The September 25th addition of the Wall Street Journal published a thought-provoking article about large hospital corporations developing outpatient facilities. The article, “Warding off Decline, Hospitals Invest in Outpatient Clinics” by Melanie Evans, indicates this outpatient migration includes ambulatory surgery centers (ASCs), urgent care clinics, and freestanding emergency rooms (ERs).
There are several interesting points raised in the article for hospital executives, physicians, and current operators of ASCs to consider.
The increase in patient responsibility
The patient’s role in controlling health care costs is increasing. It can be seen in the proliferation of high deductible insurance plans and the push to make consumers more aware of the cost of their care. The article cites RBC Capital Markets’ managing director, Frank Morgan, and the California Employees’ Retirement System (Calpers) as sources touting the responsive move by hospital operators toward providing more care in the outpatient setting. This trend has presented both challenges and opportunities for Pinnacle III’s clients. Several years ago, as patients quickly became the second most prevalent health care payer behind the federal government, we focused our partnered ASCs on the need to effectively collect patient deductibles and copays. Doing so preserved the cash flow necessary to sustain ASC operations. We also worked with our clients to improve their outbound messaging to educate the public about the cost-effective options offered by ambulatory surgery centers.
ASCs fill the need for additional options for access
While ASC development dipped a few years ago, as noted in our previous blog publications and identified in Ms. Evans’ article, this sector is growing again. The increase in patient responsibility has led many patients to actively seek out lower cost options for care. Ambulatory surgery centers address that need. Additionally, payers are encouraging patients to utilize ASCs and other outpatient venues to reduce their costs. Hospital systems and physicians witnessing this transition are identifying needs in underserved area as opportunities to grow their market share. As Ms. Evans states, this is all done, “In an effort to strengthen their hold on their market and prevent rivals from siphoning off patients.” For these reasons, we continue to experience robust de novo growth of ASCs throughout the country.
The article briefly acknowledges that technological improvements are driving some of this change. This point is not taken lightly by Pinnacle III. The migration of high acuity cases from the inpatient setting to the outpatient arena is a significant driver in both the growth of ASC volume and the increase in de novo activity. To move high acuity cases safely to the outpatient setting, advancements in medical technology are a necessity. Technological improvements also increase time effectiveness for physicians and provide enhanced convenience and comfort for patients. The types of care offered in outpatient settings will continue to grow as more states evaluate the efficacy of convalescent care or recovery centers as optional add-ons for ASCs. Finally, significant growth will occur once CMS begins to encourage the transition of total joints to the ambulatory setting.
While several factors are at play, one thing is clear – the health care industry is experiencing rapid growth in outpatient care, driven by hospitals, physicians, patients, and payers alike. Ms. Evans’ article provides a wakeup call to some, and validation to others, of the need to clearly define the outpatient strategy for their practice or system.
Robert Carrera, President/CEO
1Wall Street Journal article March 29, 2017 Warding Off Decline, Hospitals Invest in Outpatient Clinics;Â https://www.wsj.com/articles/warding-off-decline-hospitals-invest-in-outpatient-clinics-1506331804