Outpatient Procedures

operating room
Even a difficult surgery like hip replacement can have outpatient care.
Photographer: Baloncici I Agency: Dreamstime.com

Accidents happen every day, even to the most cautious of us. These accidents often result in a stay in the hospital. However, thanks to medical breakthroughs over past decades, most of us are able to get into the hospital and back out quickly. In fact, increasingly more procedures, whether they're due to an accident or not, are being performed without an overnight stay in the hospital. These types of procedures are known as outpatient procedures, and they come with a few benefits:

  • Cost -- When compared to the same procedure performed as an inpatient, the cost of an outpatient procedure is much lower. This is partially because you're eliminating expenses associated with an overnight stay in the hospital, such as wound dressing changes, usage of the television and telephone in the room, and meals.
  • Convenience -- Unlike inpatient procedures, outpatient procedures can be done in a variety of places like the doctor's office, outpatient clinics or even a hospital. Because of this, scheduling an outpatient procedure is often easier and can be done faster.
  • Faster and more pleasant recovery: Studies have shown that the comforts of home often hasten our return to wellness after a procedure. Therefore, a procedure that gets you home faster could mean faster recovery as well.

In this article, we'll examine outpatient procedures, also referred to as ambulatory procedures or same-day procedures, to find out more about this option in medical service.


Types of Outpatient Procedures

Lasik eye surgery
Photographer: Djmodena I

Because the term "outpatient" refers only to the amount of time a patient stays in the hospital or treatment facility, there are outpatient procedures for every different specialty in medicine. Generally though, there are four different divisions of outpatient procedures that are based on where in the timeline of treatment they're practiced. These divisions include:

  • Preventative outpatient procedures include mostly counseling and educational services like childbirth and wellness classes, consultations with a nutritionist, or ongoing counseling involving the maintenance of a chronic condition.
  • Diagnostic outpatient procedures involve blood tests, prenatal testing, X-rays, MRIs and sleep disorder testing.
  • Outpatient treatment procedures are by far the most utilized outpatient services. This category ranges from the simple visit to the orthopedist to put a cast on your broken arm to acupuncture or chiropractic treatment, or even outpatient surgeries like cataract removal, hip replacement, nose jobs and laser vision correction.
  • Outpatient procedures involving rehabilitation are designed to incorporate both the physical and psychological needs of a patient after a treatment. For example, outpatient rehabilitation includes physical therapy to regain or improve movement and flexibility of the body but also deals with the new frustrations of limited mobility. This category also includes psychological services, like therapy for addiction or anger management, as well as therapy for developmental disorders like autism.

Today, hospitals report that more than 60 percent of all surgeries are done on an outpatient basis, and experts estimate that by the year 2017, that number will reach 75 percent. This can be attributed to the advancements in medical technology, which have led to better anesthetics and refined surgical equipment. Surgeons can now perform surgery that used to require days of postoperative care that now allow patients to go home the very same day. Now, when you go in for an outpatient surgery, the amount of anesthetics you need are decreased, which decreases your stay in the hospital. In addition, the amount of damage done to your body by the surgical instruments is also decreased, further decreasing your time needed in the hospital for recovery.


surgical equipment
Thanks to advances, many surgical patients can go home to recover on the same day.
Photographer: Carolinasmith I Agency: Dreamstime.com

While there are a growing number of surgeries that are considered outpatient by your insurance company, other factors should be considered before your doctor classifies your surgery as outpatient. These factors include your personal medical history as well as the invasiveness of the procedure. But as most surgeries now require little post-operative care, and have low rates of post-operative complications, more and more surgeries are becoming outpatient procedures. Common examples of outpatient procedures are breast implants, tummy tucks, pacemaker implantations and tonsillectomies.

For more information on outpatient surgery, health insurance and related topics, check out the links on the next page.


Lots More Information

Related HowStuffWorks Articles

More Great Links


  • Cornell University- Iris Cantor Women's Health Center- Outpatient Therapyhttp://wo-pub2.med.cornell.edu/cgi-bin/WebObjects/PublicA.woa/3/wa/viewHContent?website=wmc+iris&contentID=3728&wosid=98C1eKk5BsmHueoomVT15w
  • E-Medicine Health- Outpatient Serviceshttp://www.emedicinehealth.com/outpatient_surgery/article_em.htm
  • MedicineNet.com- Medical Glossaryhttp://www.medterms.com/script/main/art.asp?articlekey=4700
  • OupatientService.com- The Outpatient and Facilities Information Resourcehttp://www.outpatientservice.com/
  • University of Missouri, Columbia- Department of Health and Psychologyhttp://www.umshp.org/hp/
  • University of Utah- Health Care-Surgical Carehttp://healthcare.utah.edu/healthinfo/adult/surgery/output.html