Ancillary services

What are ancillary services?

In the medical world, ancillary services, also called ancillary care, refers to the wide range of diagnostic and support services provided to help the work of doctors, nurses and dentists. Ancillary services are services that physicians may request to help treatment and diagnosis of an illness or injury. Without ancillary services, primary physicians wouldn’t be able to function effectively.

Deeper definition

Ancillary services are one of the fastest growing sectors of the health care industry, representing almost 30 percent of medical spending today. With the increasing costs of health care, ancillary service providers are often a prudent and cost-effective alternative to outpatient hospital and physician services.

Ancillary services are diagnostic or supportive measures that physicians may use to help treat patients. For instance, during a stay in a hospital, anything that doesn’t include room and board or direct care by a nurse or physician is ancillary. Physical therapy, X-rays, lab tests and ultrasounds are examples of ancillary services.

Ancillary services are generally located in three different facilities: hospitals, medical offices or free-standing diagnostic testing facilities. An example of an ancillary service in a hospital is the pharmacy. Another example is when a physician runs a test in his own office, such as measuring the level of triglycerides in a patient’s blood. In a medical setting, physicians can operate an ancillary service practice. Free-standing diagnostic testing centers, on the other hand, have their own medical staff that can provide ancillary services similar to those provided in hospitals and medical offices.

Examples of ancillary services

There are three categories of ancillary services:

  • Diagnostic ancillary services are typically provided in-office or in support of primary physicians at hospitals, ambulatory service centers or free-standing diagnostic testing facilities. They include radiology, audiology, pulmonary testing services and clinical laboratory services.

Most physicians do not run their own imaging studies, urinalysis tests or blood tests; they typically refer patients to a facility where physicians specialize in these activities to get immediate and accurate results. In a hospital, physicians can request services for admitted patients to diagnose and monitor possible signs of complications.

  • Therapeutic ancillary services help improve patients’ health and well-being. Examples of ancillary therapeutic services are physical therapy, speech therapy, psychotherapy and occupational therapy.

If a patient needs services such as nutrition education or assistance with learning to handle a chronic illness, the health counselor can offer an ancillary service, providing support for the patient by request from his or her primary physician. Under some definitions, cosmetic services, such as facials, Botox treatment, and skin care advice may also be part of therapeutic ancillary services.

  • Custodial ancillary services include hospice, home health care or nursing homes. Patients may need these ancillary services during recovery from chronic illness or injury or for life due to illness or disability.

People who work in this sector of the medical field support patients and keep them as independent as possible. They can provide respite care to family members who are unable to give full-time care to people with disabilities, injuries or illnesses.

Ancillary services allow physicians to work directly with patients and provide the best care possible. Nevertheless, states have regulations on ancillary service providers and their equipment. They determine what medical direction, consultation and supervision are needed. States typically require certification for allied health care workers, such as therapists. Although physicians are required to prescribe cardiac rehabilitation services, they need not be present while these services are provided. For diagnostic cardiac testing, however, physicians are typically present.

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