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Outpatient Services


What are outpatient services?

Outpatient services are medical procedures or tests that can be done in a medical centre without an overnight stay. Many procedures and tests can be done in a few hours. Outpatient services include:

  • Wellness and prevention, such as counselling and weight-loss programs.
  • Diagnosis, such as lab tests and MRI scans.
  • Treatment, such as some surgeries and chemotherapy.
  • Rehabilitation, such as drug or alcohol rehab and physiotherapy.

What are the benefits of outpatient services?

Outpatient services usually cost less because you don't need to stay overnight. Staff members at outpatient centres are well trained in the service they provide. Most of the time, these centres specialize in one kind of treatment or procedure. Often all the care you need can be provided in one place.

Who uses outpatient services?

Most people can use an outpatient centre instead of a hospital if the needed service is available. But not all medical procedures can or should be done at an outpatient centre.

How can you know if the outpatient centre is trustworthy?

Try to find out all you can about the outpatient centre before you use it. It's a good idea to visit the centre before you decide.

You can also ask what your doctor thinks, or ask the outpatient centre staff if they have patient surveys or internal quality check reports you can look at.

Types of Outpatient Services

More and more medical procedures are being offered in qualified outpatient service centres.

Outpatient services are offered in many settings. For instance, medical centres often provide various types of outpatient services, such as pain clinics or rehabilitation centres. Other types of outpatient facilities include:

  • Medical group practices.
  • Outpatient clinics at hospitals or other medical facilities.
  • Surgery centres.
  • Imaging centres.
  • Cardiac catheterization centres.
  • Mental or behavioural health centres, which may provide substance use treatment services and mental health services for adults or children.
  • Lab centres.
  • Gastrointestinal centres, which may provide screening or other services such as colonoscopy and endoscopy.
  • Durable medical equipment rental facilities.
  • Physiotherapy centres.
  • Chemotherapy and radiation therapy centres.

Many outpatient service centres specialize in a specific area of medicine, such as orthopedics (bones) or cardiology (heart). These centres, like many hospitals, have advanced equipment and highly trained staff.

Benefits of Outpatient Services

There are many benefits to outpatient services, depending on the type of medical procedure you need and on what you prefer.

  • Outpatient service centres 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.
  • Outpatient 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.

Quality of Outpatient Services

Try to find out all you can about the outpatient centre before you use it.

Most outpatient service centres are accredited and approved for the types of treatment offered. But not all centres provide care that is right for you. Be sure to find out whether the provider you're considering is reputable and qualified. The following can help you learn about the quality of outpatient service centres:

  • Your doctor. Ask your doctor for their opinion about the outpatient centre.
  • The staff of the outpatient centre. The outpatient centre may have patient surveys or internal quality check reports you can look at.
  • Your provincial board of medicine. Every province in Canada has a provincial 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 provincial board of medicine through the local telephone directory. Or go online and search for "Board of Medicine" for your particular province.

Finding the Right Provider

It is important to check with your provincial health plan or private health insurance provider to determine what outpatient services are covered. Your particular health plan coverage may limit your choice of services.

Choosing a quality outpatient centre before you have a medical procedure is a good 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 health plan. The following questions may help you find the outpatient service centre that best fits your needs:

  • Does the facility accept your private health insurance? Does your provincial health plan or private health insurance cover any or all of the costs?
  • Is the outpatient service centre 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 need?
  • 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 centre accredited by a medical board or other recognized agency? You can find out by calling your provincial medical board.
  • Is 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 test?
  • Are brochures or literature available that explain the outpatient centre's services and fees? Does the facility provide information on financial assistance?
  • 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 procedure?
  • Does the centre 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.
  • Is the centre connected to a major hospital, in case you need emergency care. How far away is the hospital?
  • Can you get all the care you need at the facility? Will the centre 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 centre been operating? What are the specialties of the doctors providing the care? Are they certified specialists 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.


Current as of: December 28, 2022

Author: Healthwise Staff
Clinical Review Board
All Healthwise education is reviewed by a team that includes physicians, nurses, advanced practitioners, registered dieticians, and other healthcare professionals.

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