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An Alternative for Elective Surgery in Light of Coronavirus: Independent Outpatient Surgery Centers

By Scott Leggett

It is no surprise that the American hospital system has been drastically affected by the COVID-19 pandemic.

The silver lining is that, for years, a movement toward independent outpatient surgery centers (OSCs) has been gaining momentum and is poised to take on a significant role in our healthcare system. Bonus: even Medicare is onboard.

While hospitals should always be the epicenter for the sick or injured, OSCs (commonly referred to by the industry and Medicare as ambulatory surgery centers or ASCs) are growing in numbers to provide a solid alternative for those generally in good health seeking a variety of scheduled procedures.

For decades, OSCs have seen record-low infection rates due, in part, to the singular purpose of these facilities – treating non-emergent injuries, not illnesses. Extensive precautions are taken to protect the surgical environment through sterilization and elimination of exposure to outside diseases. As OSCs are gearing up for the post-COVID transition of ramping back up elective surgeries, OSCs are stepping up their game even more:

  1. Providers wear the recommended CDC Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) and get screened on a regular basis
  2. OSCs practice the same level of social-distancing as hospitals – patients are accepted at the facility door, and their loved ones are provided updates remotely
  3. All patients are screened closely prior to surgery
  4. All patients are discharged the same day or within 24 hours from the facility to recover comfortably with loved ones
  5. OSCs efficiently adding even more measures to sanitize and reduce the risk of exposure to virus and bacteria

Often a more economical alternative to in-patient hospital care, OSCs provide a wide variety of surgical options depending on the particular facility. Previously, common procedures included low-acuity orthopedics, hernia surgery, ophthalmology, and gastrointestinal (GI).

Now, due to incredible technology and advanced pain management techniques, it is very common for OSCs to offer major spine, joint replacement, women’s health, cardiac, and general surgery. Beginning in 2020, Medicare has approved reimbursement of certain joint replacement surgeries in an outpatient setting.

Bottom line – There are few elective surgeries that cannot be done in an OSC. And since most of these facilities operate outside the hospital system, they are not impacted by the financial turbulence affecting hospitals.

Time will tell what the ultimate impact of COVID-19 will be on the American economy and the healthcare system. An early observation of the new norm is that various industry movements already trending will just get super-charged; we see this accelerated movement of more elective surgery from hospitals to OSCs. A safe bet would be that OSCs have the potential to create a new standard of care for elective surgeries. In the meantime, I’ll take outpatient surgery, and hold the lime.

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Scott Leggett is co-principal, Global 1. With more than two decades working in orthopedics, Leggett’s experience includes founding a network of independent, physician-owned outpatient surgery centers. In addition, he served as the president and board member of the California Ambulatory Surgery Association (CASA). Find Scott on LinkedIn.