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Last week’s blog shared four strategies your ASC might consider in 2023. This week, we are providing you with five additional strategies that ASCs can pursue and successfully execute.
Staffing costs are typically the highest expense for ASCs, and it’s been surging in most markets over the past few years. Good talent is essential to a well-performing ASC, especially one that’s hoping to grow. But finding and keeping good talent costs a lot of money. That’s why it’s essential that ASCs optimize staffing levels to keep their investment in staff at appropriate, manageable levels.
Optimization is being achieved in several ways. Some centers prioritize cross-training so staff can fill multiple positions and complete more tasks. Others are finding that adding additional team members is a practical approach to reducing reliance upon costly overtime and pro re nata (PRN) staff while also alleviating the workload of existing staff (which can help with retention by reducing burnout). A growing number of ASCs are investing in technology that allows centers to automate manual, time-consuming tasks. Such technology allows ASCs to give current staff more balanced workloads while decreasing the need for new hires, overtime, and PRN staff.
While staffing is a worthwhile area to target for improvement, it’s often difficult to make significant, meaningful changes to staffing levels over the short term. An area that’s not as difficult to improve quickly is purchasing. Purchasing encompasses everything from clinical supplies and equipment to office supplies and the various services needed for center operations. ASCs continue to leverage some tried-and-true tactics for decreasing what they spend on these various expenses, such as price shopping, negotiating rates and terms with those selling products and services, joining group purchasing organizations, and consolidating vendors to better leverage bulk purchasing.
Increasingly supplementing these efforts is the addition of technology designed to make smarter purchases. Technology is now available that’s allowing centers to better perform case costing, which helps with managed care contract negotiations; identify areas to target for growth and worthwhile cost-cutting initiatives; engage in discussions with vendor partners about savings around ongoing purchases, bulk purchases, and prompt payments; and reduce waste associated with unnecessary and incorrect purchases, over-purchasing, misplaced or lost supplies, and expired supplies.
Separate from purchasing smarter is spending smarter. ASCs are finding that targeting their spend management — the processes used to manage what an ASC is purchasing — is a great way to achieve improvements that have largely been overlooked. Examples of improvements surgery centers are discovering are possible with their spend management include automating payments, optimally timing payments, better understanding costs, and improved auditing of spending.
One of the simplest ways to appreciate the potential impact that can come with improvements in spend management is to consider an ASC that’s still relying upon paper checks to make payments. While this may seem like a small task to focus on, when you factor in the cost of mailing that check (envelope, postage, check), the administrative costs associated with matching the invoice to the check, and the time needed to prepare the check and envelope, the cost of a single check adds up fast. A report found that, on average, small businesses can spend more than $20 to process a one-paper invoice. For an ASC that sends hundreds of checks annually, this seemingly small expense adds up quickly. Moving to a more automated payment mechanism instantly and dramatically reduces these expenses and brings ongoing savings that go right to the bottom line.
ASCs with little to no open block times are exploring and often proceeding with opening additional locations. While opening a new center is no small feat and requires a significant investment from ownership, a new facility brings with it an open surgical schedule to be filled by existing or recruited surgeons. A new ASC usually brings with it penetration into new markets that can provide access to new patients and easier access for some current patients. A new facility can be an easier path forward to adding specialties if the current facility lacks adequate operating room space to handle the requirements of a new specialty. Finally, an additional facility can enhance an ASC’s purchasing and negotiating power with suppliers and service providers.
How often do you ignore phone calls from numbers you don’t have in your contacts? How many unread emails are in your inbox? The ways people want to be communicated with have changed significantly in recent years. ASCs are finding it beneficial to evaluate the effectiveness of how they currently engage with patients (as well as staff and vendors) and then make investments into communication channels likely to achieve greater engagement. These channels include text messaging, portals, and website chatbots. The use of such solutions can significantly reduce manual outreach and communication tasks while bringing benefits associated with increased patient engagement, such as reductions in no-shows and surgery cancellations due to non-compliance to increases in on-time arrivals and collections.
The strategies on this list range from those reasonably straightforward to implement (e.g., adding technology) to those that are much more complex (e.g., opening another facility). What’s imperative is that ASCs must not only identify growth strategies that make sense for their specific situation but pursue at least some of these strategies. If an ASC remains stagnant, navigating the various obstacles facing centers throughout the country could be challenging. Considering the high level of competition for surgeons, procedures, patients, staff, and equipment and supplies, centers should anticipate that they will encounter headwinds likely to create strain on their status quo and the bottom line. Efforts to counteract these inevitable challenges should be ongoing to help ensure a center can effectively weather obstacles to success while also achieving growth that keeps an ASC viable and competitive.
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