5 Strategies to Enhance ASC Patient Volume

Here are five strategies ambulatory surgery center experts recommend implementing to market an ASC and increase the number of cases brought to a center.

1. Build referral networks. Surgeons often develop loyalties to one another, and all physicians within a certain specialty could be a referral source. For example, if a patient shows up at an orthopedic surgeon's office with leg pain but the problem stems from spine issues, the orthopedic surgeon can refer these patients to local spine or neurosurgeons in their area.

"Once the referral occurs, physicians have a relationship with each other," said Marcus Williamson, president of the spine division of Symbion Health Care. "We are learning that networking is what the future of healthcare is all about. Independent physician groups are identifying specialists to help them contend for larger managed care contracts and cost controls."

After the initial relationship is formed from one referral, the physicians begin to become familiar with each other and tend to stay within their networks for referring patients as much as possible. "There has to be a champion to make sure the loyalty within the network is maintained; it's a quid pro quo system," Mr. Williamson said. "Networks are the future, and practice administrators can assist their physicians with that."

2. Add more types of procedures. Adding new cases — whether by increasing volume or new procedures — is the only area of growth for ASCs, said Jared Leger, president and CEO of Arise Healthcare. Payment rates are probably not going up, he said, so ASCs should look to add more procedures for profit and growth.

"We have focused on looking for cases that are routinely performed in an inpatient setting and focus on the barriers preventing them from moving them to an outpatient setting," he said. "We look at the clinical side: Is it clinically safe and appropriate to be done at an ASC? Do we have the proper equipment? Since oftentimes these are more intensive procedures, we analyze the economics as well. We measure the case costs and ask ourselves if each payor's reimbursement rate is enough to cover our costs."

3. Generate positive exposure. Find the opportunities in your community to promote education or sponsorship and take advantage of this exposure, said Robert S. Bray, MD, neurosurgeon and founder of DISC Sports & Spine Center in Marina Del Rey, Calif. DISC has a multi-tiered approach to community involvement that includes both educational lectures and providing medical expertise for local sporting events.

“We put on a series of lectures for chiropractors and physical therapists, as well as internists and other referral sources,” Dr. Bray said. “We make them educational-based and generate exposure for our group. The series might be focused on sports medicine or insurance coverage and we’ll sponsor lunches and different events around those topics.”

DISC has seen positive return on investment for educational opportunities, and has now begun a series of lectures targeting high school coaches, parents and young athletes about injury prevention. To continue their educational efforts, the group also sponsors athletic events such as the Off-Shore Sailing race series.

“We have a presence at every one of the regattas and we provide bags or other materials that are a token from DISC,” he said. “We help the organization develop brochures. We also have a presence at triathlete events. Grassroots community-based activities that align with your purpose can be very beneficial.”

4. Grow local and regional presence. The first step of a marketing plan is reaching out to the markets closest to your center, and centers need to determine where their patients are coming from and focus on building this base, said President and CEO of SpineMark Marcy Rogers. ASC should ask questions, such as who are the leading primary care specialists in the local and regional area and what are the athletics groups? Connect with these specialists and groups, and build relationships, she said.

ASCs need to understand how they are perceived in local and regional communities; reputation as understood by the surgeon could be different. "Identifying patient satisfaction of your services is very important for growing your presence locally," Ms. Rogers said. Gathering and presenting quarterly data is one way to assess patient satisfaction and the success of your marketing strategies. Data can show you where your center is drawing business from and can be used to build your surgeons' reputations. Data can also help to drive your marketing presence and be used to drive reimbursements.

5. Use several different marketing tactics. Executing a true marketing strategy means building a marketing team and using several different tactics to reach patients. It’s not just a spot ad in the newspaper or creating a practice website; you must engage patients every day with social media as well, Dr. Bray said.

“You can’t create an effective marketing program with a few thousand dollars per year,” he said. “It has to be a big part of your budget if you want a structure that can sustain growth. The marketing team must be dynamic and fresh with people who understand how things are changing.”

As much as a traditional marketing budget can not be overlooked, online word of mouth remains equally essential. Social media platforms are vastly important because they can reach a high volume of people on an interpersonal level. If one of your patients posts about a positive experience on Facebook or Twitter, a network of hundreds of people will see and relate to it.

“This is a very rapidly evolving structure and will continue to evolve, and that’s our challenge,” he said. “The most important strategy for the future is to create a program that is ever-changing and dynamic with a rapid response to the marketplace.”

More Articles on Turnarounds:
8 Steps to Maximize Compact Scheduling at ASCs
BLS: Physicians Hold 9 of 10 Highest-Compensated Jobs
Medicaid Expansion Funding Announced

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