How physician-owned ASCs can overcome staffing challenges

While staffing shortages are nothing new to the healthcare industry, the pandemic elevated the issue to a critical level.

The use of ambulatory surgery centers (ASCs) continues to soar as patients and physicians seek cost effective and safe alternatives to hospitals. More than 23 million procedures are performed at these facilities each year in the United States, and a recent report by the Ambulatory Surgical Center Association estimated that ASCs could reduce Medicare costs by more than $73 billion from 2019-2028.

Yet despite the enormous value these facilities provide, the physicians and administrators who own and operate them face significant challenges. One of the biggest barriers to success, and one that’s growing more pervasive every day, is staffing shortages.

While staffing shortages are nothing new to the healthcare industry, the pandemic elevated the issue to a critical level. In addition to nurses and other clinical team members, physicians, too, are exiting the profession in droves, many citing the pandemic as their primary reason. The American Medical Association has sounded the alarm, citing the pandemic as a harbinger of an upcoming physician shortage predicted by 2025.

According to the 2021 OR Manager Salary/Career Survey, during the past 12 months:

  • 56% of ASC leaders reported that recruiting experienced operating room nurses is more difficult compared last year
  • 40% of ASC leaders reported that the most common staffing challenge was hiring more direct care staff
  • 49% of ASC leaders reported increased registered nurse turnover

In many cases, ASCs are losing on staff recruitment and retention as nurses jump to high-paying hospital contracts with big sign-on bonuses. Today, thin workforces at ASCs are contributing to a range of issues, including,delays in billing and care, spikes in episodic cost of care, and concerns about risk to patient safety standards and quality of care. As patient volumes continue to rebound, backlogs of patients returning for procedures are higher than ever – only now ASC’s lack enough staff to support that need.

Improving staff retention and enhancing workforce optimization

To help safeguard against further drains on remaining staff, ASCs must focus on building team satisfaction. For example, they should regularly check shift schedules to ensure everyone receives adequate break times and focus on instilling a strong company culture among team members.

It is also important to adopt digital solutions that automate manual tasks, improve efficiencies, and enhance workforce optimization. These tools can leverage pre-designed workflows, streamline billing and operations processes, and help cover inbound call volumes to reduce the burden of work on nurses, care team, and front office staff. For example, some solutions support staff by reducing the burden of manual entry and time-consuming outbound calls for patient reminders. These solutions keep staff, patients, and surgical teams connected with texts, notifications, and hand-off reminders so that teams can stay in continuous contact, to operate smoothly and perfectly in-sync.

Creating stronger patient journey and experience—with fewer staff

To cover more of the patient journey and support staff across a wider set of functions, ASCs can engage with third-party payment solutions, designed specifically for these facilities, that increase monthly dollars collected by empowering patients with a variety of educational information and payment options.

Features like custom payment plans, financing opportunities, text-to-pay options, and helpful patient advocates improve revenue flow and the overall patient experience. Additional, and predictable revenue streams can support other strategic initiatives, such as onboarding additional nursing staff to help increase volume and improve focus on the patient experience.

ASCs can also benefit from solutions that function as a seamless extension of the facility and improve the entire patient journey, from pre-registration and pre-admission, to pre-and post-operative surgical support and convenient payments. These comprehensive external solutions represent the future of healthcare and will be key to success for ASCs as they continue to seek ways to operate with leaner staffs and increasing patient demand.

Derek Smith is CEO at One Mnet Health and is an expert in digital global healthcare solutions. One Mnet Health unites the clinical and financial patient experience, enabling better patient care and improved financial outcomes.