Ambulatory Care Nursing: Quickly Evolving and In Demand

Models of care have long been transitioning from acute to ambulatory settings. As a result, nurses’ roles in ambulatory care have drastically changed to accommodate not only more patients but also those with more complex needs.

E. Mary Johnson, BSN, RN-BC, NE-BC, a speaker for’s Ambulatory Care Nursing Certification Review, remembers when cataract patients would have their surgeries in hospitals and remain inpatients for several days with their heads immobilized by sandbags. Today, cataract and many other surgeries that used to require days in the hospital are now performed in the ambulatory care setting.

E. Mary Johnson, RN

“Ambulatory nursing is really about collaboration and coordination,” said Johnson, a patient navigator, coach, consultant and nurse leader for more than 35 years.

Nurses are pivotal in ambulatory care delivery. They understand plans of care and how to communicate those to patients and families, and they know what to do and who to call if something goes wrong.

Ever-Growing Demand

Care will continue to shift from traditional acute care to ambulatory settings, and the demand for ambulatory care nurses will increase exponentially, according to Susan Paschke, MSN, BA, RN-BC, NEA-BC, a nurse leader, administrator and quality management specialist with 40 years of experience in a variety of healthcare settings.

“Coordination of care and management of the transitions between levels of care are natural roles for ambulatory care nurses,” said Paschke, also a speaker for the Ambulatory Care Nursing Certification Review course.

“Virtual visits and telephonic care also are in the realm of the ambulatory care nurse,” and these duties have ramped up during the pandemic, she said.

Ambulatory care settings include traditional medical clinics, urgent care centers and outpatient surgery centers. Ambulatory care nurses work in infusion clinics, outpatient oncology units, retail centers that have onsite clinics, schools and even in long-term care, where nurse practitioners might do rounding, according to Johnson.

Pharmaceutical companies hire these nurses to educate, coach, monitor and triage patients that use specialty drugs and other treatments for rare diseases. These nurses also deliver care in people’s homes. For instance, these nurses teach parents and children how to use at insulin pumps, cardiac monitors and other equipment in the home, said Johnson.

Ambulatory Nursing’s Distinguishing Factor

The transition from acute care to ambulatory care might not be seamless for many nurses. That’s because telephone triage is a key distinguishing characteristic in ambulatory care. Nurses in acute care usually have their patients in front of them as they’re getting data, educating and more.

“Nurses in critical care have a lot of experience managing crises,” Johnson said. “They have a lot of equipment to help them understand what’s going on.”

Nurses doing telephone triage don’t see patients. They use standard protocols, as well as nursing judgement to effectively do patient interviews, collect data and listen to what patients are saying and what their needs are. It’s a skill, according to Johnson.

Effective telehealth can keep patients out of the clinic and safe, as well as respond in a timely way to patients whose symptoms are worsening.

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