As the COVID-19 pandemic curve shrinks in many states, elective surgeries are also ramping up in surgery centers.  Some patients, however, might still be reluctant to go into medical facilities because of the risks of COVID-19. On the other hand, patients may be eyeing ASC’s which have largely been isolated from COVID-19 cases. 

According to a recent Spherix Global survey, specialists believe the COVID-19 pandemic will have a lasting effect on their practices. The survey of 265 dermatologists, gastroenterologists, nephrologists, neurologists and rheumatologists revealed the following:

  • Nearly 50 percent expect it will take at least 4 months for patient volumes to return to somewhat normal
  • Seventy-eight percent said the pandemic will have a lasting effect on practice operations

Many surgery administrators believe that patients will feel more comfortable coming to an ASC over a hospital, so they are preparing for an increase in cases going forward. Here are 3 essential things to consider as you ramp up your case volumes:

1. Prepare for a Surge in Demand for Elective Surgeries 

In a post-epidemic world, the new normal will see an increase of cases in an outpatient setting as patients find it a more cost effective and safer environment. Hospitals will still be dealing with COVID-19 for quite some time so ASC’s will offer an alternative for performing cases.

ASC’s typically treat healthier patients with fewer simultaneous health issues and the ASC setting is potentially safer and cleaner for patients than hospitals. Hence, surgery centers need to start preparing for the coming influx of patients demanding elective surgeries. 

Here are what some facilities are doing to prepare for increased demand: 

  • Expand block times during the week and adding weekends
  • Implement increased COVID-19 screening practices and special precautions for infection control
  • Educate patients on the inherent benefits of the outpatient space
  • Adjusting the timing of surgeries so patients are sufficiently spaced out in pre- and post-op areas 

2. COVID-19 Transforms Patient Needs and Their Ability to Pay for Healthcare

The unemployment situation due to COVID-19 certainly affected the finances of many patients. ASC’s need to work on ways to accommodate patients who may need more financial flexibility in the coming months. 

According to a recent CNBC survey of 800 people, one-fourth of Americans have either lost their job or taken a pay cut, and an additional 9 percent expect to find themselves in that same situation. That means more than 30 percent of Americans may be at risk of losing coverage under employer insurance plans. 

Some patients may delay elective surgeries indefinitely or forgo them altogether if forced to pay out-of-pocket.

Here’s what your facility could do to respond to this situation:

  • Reevaluate your uninsured discount policy, charity care, and sliding fee scale
  • Ensure all patients know of financial assistance options through better patient financial education and communication
  • Implement patient-friendly billing options
  • Partner with institutions to offer additional ways for patients to pay, including zero-interest payment plans
  • Sufficiently train staff about financial assistance policies and patient financial responsibility
  • Have Patient Financial Advocates who are ready to answer patient’s questions

3. Grappling with Staffing-Related Problems Post-Pandemic

In the wake of the healthcare crisis, several surgery centers were laying off or furloughing employees to offset financial losses from elective surgery bans. Some ASC’s were unable to guarantee unemployed workers would get their jobs back. 

However as elective surgeries have resumed, surgery centers need to ensure they are sufficiently staffed for the increased volume of patients whose elective cases were put off.

When prospective patients were at home without much to do, many were able to do more research online, look at cost estimation tools, calculate payments, etc. This resulted in increased demand for price transparency, payment plans, and other patient-friendly medical billing options. Some facilities have found that calls related to financial assistance spiked during this crisis.

Here are some things your ASC can do to offset this situation:

  • Consider utilizing remote Patient Financial Advocates and remote Call Center
  • Focus on scheduling cases while remote call center reps focus on payments
  • Utilize more of available patient billing solutions and technologies. This will enable processes to be streamlined and reduce the amount of direct patient contacts (paperless registration processes, text billing, online patient portals, integrated scheduling, and other improved billing procedures.)