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The Secret Ingredient: How Ambulatory Care Centers Improve Quality and Cost

Published 5/20/2021

One of the most important questions we can ask ourselves as providers of healthcare is how to improve quality, while reducing costs. One way we can accomplish this is through ambulatory surgery centers (ASCs), which deliver surgical care services, including some services and technology many people think they can only find in a hospital-based center. Transforming the outpatient experience, ASCs provide a viable alternative to hospital-based care while maintaining a strong track record of quality care and safety, producing positive patient outcomes, and also delivering cost savings.

Who benefits from an ASC?

While hospitals continue to best serve patients who are very sick or require invasive surgeries/procedures, many patients who need to undergo an outpatient procedure could benefit from having it performed in an ASC, where costs are lower. This change in the care setting is made possible thanks to significant advances in surgical techniques, medical technology, and pain control. Years ago, these same procedures would have required an inpatient stay. Even total joint replacements and other complex procedures can now be performed in an ASC.

In the past, mastectomies and shoulder surgeries were performed in a hospital where pain was managed overnight with narcotics. Patients can now undergo these procedures in an outpatient ASC, thanks to the use of a pectoral block or pain catheter, which eliminates the need for narcotics – and an overnight stay.

At the Kelsey-Seybold Ambulatory Surgery Center, we designed the urology suite to accommodate a range of services from endoscopic to surgical procedures. This allowed us to shift 80% of our outpatient urology cases to our ASC, delivering significant cost savings to our patients.


Serving Up Savings and Quality

In a report published by the Ambulatory Surgery Center Association, the quality of services at an ASC is equal or, in some cases, even superior to that of a hospital setting. By following a rigorous set of protocols and procedures, ASCs have earned an excellent record of safety and quality outcomes.

According to a study by Healthcare Bluebook and Health Smart, the annual savings for commercial payors from moving procedures out of the hospital setting to ASCs stands at $37.8 billion, with the opportunity to more than double that savings in the future by continuing to migrate procedures from a hospital setting to an ASC.


We can find greater efficiencies by leveraging innovative approaches. For example, at the Kelsey-Seybold Ambulatory Surgery Center, patients needing cataract surgery can opt to have both eyes done at the same time. This deepens their savings by reducing their out-of-pocket costs and halving their recovery time.

Looking deeper at the quality experience enjoyed by ASC patients, we can see there are many benefits to using ASCs when clinically appropriate. Patients enjoy being able to recover at home where they are more comfortable. In the comfort and safety of their homes, they also experience fewer complications and lower risks of infection.

Better for Patients, Better for Employers

Because of the value it provides, a health plan that offers one or more freestanding ambulatory surgery centers for outpatient procedures can positively impact the bottom line for any business. When looking for a way to provide high-quality healthcare at a lower total medical cost for your employees, just look for the secret ingredients: coordinated care from a network of providers that utilize freestanding ambulatory surgery centers for better value, quality, and outcomes.


Benjamin Dillon, MD

Associate Chief of Urology and Medical Director of Specialty Care at Kelsey-Seybold Clinic

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Note: Each employer plan is separately underwritten and results will vary based on the population demographics and other factors.