When our ASC opened in late 2014, we had more to celebrate than a new surgery center. We also toasted the opening of our new ASC convalescent center.
Located in the same building, the ASC convalescent center (also referred to as our “recovery center”) allows our surgeons to perform more complex procedures in the ASC that require an overnight stay. These include total knee, hip, and shoulder replacements as well as spine procedures such as anterior cervical fusions and posterior fusions. Upon completion of these procedures in our ASC, we move these patients to the convalescent center. There they recover up to 72 hours under the supervision of at least two medical professionals. A registered nurse, always present, is joined by either a certified nurse aide or medical assistant. Together, they provide personalized care and attention. Meals are served and visitors are welcomed most of the day.
Without the ASC convalescent center, our surgeons would have to perform these procedures in a hospital. Thanks to the recovery center, more patients can take advantage of our high-quality, low-cost surgical care. Our ASC benefits by capturing more surgical volume. In 2017, more than 400 patients stayed in our convalescent center. In the fourth quarter of 2017 alone, more than 130 patients remained in the recovery center overnight.
While the growth is exciting, what’s even more gratifying is the feedback we receive from our recovery center patients. They rave about it on our patient satisfaction survey. One of the questions we ask is: “Would you recommend this facility to friends and family?” Not only will they circle yes, they usually add a comment along the lines of “I would absolutely recommend the Orthopaedic and Spine Center.” That tells me we’re doing something right.
Recommendations for Developing a Convalescent Center
Here are some of the key factors that contribute to ongoing success with an ASC convalescent center.
- Careful patient selection. The ability to send patients to the recovery center does not lower our ASC’s standards for patient selection criteria. Patients must be in generally good health. Those with an American Society of Anesthesiologists physical status classification of III or IV are better suited for the hospital. We do not risk patient safety solely to increase volume. Surgeons inform the ASC when they want a patient kept overnight and how long they anticipate the patient staying.
- Involved anesthesiologists. Our anesthesiologists are critical to selection and management of convalescent center patients. One of the reasons patients stay is because their procedures are more extensive. This usually brings a greater level of pain following the surgery, which must be managed appropriately. Anesthesiologists are always part of the surgery planning process, ensuring these patients are appropriate for admission and their pain levels addressed throughout their stay. They discuss the different options for anesthesia with patients. They play a vital role in our efforts to use pain pumps to help reduce patient reliance on narcotics.
- Appropriate reimbursement. Reimbursement for procedures requiring an overnight stay can be tricky. Not all insurance companies pay for services provided in a convalescent center. When this is the case, the reimbursement for the procedure itself must cover the ASC’s expenses and those associated with the recovery center as well as a reasonable profit margin. By taking the time to conduct a thorough cost-benefit analysis and understanding fully the expenses associated with running the convalescent center, we armed ourselves with data that has assisted with payor contract negotiations.
- Focus on compliance. A convalescent center receives regulatory scrutiny just like an ASC. Compliance shortcomings can jeopardize the ability to keep a recovery center open. Make sure you understand and follow state rules for operating an ASC convalescent center. For us, that includes a license, entrance, waiting room, and medical records system separate from the ASC. Although a hallway connects our ASC to our convalescent center, patients are still discharged from the ASC before they are admitted to the recovery center. Following these processes helps keep both facilities in compliance.
- Supportive physicians. We are fortunate our physicians embrace the recovery center model. They are able to bring more high acuity cases to the ASC, explaining to patients beforehand the value of staying in our convalescent center. We return the favor by working to provide our physicians and their patients with a great surgical recovery experience. Maintaining the support of our physicians is essential to our growth.
Quick Tips for Getting Started with a Convalescent Center
While it’s great to have the option of providing extended care for patients, running a convalescent center isn’t for every ASC. Here are a few quick tips to follow before you move ahead with opening your own recovery facility:
- Know your state’s rules. Only some states allow an ASC to operate a convalescent center.
- If your state has an active ASC association, reach out. They may be able to answer questions about state rules for recovery centers. Lean on your local health department for information as well.
- Make sure you have commitment from physicians to bring enough overnight cases to justify the convalescent center. Without this commitment, you run the risk of opening a recovery center that will cost your ASC and its owners money rather than help generate revenue.
- Speak with your payors about your plans. Gauge their willingness to cover the more complex procedures requiring overnight stays at a fair rate.
Opening an ASC convalescent center does not guarantee its success. You will need to encourage your surgeons to schedule these complex cases, when appropriate, at the ASC. Marketing the convalescent center can help attract new physicians. It can also motivate patients to speak with their surgeons about undergoing a procedure at the ASC and staying at the recovery center. When word spreads, you may even attract patients from outside of your market. As we have experienced, the hard work that goes into building and growing a recovery program is truly rewarding.
Jennifer Arellano, Director of Operations