Ambulatory care services provide a great alternative to hospital admissions. Instead of spending several days in medical facilities for minor surgeries, diagnostic tests, rehabilitation, and other health concerns, patients can visit outpatient facilities and get these results on the same day.
That said, outpatient providers have made healthcare services more affordable and accessible. So much so that in 2018, over 860 million physician visits or 267 visits per 100 people were recorded by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) National Ambulatory Medical Care Survey.
A few years prior, the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projected ambulatory services sector growth to surpass 40% from 2014 to 2024— recognizing the vast opportunities and demand for outpatient care. Indeed, the BLS recorded over 665,000 private and government-operated ambulatory care facilities as of the last quarter of 2021.
Whether you’re a healthcare professional planning to work or open an ambulatory care center, it’s crucial to know the cornerstones of ambulatory care. This article discusses the basics of the sector and the essential list of equipment you must get from reputable distributors like CIA Medical and similar firms.
What is ambulatory care?
Ambulatory care refers to any medical service or procedure performed outside the hospital without needing admission. That said, it’s also known as outpatient care and covers several healthcare applications divided into these categories:
- Primary healthcare services cover basic care and preventive health activities. Some examples are physician’s clinics, mental health facilities, and wellness centers, although office-based clinics may qualify depending on the facilities and staff available.
- Diagnostic services are either stand-alone facilities or function with another outpatient service. Diagnostic places often require multiple imaging, blood testing, and similar pieces of screening equipment.
- Urgent care service providers are either free-standing or form part of a bigger ambulatory service. These facilities cater to non-emergency issues that need attention within 24 hours, like diarrhea, accidental falls, and minor fractures, to name a few.
- Treatment service facilities are healthcare centers administering same-day solutions to minor surgeries, chemotherapy, dialysis, and other forms of treatment.
- Rehabilitation services involve providing post-surgical and other similar services like physical therapy. Drug and alcohol abuse centers also fall under this category.
- Specialty care services cater to the healthcare needs of a specific population or focus on chronic diseases, including pediatric, geriatric, and oncology centers. These facilities often utilize the latest medical technologies and equipment.
- Virtual healthcare services pertain to telemedicine and other healthcare services delivered digitally. For instance, patients can discuss their concerns through video chat to get an electronic prescription. Physicians can also contact other doctors for record retrieval and case discussions.
As of 2020, there were 6,093 hospitals in the country handling over 33.3 million total admissions, according to the latest survey of the American Hospital Association. With 331 million people in the same period, one hospital caters to over 54,000 individuals.
COVID-19 infections have aggravated the challenges in the healthcare sector. As the year opened, roughly 14% of U.S. hospitals reported critical workforce shortages. Ambulatory care services, including telehealth, specialty, urgent, and diagnostic services, have helped ease the situation.
Essential medical equipment list for ambulatory care services
Outpatient care encompasses several applications and can be done in various settings, including doctor’s clinics, specialty treatment centers, rehabilitation facilities, and diagnostic laboratories. Moreover, some of the functions discussed above can overlap, depending on the facility’s target client and business model. Regardless, a facility’s medical equipment list must align with the services they offer.
Below is the list of must-haves for ambulatory care service providers, classified into different purposes.
1. Primary care equipment
A clinic must possess the following medical devices to allow doctors to check their patient’s health and wellness status easily:
- Adjustable patient table or consultation area
- An aneroid or digital blood pressure monitor
- Eye chart
- Weighing scale
- Height chart
- Pulse oximeter
- Specialized lighting
2. Diagnostic and laboratory equipment
Ambulatory diagnostic services must be equipped with the right tools based on their services. The following supplies help physicians make more accurate diagnoses:
- Chemistry analyzers
- Computerized tomography (CT) scanner
- Differential counters
- Deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA) analyzers
- Electrocardiogram (ECG) unit
- Glucose analyzers
- Hematology analyzers
- Histology and cytology equipment
- Immunoassay analyzers
- Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI)
- Nuclear cameras
- Point-of-care test analyzers
- Incentive spirometer
- Ultrasound machine
- Urine analyzers
- X-ray machine
Besides this list of medical equipment, ambulatory care providers must also have storage options to retain the integrity of different samples and specimens, such as biomedical freezers and refrigerators.
3. Supplies for minor surgery and other procedures
Ambulatory care services may sometimes require minor surgeries, wound management, and vaccinations. Ensure that you can handle these requirements by keeping these basic items in hand:
- Antiseptic wipes or fluids
- Chemotherapy pumps
- Dialysis machine
- Medical gauze for dressing and bandaging
- Cotton pads, buds, and swabs
- Hypodermic needles
- Needle holders
- Paper towels
A piece of sterilizing equipment called an autoclave is also a must-have in clinics to prevent the spread of viruses, bacteria, and other disease-causing microorganisms. These devices can disinfect medical tools using high temperatures and pressures.
4. Emergency equipment
Because healthcare costs remain prohibitive to some patients, a few may decide to consult with a doctor when it’s too late. In such instances, a patient may need to be rushed to the emergency room for proper treatment. As a healthcare provider, taking the necessary steps to extend a patient’s life is vital.
These tools may help you provide much-needed emergency care while waiting for a hospital transfer:
- Automated External Defibrillator (AED)
- Oxygen canisters and masks
- Resuscitation bags
- Airway suction units
- Foil blankets
- Spinal board
An AED is essential in clinics and ambulatory facilities, and areas where people congregate, such as malls. According to a 2018 study done by Johns Hopkins University and funded by the National Institutes of Health, over 18,000 Americans suffer from cardiac arrest outside hospitals and in public places. The good news is that 1,700 lives were saved through bystanders’ use of readily available AED.
5. Protective equipment
The COVID-19 virus has forced healthcare workers to exercise extreme caution in administering tests, providing care, and performing other procedures on a patient. Besides frequent disinfection, wearing appropriate personal protective equipment (PPE) is necessary.
The American Association of Pediatricians and the CDC recommend the following basic protective equipment:
- Face covering
- Disinfectants (i.e., hand sanitizer, alcohol, etc.)
- N95 respirators
- PPE suit
PPE suits and face shield use may have been suspended in some hospital settings. However, for workers in the ambulatory care sector, face masks, shields, and gloves remain mandatory in general. These items act as a barrier, preventing blood, fluids, and other secretions from getting into the membranes and cavities of a medical worker.
Ambulatory care services offer cost-effective and fast solutions to patients in non-emergency situations. They’re often the first choice in accessing laboratory, diagnostic, and basic health procedures.
By procuring some or most of the essential medical equipment listed above, ambulatory care facilities strengthen their capacity to provide safe, reliable, and continuous patient access—reducing the impact of costly and overburdened hospitals.