commission website has information about choosing a health care provider, patient safety, Quality Check (a way to check the performance of health care centers), and more.
Joint Commission Quality Check
One Renaissance Boulevard
Oakbrook Terrace, IL 60181
The Joint Commission compiles reports and national information on various health care services, including outpatient service centers. If you want to check on the performance of an outpatient service center, use the Quality Check feature on this Web site.
Agency for Healthcare Research and
540 Gaither Road
Rockville, MD 20850
The Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ) is
one agency within the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. AHRQ
supports research initiatives that seek to improve the quality of health care
in America. AHRQ's mission is to improve the quality, safety, efficiency,
effectiveness, and cost-effectiveness of health care for all Americans. The website provides evidence-based information to help people make decisions about
health care services.
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Gross RJ (2007). Preoperative planning for ambulatory patients. In NH Fiebach et al., eds., Principles of Ambulatory Medicine. 7th ed., pp. 1605–1633. Philadelphia: Lippincott Williams and Wilkins.
Rastegar DA (2007). Practicing evidence-based medicine. In NH Fiebach et al., eds., Principles of Ambulatory Medicine, 7th ed., pp. 13–25. Philadelphia: Lippincott Williams and Wilkins.
Primary Medical Reviewer
Anne C. Poinier, MD - Internal Medicine
Specialist Medical Reviewer
Michel M. Murr, MD - General Surgery, Bariatric Surgery
How this information was developed to help you make better health decisions.