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How ambulatory surgery centers can use communication to strengthen patient relationships

Ambulatory surgical centers (ASCs) are a model of efficiency, value and quality in the healthcare world. They represent one of the fastest-growing segments in the marketplace.

As Becker’s ASC Review reported previously, 86 new outpatient surgery centers opened in 2016, while Medicare payments to ASCs increased by an annual average of 3.8 percent between 2006 and 2013. The most recent figures show ASCs now perform more than 60 percent of all cataract procedures and 30 to 40 percent of other outpatient surgeries. Moving forward, ASCs are expected to continue to play a key role in the larger movement toward value-based care, providing cost-effective alternatives to hospital surgeries.

Yet as the market expands and competition heats up, ASCs will need to work harder to stand out. To continue their growth, they’ll need to take a more holistic approach to managing patient relationships. In short, they’ll need to provide more — and personalized — communication with patients.

What the Surgical Patient Wants
Patients love the fact that ASCs are centered on creating a positive patient experience, typically offering more flexible scheduling, more convenient locations and a lower cost than hospitals. Still, patients aren’t always aware of the ASC option or the benefits of an ASC versus traditional acute care settings. Consequently, catering to patients’ personal preferences, including communication preferences, is a high priority for ASCs seeking greater patient acquisition and retention rates.

Elevating the patient experience starts with a decisive focus on patients themselves; thinking strategically not only about what each patient wants, but how to deliver it better than anyone else. As we look at patient demographic data and communications trends, one of the clearest differences between patients today and ten years ago is their communications technology use.

Today, patients are nearly always armed with their mobile device(s) of choice, so they’re doing much more digitally. According to Pew Research, 77 percent of Americans said they owned smartphones as of January 2017. (The research organization noted that percentage is more than twice as many as in 2011, when the think tank conducted its first survey of smartphone ownership.)

In addition to text-messaging their friends and downloading apps to help them sleep better, eat healthier, and get more exercise, patients are eager to connect with their healthcare partners through text, email and mobile apps. Incidentally, a 2017 Patient-Provider Relationship Study conducted by Solutionreach found that 73 percent of patients desire the ability to text their doctor’s office. The study, which polled nearly 2,100 U.S. consumers ages 21 to 70, also showed that nearly 8 in 10 patients (79 percent) would like to receive messages from their doctor’s office.

Patients today are also far more cost-conscious about medical care than in previous years. As they continue to bear the burden of larger co-pays and deductibles, they’re thinking more like retail consumers when it comes to their overall medical experiences. They want to receive tangible benefits in exchange for the thousands of dollars they pay for medical care. So, as they evaluate ASCs, they’re considering Google reviews and online referrals as they price-compare services at similar facilities.

The Value of Patient Relationship Management
ASCs are well-positioned to serve patients who prioritize value and efficiency. Yet building relationships takes time — which is not something ASCs typically have with patients given the nature of the services offered. Patient relationship management (PRM) tools can play a valuable role in strengthening communication and giving patients the consumer experience they seek.

With an overall PRM strategy, ASCs can start building patient relationships days or weeks before surgery and continue those relationships throughout the post-op period. Drip campaigns focused on a series of pre-ops needs, for example, could maximize the patient’s experience and surgical outcomes. One good strategy for ASCs is to send patients convenient pre-op reminders with timely and important information (e.g., “remember to fast 12 hours before your scheduled surgery”), as well as post-op follow-up instructions (e.g., “click on this link for details on the best post-surgery recovery tips”).

PRM enables communication with patients via their preferred method — whether text, email or voice. ASCs that take the time to gauge their patients’ communication preferences in advance clearly demonstrate to patients that they care about their busy schedules. By starting to build a positive, patient-centered relationship early on, ASCs can increase patients’ confidence leading up to their procedures.

ASCs can also leverage other PRM solutions as they try to reach and educate patients. For example, leading PRM solutions offer e-newsletter programs that can help ASCs inform their patients about their range of surgical services, or offer targeted healthcare tips to patients within specified demographics. ASCs can also collect feedback and reviews from patients to help drive operational improvements, as well as marketing and acquisition activities.

ASCs are expected to carry a reputation for value, efficiency and quality well into the future. The more an ASC does to build meaningful connections with patients — from before the scheduled surgeries to weeks after discharge — the better it will position itself as a leader in this highly competitive marketplace.

About the author
Jim Higgins is the founder and CEO at Solutionreach.

The views, opinions and positions expressed within these guest posts are those of the author alone and do not represent those of Becker's Hospital Review/Becker's Healthcare. The accuracy, completeness and validity of any statements made within this article are not guaranteed. We accept no liability for any errors, omissions or representations. The copyright of this content belongs to the author and any liability with regards to infringement of intellectual property rights remains with them.

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