What Can Patient Demographics Reveal About Your ASC?

Surgery centers considering expansion can often turn to community demographics for guidance on the most market-appropriate specialties for their patient pool. Here are three key steps to take in obtaining and analyzing signs from the community.

1. Compile past and present patient demographics. The community's surrounding demographics will often reveal what types of procedures will be payable to the surgery center, says LiAyn Okress, RN, consultant with healthcare management consulting firm Beacon Partners. A market with a higher proportion of patients that are underinsured, uninsured or on government aid, for example, is most likely not the ideal place to add an extensive cosmetic surgery specialty, she says.

The first place to look for this type of data is often the surgery center itself, according to Adam Higman, consultant with healthcare management consulting firm Soyring Consulting. Centers should aim to gather a diverse mix of information, including the income, age, disease risks and factors, location, zip code, neighborhoods, payments and insurance information of past and current patients at the center. Based on this internal information, he says, a center can often hone in on where patients are coming from and how far they're traveling to get to the center — data that indicates what type of radius the surgery center can expect to draw from for future patients.

2. Consult public records or agencies for additional data. Surgery centers can also turn to public information from the state health department to supplement internal patient population data. "Statistic reports on numbers, types and frequency of procedures done will tell you the most popular procedures by hospitals and hospital outpatient departments in the area," says Ms. Okress, adding that Medicare or Joint Commission statistics can be particularly useful sources to consult.

"Use this information to bring in specialists that may be in demand," she says. "People and insurance [providers] prefer surgery centers instead of hospitals, as the cost [for procedures] should be less. High volume procedures would warrant bringing in additional specialists and growing that business. Low volume procedures would warrant evaluation as to why they are low volume."

If greater analysis and market research is desired, centers can hire a third party agency to analyze demographic information with a greater focus on payors and target patient areas in the community, says Mr. Higman. The fees associated with demographic analysis often pale in comparison to the revenue generated as a result, he adds.

"If you're getting questions out of that research that you can't answer, if you find that you can't get patients from a certain area, or if your payor mix isn't what you'd like it to be, it makes sense to contact someone else to make sure you have a strong understanding of the data," says Mr. Higman.

3. Use market data to guide surgery center expansion. The local population is a key indicator of which specialties a center can realistically add, and market data will often present surgery centers with several options, says Mr. Higman.

A surgery center may find, for example, that it is located in an optimal market for orthopedics — a market characterized by middle-income workers who are insured and often perform manual labor, such as those in the construction, timber and agriculture sectors. This population typically sees a greater amount of orthopedic issues, and therefore would be a realistic market in which to add orthopedic and spine specialties.

"If that is your local population, the question isn't whether you'll have your volume, but whether you'll have the right payor mix," Mr. Higman says.

Examining the specialties offered by competing surgery centers will help to further narrow down options for expansion, but ultimately, surgery centers that take the time to gather market data typically press forward in the correct direction towards profitable and market-appropriate specialties.

"It's a question of whether [surgery centers] are picking the right area to expand into," says Mr. Higman. "The only time [a center should reconsider plans for expansion] is if you can't recruit somebody for a profitable area, or if you're in an area that's difficult to draw the right patients to. Otherwise, the sky's the limit."

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