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What is ambulatory care?

At a glance

  • Ambulatory care is provided outside a hospital and by medical professionals. You may receive it in settings such as physician offices, specialty clinics and urgent care clinics.
  • Ambulatory care is important because it improves efficiency and patient experience for people who do not require acute care.
  • Healthcare managers may choose to work at facilities that specialize in ambulatory care.
  • University of Phoenix supports education in both nursing and healthcare management. Explore bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral programs in healthcare administration and management and nursing

Ambulatory care is essentially outpatient care, referring to medical services that are provided to patients who do not need to be admitted to a hospital or stay overnight in a healthcare facility.

Ambulatory care can occur in physician offices, urgent care clinics, outpatient surgical facilities and special clinics. Patients receiving ambulatory care might receive diagnostic tests, immunization, preventive care, minor surgeries or procedures.

As of 2022, the global ambulatory market size was valued at $791.4 billion and is expected to grow due to factors including increasing preference for outpatient care, cost effectiveness, government initiatives and investments in ambulatory healthcare facilities, according to a recent report by Grand View Research.

Prepare to enter the fast-growing healthcare industry. Start earning your degree. 

Why is ambulatory care important?

Ambulatory care is more easily accessible and convenient and can be more cost effective than hospitalization for many patients. As you can imagine, this brings value for individuals and communities as a whole.

Outpatient care may also be a more convenient treatment option for patients if they feel more comfortable recovering in their own home. Being comfortable and familiar with their surroundings while recovering can bring some relief to patients during what may be a stressful time.

The growth of ambulatory health services

According to a McKinsey report, ambulatory care is one of the fastest-growing healthcare fields. A higher demand for hospital beds and heightened pressure on acute settings partly explain the growth of ambulatory care. Another reason is patients’ demand for lower healthcare costs, which ambulatory care can deliver as a less expensive alternative to a traditional hospital visit.

New advances in technology also play a large role in the rise of ambulatory care. Updated medical instruments, less invasive procedures, new developments in anesthesia and improved pain control have potential to leave patients more comfortable receiving treatment in an ambulatory setting.

Types of ambulatory care settings

Ambulatory care can take place in a wide variety of settings, including:

  • Physician offices: Many doctors provide routine checkups and preventive care as well as manage chronic and acute illnesses.
  • Community health centers: These centers provide primary and preventive care services to underserved communities, regardless of a patient’s ability to pay.
  • Health clinics: Specialty health clinics, such as cardiology or orthopedic clinics, provide specialized care in an outpatient setting.
  • Urgent care centers: These facilities provide medical treatment for non-life-threatening conditions that require attention, including sprains, infections and minor injuries.
  • Outpatient surgery centers: An outpatient surgery center is designed to perform surgical procedures that don’t require an overnight hospital stay.

Common ambulatory care services

Ambulatory care centers might provide some of the following services:

  • Primary care: Basic services such as checkups, physical exams and chronic care management.
  • Preventive care: Disease or illness prevention services such as vaccinations, cancer screenings, colonoscopies or other tests to detect and prevent health conditions.
  • Specialty care: Care for patients with health problems that require special knowledge of a medical area, such as cardiology, neurology and orthopedics.
  • Diagnostic tests: Tests like X-rays and CT scans to diagnose health conditions.
  • Minor surgery: Smaller-scale health procedures like mole removal and skin biopsies.
  • Physical therapy: Physical disease, injury or deformity treatments through massage, heat application and exercise.
  • Behavioral health: Services that include counseling, therapy and psychiatric care.
  • Rehabilitation services: Services that help patients recover from illnesses and injuries.

The exact services provided vary depending on the facility and location.

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What is an MHA/MBA dual degree program?

Jobs in ambulatory care

Ambulatory care offers a diverse range of career opportunities for healthcare professionals.

If you choose to pursue a career in healthcare management for an ambulatory provider, you’ll likely need a healthcare degree, such as a Bachelor of Science in Health Management or a Master of Health Administration. You might also choose to complete specialized healthcare courses, such as Healthcare Delivery in the U.S., to develop applicable skills in your intended field.

Nurses have a range of pathways available to them. The RN to BSN program empowers registered nurses to enhance their leadership potential and other skills. Other relevant programs to consider if you’re seeking management or educator roles include a Master of Science in Nursing/Family Nurse Practitioner.

Some common ambulatory health careers are:

Healthcare managers and administrators

Both healthcare managers and administrators handle various responsibilities on the business side of ambulatory care.

While healthcare managers and administrators perform similar tasks, the roles are very different. Healthcare managers focus on “big picture” aspects of healthcare operations, like finance and facilities; healthcare administrators oversee daily operations.

Both healthcare managers and administrators fulfill leadership roles for a healthcare organization, including those in ambulatory care. For example, clinical directors and managers play essential roles in helping run the overall business, ensuring compliance with rules and regulation.

These careers first require a bachelor’s degree in healthcare and often require a master’s degree as well to further improve leadership skills.


An ambulatory care nurse is a type of registered nurse (RN) who specializes in providing medical care in an outpatient setting. RNs help patients manage pain, address chronic injuries and pursue treatment plans that lead to positive outcomes. These nurses offer education to both patients and family members, providing instructions on how patients can lead full, healthy lives. Ambulatory care nurses also work in close proximity with other members of a care team, including doctors and nurse practitioners.

Family nurse practitioner

Family nurse practitioners are responsible for providing primary medical care and treatment to patients who visit a clinic or office.

The responsibilities of a family nurse practitioner in an ambulatory care setting can include:

  • Performing physical examinations
  • Ordering and interpreting diagnostic tests
  • Prescribing medications and other treatments
  • Providing preventive care
  • Educating patients and other staff members
  • Coordinating care with other members of a patient’s healthcare team

Family nurse practitioners typically see patients on a regular basis to provide care, review conditions and make updated recommendations.

Healthcare and nursing degrees at University of Phoenix

If you are interested in exploring degree options to support a career in ambulatory care, whether it be in management, administration or nursing, University of Phoenix offers a range of flexible online program options, including:

  • Bachelor of Science in Health Administration: With four elective track options, this degree program covers business management, compliance, finance, information management and more.
  • Bachelor of Science in Health Management: Interested in the business and regulatory needs of a healthcare organization? This degree program focuses on management, technology, compliance and related subjects.
  • RN to Bachelor of Science in Nursing: This program is designed to enhance the nursing careers of registered nurses. A BSN can help prepare you for careers such as a charge nurse, public health nurse or director of nursing.
  • Master of Health Administration/Master of Business Administration: Position yourself to become a leader in healthcare with this dual degree focusing on healthcare administration, accounting and marketing. Students learn how to manage and motivate employees toward maximum work performance, use data to address the Triple Aim (cost/quality of care, health of populations, patient-centrism), develop problem-solving skills that guide business decisions, leverage technology to create a competitive advantage, and conduct environmental scanning.
  • Master of Health Administration with a concentration in Health Care Compliance and Privacy: This program equips students with skills to navigate the complexity of healthcare laws, rules and regulations to help keep patients and providers safe. Topics covered include leveraging results to build brand in the health sector, informatics, leading with authenticity, and auditing, monitoring and corrective action in healthcare compliance.
  • Master of Science in Nursing with a concentration in Informatics: This program prepares students to function in nursing informatics leadership roles, specialize in the design and use of electronically stored data to influence quality in care delivery and provide evidence of meeting quality, compliance and regulatory standards and requirements.
  • Master of Science in Nursing/Family Nurse Practitioner: This program teaches students about advocacy, nursing practice, problem-solving, planning and research. Students also learn how to integrate theory and evidence to provide holistic healthcare services to improve or maintain optimum health for all family members, synthesize advanced practice assessment to generate accurate clinical decisions, manage holistic healthcare for individuals and diverse populations across the life span, and more.
  • Master of Science in Nursing/Psychiatric Mental Health Nurse Practitioner: In this program students learn skills such as neuropsychiatric disorder prevention, assessment, self-care management, psychotherapeutic intervention, pharmacological management and addiction services. Gain knowledge to treat psychiatric disorders in various healthcare settings and in diverse patient populations.
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Michael Feder is a content marketing specialist at University of Phoenix, where he researches and writes on a variety of topics, ranging from healthcare to IT. He is a graduate of the Johns Hopkins University Writing Seminars program and a New Jersey native!


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