There were several unexpected issues in 2020 that have impacted the health care industry, and Ambulatory Surgery Centers in particular, in profound ways. If ASCs were paying attention, they have learned some valuable lessons to apply to the coming year to ensure they continue to operate smoothly.
Lesson #1: You Can't Plan for Everything
This could be the mantra for just about every industry in the country after the events of 2020, but no industry has been more blindsided than the health care industry. The Coronavirus spread rapidly, spiked in hundreds of hot spots across the country, and has a wide range of symptoms. Tracking it is difficult, and individuals are often contagious without showing symptoms.
ASCs learned quickly that stringent guidelines and careful screenings of patients were essential to stay open, but this wasn't always enough. State and local governments could, in the interest of public health, quickly shut down outpatient and non-essential surgeries, leaving ASCs scrambling. It was a sober lesson in how quickly the landscape can change despite the best planning.
Lesson #2: Changing Protocols Mean Supply and Budget Nightmares
One of the most difficult lessons learned by ASCs in 2020 was that the health care and cleaning supplies previously taken for granted weren't guaranteed. It was astonishing how quickly many Ambulatory Surgery Centers had to scramble to make sure they had enough of everything from disinfecting wipes to respirators.
In addition, frequent changes in protocols for everything from check-ins to how anesthesia was handled meant the need for new supplies. Plexiglas shields, sanitizing sites, and more added dramatically to the cost of supplies even when they were available. With frequent shut-downs and limits on non-essential procedures, many ASCs saw steep declines in income combined with a rise in the cost of staying open safely and meeting prescribed health guidelines. Vendor management software became a vital link in ASC supply chains to ensure the availability of needed equipment and supplies.
Lesson #3: Backlogs and Rescheduling Can Cripple Workflow
With constantly changing schedules, re-evaluation of Covid-19 protocols, and some patients' fears, scheduling ambulatory surgical procedures became much more complicated in 2020. Staff quickly learned that patient rescheduling, potential shut-downs, and overflow from crowded hospitals all contributed to confusion at ASCs.
As staff scrambled to deal with surgery backlogs and rescheduling of patients, other areas were sometimes neglected. Paperwork from patient charts to staff schedules sometimes fell behind, crippling workflow. Tools such as online pre-admissions software streamlined scheduling backlogs and aided in smoother processing of patients, resulting in fewer scheduling mistakes.
Lesson #4: Staffing Challenges Can't Be Neglected
The 2020 pandemic caused a staffing crisis that will be felt for years to come. It is a multi-faceted problem that ASC administrators continue to face as we move into 2021. Ambulatory Surgery Centers were periodically shut down, restricted, and even used as hospital overflow facilities in major cities. These constant changes led to layoffs, furloughs, reduced hours, reduced pay, and shifting responsibilities for employees. Add the stress of potential virus exposure, children home from school, finance issues, and family concerns, and you have a recipe for significant staffing losses. When facilities re-opened, scheduling employees to meet the needs of backlogged surgeries and proper care for patients while minimizing everyone's risk was a daunting challenge.
Administrators quickly realized that addressing the concerns of employees was paramount to staying open and providing proper care. Weekly or monthly staff meetings to address issues became essential, as did offering flex hours and access to mental health and wellness resources. Quickly filling open positions was critical, as open positions could quickly lead to a breakdown in service to patients.
Lesson #5: Ambulatory Surgery Centers Can Thrive Moving Forward
The final lesson ASCs learned during 2020 was a positive one – that moving forward, Ambulatory Surgery Centers can thrive. With the landscape of medical care rapidly changing, ASCs will reap multiple benefits. More patients than ever are opting for outpatient care and private surgery centers in order to avoid hospital stays and exposure to illnesses.
Surgeons are increasingly interested in ASCs as well. They prefer the shorter wait times for surgical suites and the increased control they have over procedures and patient care. Finally, insurers are increasingly recognizing that ASCs provide a cost-effective alternative to hospital care for many types of standard procedures. Many nurses, anesthetists, and other medical staff prefer working at Ambulatory Surgery Centers because of the predictable scheduling, regular hours, and low incidence of emergencies.
Moving forward, Ambulatory Surgery Centers can take the lessons learned and use them to improve the quality of care, quality of employment, and success of their facilities. The future looks bright for ASCs as 2020 fades into the past.