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Ambulatory surgery centers: 5 tips to find the right provider


U.S. News & World Report recently released its first ratings of surgery centers. Ben Harder of U.S. News offers insights for patients looking for the right provider.

Patients are starting to do a little more homework for their healthcare needs, Ben Harder says.

That’s one reason why U.S. News & World Report has recently released its inaugural ratings of America’s best ambulatory surgery centers. Harder, chief of health analysis and managing editor at U.S. News, talked with Chief Healthcare Executive® about the ratings. People are looking for more information, just as they shop for cars, computers and household appliances.

“I think for a long time, there was a certain perception that healthcare is too complicated to distill into meaningful quality metrics that the patients could use,” Harder says. “But that certainly seems to be subsiding, as these resources become more well known.”

U.S. News reviewed Medicare data for nearly 5,000 ambulatory centers in four specialty areas: colonoscopy and endoscopy; ophthalmology; orthopedics and spine; and urology.

Harder offers some tips on what patients can do to find the right surgery center. (See part of our conversation in this video. The story continues below.)

Stay near home

There’s one big takeaway from the U.S. News analysis: People should be able to find a surgery center near their home.

“We identified about 700 ASCs that were excellent in at least one of the four specialty areas that we evaluated, and they were all over the place,” he says. “I mean, they're in big cities, and they're in much smaller communities. They're on the coasts, and they're in the center of the country.”

“No one should be going outside their community to get same-day surgery,” he says. “The idea is, this is convenient, this is a generally low-risk procedure that you are getting near your home. You're able to go home the same day and recover in the comfort of your home.”

Go beyond the brand

Health systems may have a dominant place in a local market, but Harder says patients should take a closer look.

“One brand can be very powerful in the marketplace. It doesn't necessarily mean that everything with that brand on the door provides the highest level of care,” he says. “I think that's important information for patients … if they're just going on brand, they may miss the nuances that we've been able to pick up in the data. And so it's worth checking how our ratings capture that particular ASC.”

Check your specialty

Some ambulatory surgery centers may perform procedures in multiple specialties. But a center that may rate highly in orthopedics may not score quite as highly as ophthalmology.

“What we found was that sometimes a multi-specialty ASC could be really good in one specialty, and not particularly, you know, a standout in others,” Harder says.

“So even if it was high performing in one specialty there might be, depending on what kind of care the patient needs, there may be a different surgery center in their community that was actually better at … the type of care that they needed. So I think that's an important point to make. You really need to make sure you're identifying the surgery center that's best at the kind of care you need.”

Check insurance

When patients are looking at an ambulatory surgery center, they also need to consider their insurance coverage.

“ASCs are often less expensive to the healthcare system as a whole than hospitals, and that's one of the appeals that they have,” Harder says.

But depending on the insurance, it may not necessarily be cheaper for patients to choose an ambulatory surgery center, he says.

If comparing surgery centers, patients also need to look at how much they’ll pay out of pocket with their insurance.

Beyond ‘the best’

Less than 15% of the ambulatory surgery centers were ranked as America’s best in the U.S. News analysis. But Harder says that there are plenty of other good surgery centers, even if they fell a little short of the highest ranking.

“I think for many patients, they can find a surgery center that's excellent at the kind of care they need, and is reasonably close to home,” Harder says. “Not every ASC has to be one of our best to still be the right fit for a given patient.”

An average rating should actually be reassuring, Harder says. “It means there's no concerning safety profile … This ASC isn't having patients streaming into the emergency department after surgeries,” he says.

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