Becoming a Better ASC Administrator in 2013: 5 Steps to Improve Your Leadership

With the turn of the New Year, people are making resolutions related to their personal and professional lives — and surgery center administrators should be no different. Whether you want to get your finances in order, improve your quality outcomes, or boost staff morale, the beginning of the year is a great time to assess your weaknesses and create a plan for improvement. Here, Lori Vernon of Health Inventures discusses five ways administrators can improve themselves and their ASCs in 2013.

1. Focus on patient engagement. "Patient engagement is going to be really important in 2013," Ms. Vernon says. Surgery centers have historically reported high patient satisfaction rates because of short wait times, high quality and a more intimate setting — but as patient satisfaction becomes a hot topic in the industry, hospitals are jumping on the bandwagon too. "I think some of us have become a little complacent," she says. "It's time to refocus and re-energize around patient engagement."

She recommends reviewing your patient satisfaction surveys to hone in on your areas of weakness in 2012. You may need to improve communication between patients and nursing staff, or work on better preparing your patients for discharge. She says it may be important to focus on patient education this year, especially as more complex procedures move into the outpatient setting and patients require more extended surgery and recovery time. "Patients are more educated and they want more education, so we have to keep ahead of the game on preparing them to take care of themselves at home," she says.

2. Examine your transfer rates. Ms. Vernon says it's important for surgery centers to have low hospital transfer rates, one of the quality measures that ASCs must start reporting to CMS in 2014. Low transfer rates indicate a robust patient selection process and good quality outcomes, and they can also improve patient satisfaction. "Hospitals are highly focused on readmission rates," she says. "In the ASC world, we should focus on the patients that have to go to the ER or seek a higher level of care after discharge."

She says you may find that you need to be stricter in your patient selection process, choosing patients with fewer co-morbidities or a lower average weight. You may also find that your pain control process is inadequate, and that patients seek hospital care post-discharge because they cannot adequately handle their pain.

3. Set at least one goal related to clinical outcomes. Ms. Vernon says while it's important to set goals related to financial success, one of your goals in 2013 should relate to your quality of care. "We all take for granted that we want to provide the highest quality of care," she says. "To me, the new year means airing out and freshening up what we do." She says quality outcomes will only become more important as ASCs start reporting falls, wrong-site surgery, patient burns, antibiotic timing and transfers to CMS. She says example goals include decreasing post-op nausea and vomiting or decreasing transfers to acute care.

4. Develop a strategic plan. This is the time to look to the future, Ms. Vernon says. The healthcare industry is in a period of extreme change, as the federal government implements provisions of healthcare reform and hospitals look to acquire and merge to grow market share. "The next three years is more uncertain now than it's ever been in our history," she says. It's time to think about integrating with your physician partners, whether you're a physician-hospital joint venture, a surgery center with a management company or 100 percent physician-owned.

"The physicians need to know about their business more than ever before," she says. "As hospitals look to set up physician integration models, it's much more important that physicians are involved in your center." She says whether you're political or not, it's important to know what's happening in the industry. Participate in your state ASC association and educate yourself on what Congress, CMS and HHS are doing to impact surgery centers.

5. Remember that "less is more." As the year starts, you may have a long list of improvements you want to make at your ASC. Ms. Vernon advises ASC administrators to prioritize several critical items instead. "2013 is going to be a year where we have to focus on prioritizing our efforts and using our energies to tap into growth resources," she says. Gone are the days when administrators had the budget to attend four conferences a year, she says. "Economically, that might not be possible anymore," she says. "You really need to focus on what's most beneficial to you."

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