9 ways for ASCs to win in 2016

The ASC industry is cutthroat. With more procedures moved to the outpatient space, surgery centers are becoming increasingly popular; however, they are also jostling with one another to stay ahead of the pack and increase their patient base.

"Simply put, saturation is what makes the ASC industry so competitive," says Judy Harless, administrator at SMI Surgery Center in San Diego. "Particularly in non-CON states, the number of ASCs far outweigh the need. While we’ve experienced a stagnation, or drop, in de novo ventures, the sheer numbers of existing centers make success or sustainability a highly risky proposition. Couple the disproportionately large supply with dwindling resources, such as the number of physicians available for recruitment and decreasing reimbursement, and we have a Darwinian process."

Most ASCs offer care with lower infection rates, quicker recovery times and lower costs as compared to hospital care, notes Toni Rambeau, regional director of operations at SurgCenter Development. Thus, the devil is in details. To differentiate themselves from others in the market, ASC strategy must go above and beyond the low hanging fruit of patient care.

Here are nine best ideas for ASCs to thrive in a competitive market in 2016:

1. Invest time and effort in hiring staff. Ms. Harless notes that surgeons will always prefer a center where the team is cohesive, efficient and skilled to tolerating inadequacies. Hire staff who are a good cultural fit for the center and don’t settle for less than the best and brightest staff members who will remain dedicated to your center’s values.
2. Ensure low staff turnover. Physicians and patients alike appreciate a surgery center with a low turnover among staff members, says Jennifer Mayes, clinical administrator of Hampden Surgery Center, where most staff members have been working with the physicians for close to 10 years. The staff knows the surgeons and anticipate their needs, which in turn promotes physician retention.

"Being able to say that we have a low staff turnover rate is huge," she says. "Knowing that our staff are here and committed says a lot to the physicians and patients."

3. Review contracts early and often. Contracts are established and then forgotten about, which can result in missed opportunities to increase revenue. If you don’t have the internal resources to review your contracts, it’s worth the investment to hire an expert, says Ms. Harless.

"When you bring in new lines of service and your existing contracts either pay poorly on those CPTs or there are no carve-outs, you could find yourself in a position of building volume, but not revenues," she says.
4. Give back to the community. Ms. Harless says that philanthropic efforts are not only appreciated, but also help to brand a center as one that is invested in the health and well-being of the community.  

5. Use your current physicians to attract new ones. Your surgeons are your best resources for attracting new physicians. Leverage your surgeons to reach out to their associates and open the door for you. Then meet with the physician, offer a tour of the center and share the reasons performing cases at your facility will make their lives and those of their patients better.

"No matter how charming or persistent we are, the fact is that physicians respond to other physicians," Ms. Harless says.   

6. Empower and appreciate your physicians. To attract and retain the most skilled physicians, let them call the shots on how to best handle their patients. "So many hospitals tell the providers what to do and how to do it and what what they have to use to do the case. My number one goal is empowerment," says Ms. Rambeau.

Additionally, go the extra mile when welcoming a new surgeon to the center. The phrase is 'don’t sweat the small stuff,' but when you’re trying to recruit a new physician, it’s all about the small stuff.

"Find out their scrub size and set up a locker with their name on it and their size-specific scrubs ready for them," Ms. Harless suggests. "Make their experience as seamless as possible by doing your homework in advance such as getting preference cards, discharge orders and speaking with their staff regarding any details which you need to be aware of."

7. Improve patient experience with technology. Patients value efficiency as much as physicians and anything you can do to make their experience a good one will help you increase your patient base. Hampden Surgery Center in Denver implemented One Medical Passport, which has seen great results. The system allows patients to go online and record their information, which is available to the staff as well as physicians beforehand.

"The physicians have the information and medical history before they even come to the ASC and so they are one step ahead. They can get in touch with patients with any issues before they even come in," says Ms. Mayes. "Also, patients talk. Good word-of-mouth about your facility can go a long way in bringing in more patients."

8. Get involved in local politics. "Grass roots lobbying efforts are crucial to your center and to the continuation of our industry as a whole. Every day, our elected officials are voting on legislation which impacts our centers, but they have no idea who we are or what services we provide to the community," says Ms. Harless. Offering tours of ASCs can provide the education to influence a legislator’s vote.

9. Help high-deductible plan patients make payments. The cost of most insurance plans is sky rocketing. Working with patients to develop ways to make their payments less stressful improves both patient experience as well as patient collections.

"[ASCs] can offer payment plans or the use of CareCredit to help with the financial responsibilities. Some even offer prompt pay discounts if the patient pays off their account within a given period of time. Communication is key and we always must have the patients in our best interest and care for them regardless of what the insurance company dictates," Ms. Rambeau says.

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