The outpatient clinic of a hospital, also called an outpatient department provides diagnosis and care for patients that do not need to stay overnight. This is distinct from clinics independent of hospitals, almost all of which are designed mostly or exclusively for outpatient care and may also be called outpatient clinics.
The outpatient department is an important part of the overall running of the hospital. It is normally integrated with the in-patient services and manned by consultant physicians and surgeons who also attend inpatients in the wards. Many patients are examined and given treatment as outpatients before being admitted to the hospital at a later date as inpatients. When discharged, they may attend the outpatient clinic for follow-up treatment.
The outpatient department will usually be on the ground floor of the hospital with car-parking facilities nearby. Wheelchairs and stretchers are available for non-ambulatory patients. Patients will register at a reception desk and there is seating for them while they wait for their appointments. Each doctor will have a consulting room and there may be smaller waiting areas near these. Paediatric clinics are often held in areas separated from the adult clinics. Close at hand will be X-ray facilities, laboratories, the medical record office and a pharmacy. In the main waiting area there are a range of facilities for the patients and their families including toilets, public telephones, coffee shop or snack bar, water dispenser, gift shop, florist and quiet room.
In many countries, hospitals do not have separate outpatient departments, so outpatients are treated in the same departments as patients that stay overnight.