8 Inexpensive Ways for ASCs to Boost Patient Volume
"We identify a disease state and a patient population that impacts a lot of people with a great potential patient volume," says Charles Dailey, vice president of development at ASD Management. "For example, osteoporosis is really big, along with obesity, so there are a lot of people suffering from compression fractures of the spine. Procedures like kyphoplasty can treat that, and we focus on bringing that patient base to our surgeons; that's how we grow our business."
You can also partner with GI physicians on direct-to-patient marketing efforts for routine procedures like colonoscopies. "Within our centers we not only want to help grow the ASC business but also the surgeon's business and practice," says Mr. Dailey. "We've identified certain areas of business that there could be growth and partnered with industry to explore them."
2. Engage in goodwill programs for patients. There are community initiatives across the country and national goodwill efforts to provide preventative and necessary care to underserved populations. To the extent possible, partner with those organizations to bring in new patients who wouldn't have had care otherwise.
"We partner with Colonoscopy Assist, which has a team work approach with the American Cancer Society, to raise awareness and education for patients to get colon cancer screenings," says Mr. Dailey. "They target patient populations who wouldn't normally be able to afford screenings and negotiate lower rates to encourage them."
The ASC negotiates lower rates for the colonoscopy which means bringing in less money. However, patient volume still increases and surgery centers still benefit. "It's good to help people who wouldn't have help otherwise, and I'd rather take half of something than zero of nothing," says Mr. Dailey. "It's also building patient population because the patients might have family members who need an operation and they've already formed a relationship with your center."
3. Educate primary care physicians on your quality. Primary care and referring physicians may not know about your surgery center or all procedures performed there. Make an effort to connect with them over dinner or educational sessions to raise awareness about your treatment options.
"Our physicians do education and awareness programs with primary care physicians and radiologists in the hospital to let them know we are an option for their patients," says Mr. Dailey. "When they have patients who could be treated at the ASC, we play matchmaker within the community and hopefully the patients will be sent to us. It's good for patient volume but also gives patients another option for treatment. I truly believe that business success comes from helping people."
One of the best ways to win over primary care referrals is by showing clinical success and patient satisfaction scores. Primary care physicians want to know their patients are taken care of at the ASC and the surgeons will give them updates after the procedure.
"If ASCs want to increase their share of available cases, winning the hearts and minds of referring physicians is their challenge," says Michael Abrams, co-founder and managing partner of Numerof & Associates. "Convince them you have something to offer by way of quality that they won't find anywhere else in the market. You also want to make sure that if there is something that constitutes value to them that you are doing it. They may want to check on the patient post-procedure, for instance. Figure out what the referring physician wants and give it to them."
4. Gain a reputation for high quality care. If they don't already, surgery centers must begin collecting complication, outcome and patient satisfaction data. The future for reimbursements, as well as referrals, is data-driven and ASCs should build a positive reputation in their community by numbers as well as word-of-mouth.
"Surgery centers will need to prove their value to referral sources by talking to those physicians and explaining that their outcomes are better and complication rates are lower," says Mr. Abrams. "Referral sources also want to be reassured that their patients will have a positive experience at the ASC. Everyone is looking for the best provider who does the best job. It's all well and good to say your surgeons have 27 years of experience on average and perform 300 cases annually, but these are measures of experience, not outcome."
It's difficult for most ASCs to collect data on the patient experience, especially if they wait until a week after the patient has left the ASC. However, this data can be very powerful. Give patients a survey about their experience before they leave the surgery center to the extent possible. Otherwise, connect via phone or email with patients a week later for feedback.
"It would be great to get information from the patient a week after the experience and find out whether their case was handled in a warm and responsive way and whether their needs were met," says Mr. Abrams. "Figure out whether everyone was friendly and if they would recommend the provider to family members. Pointing to strong results, even to just that question, can be very powerful because you can make the case that it's safer to refer patients to a particular provider. Proving your value to referral sources goes a long way."
5. Use clinical data in ad campaigns. Surgery centers that already have a marketing budget can use their quality and patient satisfaction data in marketing campaigns. Patients and referrals sources will respond to the hard numbers better than generic tag lines about the quality of your center.
"If they are collecting data out there, use the same data in advertising," says Mr. Abrams. "When patients need a procedure, they ask friends and people they know in the medical profession where they should go. These people search their memories for what they've heard, and if the ASC has made a compelling case about delivering a superior product — either patient experience or clinical outcome — that puts them in the running whereas they might not have been in the past."
Surgery centers can post this data on their website and social media outlets for direct-to-consumer marketing. "ASCs need to look at the model that has been created for LASIK and plastic surgery," says Mr. Abrams. "These are private pay models of care where providers have to win the hearts and minds of referral sources and direct-to-consumer advertisers to position themselves in the running for the business."
6. Encourage surgeons to bring in all possible cases. For various reasons, surgeons don't always bring all possible cases to the surgery center. They might have a day at the hospital and schedule outpatient cases there for convenience, or their block times weren't convenient for the patient. Figure out whether surgeons are bringing in all possible cases and encourage them to do so.
"If the surgeons aren't fully utilized, what can you do to bring in more business?" says Mr. Abrams.
Sometimes, surgeons leave scheduling up to the office managers who are more comfortable with scheduling at the hospital. Find a way to make scheduling easier for them at the ASC and build a foundation for a long-lasting relationship with those managers.
7. Add new procedures. Expand the number of specialties and types of cases possible at the ASC. This can be done without spending too much money on expensive new equipment by finding procedures related to those already performed at the ASC. For example, bring in interventional pain management physicians to ASCs where orthopedic or spine cases are already performed.
"There may be certain kinds of procedures that surgeons have always done in the inpatient setting, but now have been proven safe in the outpatient setting as well," says Mr. Abrams. "If possible, invest in new equipment to expand the portfolio of procedures surgeons can do."
Work with current physicians to see if there are any procedures they could perform in the outpatient surgery center with the right technology and support team.
8. Analyze referral sources. Conduct an analysis of referral sources to examine where referrals are coming from. Count all referrals from each referring physician and figure out whether you are receiving 100 percent of their cases.
"If you aren't receiving all their cases, figure out what you need to do to win a larger share of their referrals," says Mr. Abrams. "There may be situations where it makes sense to meet with and talk with the physicians about the experience and quality of your work at the center. You are building a relationship to assure the referral source that you will do a good job and are superior to other places in the market."
When you find a referral source that abruptly stops sending patients to the center, find out what put them off. "Anything you can do to correct that situation is a step in the right direction," says Mr. Abrams. "
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