5 Steps to Creating a Balanced Pain Management Surgery Center

Pain management can be a profitable addition to a surgery center. However, due to the nature of the specialty, balance is essential to the success of pain management.

Mike Heifferon, Ph.D, MBA, chief operating officer, and Marie Masztak, RN, BEd, vice president of nursing, of Deca Health, a management, billing and development company specializing in interventional pain management services, provide the following five steps to creating a balanced pain management practice in your ASC.


What is a balanced pain management practice?
Mr. Heifferon says that a balanced practice is based upon four different relevant benchmarking standards — financial, patient, provider and staff perspectives. According to Mr. Heiffron, a high performing pain management practice will be in the 90th percentile on each of these areas in benchmarking surveys.

Each area measures different competencies of the practice. "The financial perspective comes from the point of view of collections and net income," Mr. Heiffron says. "The patient perspective looks at patient satisfaction and outcomes. The provider perspective looks at the provider satisfaction and productivity. The staff perspective looks at the staff satisfaction and productivity."

In order to keep track of how your pain management practice is performing, Mr. Heifferon suggests using metrics to measure areas like satisfaction and productivity at least monthly, if not daily or weekly. "The more frequently you measure the results, the more frequently you will be able to take action and improve performance," he says.

Step one: Recruit good physicians
Dedicated, talented physicians are essential to any successful service line in an ASC. Because of increased scrutiny over procedure overuse and abuse, surgery centers need to ensure that their interventional pain physicians are qualified and dedicated to proper patient care. According to Mr. Heifferon, the Accreditation Association for Ambulatory Health Care requires that all physicians performing pain management at an ASC should be certified.

Mr. Heifferon and Ms. Masztak agree that pain management physicians should be board certified and/or fellowship trained. Other areas to consider are the physician's experience with the procedures he or she will be performing and the percent of the physician's new patients who will receive procedures according to evidence-based medicine.

Mr. Heifferon recommends bringing in physicians who want to be partners in the center or who are existing partners that aren't making maximum use of the center. "Both parties have the same risk [in this scenario.] When the physician is not partnered with the center, they look at things, such as cost effectiveness, time off, etc., differently," he says.

Another issue to keep in mind when bringing pain management physicians on board is the importance of separation of office practices from that of the ASC. According to Ms. Masztak, the Medicare (CMS) Guidelines require separation of the surgery center from the office in order for the surgery center to be accredited. Therefore, the physician can see patients in the office at designated times prior to or after the completion of procedures.

Step two: Meet with and educate referring physicians
Marketing is an essential tool to a surgery center's success, and when it comes to interventional pain management, education is an essential part of marketing. Mr. Heifferon and Ms. Masztak suggest that ASCs should devote one full-time equivalent position (ideally, two part-time staffers) to marketing efforts.

Meeting with referring physicians is an important part of this step, according to Mr. Heifferon and Ms. Masztak. Representatives from the ASC should provide physicians with information regarding customer and physician satisfaction at the center as well as educational material on pain management and how it can enhance their patient's care.

"It is important to demonstrate to new physicians that performing pain management procedures in the ASC allows them to collect a facility fee while providing high quality and safe services to their pain patients," Mr. Heifferon says.

Ms. Masztak says, "One aspect of care that can enhance access for patients into pain management is by promoting a good working relationship between the physicians of the ASC and the neurologists/orthopedists to gain same day access by following preset guidelines for intervention — what we call Fast Track MD.  Another would be when patients have experienced a pain management intervention previously, they are able to fast track their own care by following set guidelines for expedited care — what we call Fast Track Patient."

Another important step, according to Ms. Masztak, is to educate the community on pain management and chronic pain treatment. "You want to create awareness and to educate physicians (and community) on what the surgery center does and show that it is about helping, rather than 'stealing,' patients," she says.

Step three: Consider the patient's experience
As pain management is a high-volume specialty, addressing the patient's experience is essential to the service line's success. "We set a patient satisfaction goal of 98 percent at our centers," Mr. Heifferon says. "When centers have patient satisfaction scores in the 90s, that is still good, but it is important to ask what they consider an issue (such as no-show rates) and to continually improve."

Prior to adding pain management to your ASC, Mr. Heifferon suggests looking at three areas — patient flow, wait time and time from admission to discharge. "You need to respect the patients time as much as your own," he says. "Because of the nature of an ambulatory surgery (need for another person to drive/pick up patient, etc.) it is important to be able to give the patient a close approximation of the amount of time they will spend at the center."

For this reason, ASCs need to ensure they will be able to handle the patient load and the quick turnover time needed for pain procedures, which are typically about 15 minutes in length. The short procedure times often mean patients will wait longer in prep and recovery than in the actual time it takes to perform the procedure. Therefore, efficiency is critical.

Physician output may also be affected by poor patient satisfaction, according to Mr. Heifferon and Ms. Masztak. "Poor patient outcomes can often result in a physician using pain management or the surgery center less," Mr. Heifferon says. "You may not know this until you drill down to and examine trends on a physician level."

Step four: Understand payor issues specific to pain management
Communication is essential to ensuring the ASC and physician are reimbursed properly for pain management procedures. "You need to check whether a patient's insurance covers the pain management procedures and make sure the billing department is aware of co-pays or what current outstanding debt may be," says Ms. Masztak. "Also, communicate with the patient to know whether insurance is covering the procedure and with the physician to make sure medical necessity is demonstrated."

Mr. Heifferon says it is important to communicate any costs to the patient prior to the procedure.

Mr. Heifferon and Ms. Masztak offer the following advice for ensuring proper billing and reimbursement of pain management procedures in your surgery center:

  • Know your billing guidelines per insurance carrier for pain management procedure.
  • Make sure the physician's and ASC's charges match exactly.
  • The correct levels must be billed, so it is important to know the difference between disc levels and in-between levels and have this clarified on the physician's report as necessary.
  • Know modifiers that pertain to the ASC and its procedures.
  • Anesthesia is billed per insurance carrier guidelines, so be aware of what is and can be used for the procedure.

Step five: Offer profitable procedures

As with any service line offered in your ASC, providing the right mix of procedures is essential to success. It is essential that all procedures be verified for insurance coverage in the ASC prior to the physician performing the procedure.

The following eight procedures are identified by Mr. Heiffron and Ms. Masztak as the most common performed in a surgery center:
  • SI steroid joint injection
  • Cervical epidural steroid injection
  • Lumbar epidural steroid injection
  • Spinal Cord Stimulator Trials are done to evaluate whether this is the best mechanism to control chronic pain
  • Cervical facet injection
  • Lumbar facet injection
  • Transforaminal epidural steroid injections and selective nerve blocks
  • Radiofrequency ablation procedures. It is important to not that prior to adding RFA to a surgical center, proper cost and volume analysis is necessary. These units are expensive and if volume is not adequate, then a per case arrangement with the unit cost built into the supplies often can be arranged.

"With the constant downward pressure on professional reimbursement, interventional pain management physicians should be looking for alternative sources of income and for reductions in practice overhead expense. Participation in an ASC offers an opportunity for both," says Mr. Heifferon.

Learn more about Deca Health.

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