5 ways ASCs could be affected long after the pandemic

For surgery centers, the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic could linger long after the crisis is contained.

Five ways ASCs may be affected down the line:

1. Utilization. Unveiled March 30, CMS' "hospitals without walls" initiative allows hospitals to provide inpatient care in ASCs and other temporary expansion sites as part of their COVID-19 response efforts. Serving in new capacities could help ASCs demonstrate their quality and gain public trust. Plus, the COVID-19 pandemic will make people more infection-conscious, leading them to seek out care in ASCs that offer a lower risk of exposure, according to St. Louis-based Atlas Surgical Group CEO Shakeel Ahmed, MD. Surgical Management Professionals President and CEO Mike Lipomi offered a similar perspective, saying that ASCs' capabilities "are wholly underutilized."

2. Finances. Elective procedure restrictions in more than 30 states have led to steep declines in patient volumes and forced surgery centers to forgo an important revenue stream. While some ASCs can seek financial relief from the Small Business Administration, they still may need to develop financial contingency plans and operate on minimum cash flow to stay afloat. Next Services' Paycheck Protection Program loan calculator is designed to help centers plan accordingly.

3. Patient payments. One-fourth of Americans have either lost their job or taken a pay cut, and an additional 9 percent expect to find themselves in that same situation, according to a recent CNBC survey of 800 people. That means more than 30 percent of Americans may be at risk of losing coverage under employer insurance plans. So, when elective cases are allowed to resume, patients may delay them indefinitely or forgo them altogether if forced to pay out of pocket.

4. Staffing. Several surgery centers are laying off or furloughing employees to offset financial losses from elective case bans. In Minnesota, where non-urgent case bans took effect March 23, most ASCs are unable to guarantee unemployed workers will get their jobs back. Surgery centers will have to grapple with ensuring they're sufficiently staffed for a post-pandemic surge of patients whose elective cases were put off.

5. Telemedicine. Seventy-five percent of medical practices and clinics surveyed by medical technology company Kareo are either using a telemedicine solution or plan to deploy one soon. Orthopedic surgeon Geoff Van Thiel, MD, of Rockford-based OrthoIllinois said he thinks the COVID-19 crisis could create long-lasting changes in telemedicine because patients are getting more comfortable with the technology, and providers could use it to track postoperative progress.

More articles on surgery centers:
ASCs could get financial relief under $2 trillion stimulus law — 4 things to know
Can ASCs help with the COVID-19 surge?
California's 750+ ASCs prepare to expand services for COVID-19 surge 

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