The road to financial recovery: 3 ways to strengthen surgical and perioperative services

As the coronavirus pandemic continues to spread across the U.S., hospitals in all parts of the country are feeling the strain — particularly the strain on the bottom line. One way health systems and hospitals can bolster their finances during these uncertain times is to develop a strategic approach to surgical and perioperative services.

During an Aug. 11 workshop, sponsored by Surgical Directions and held during the Becker’s Healthcare CEO + CFO Virtual Forum, Jeff Peters, CEO of Surgical Directions, and Rick Swaine, CEO of University of Toledo (Ohio) Medical Center, discussed how hospitals can begin the process of financial recovery by strengthening key service lines.

Hospital margins are shrinking to unsustainable levels, and even funding from the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act did not provide much relief from the financial stress that hospitals are under, Mr. Peters said. Providers must implement strategies to provide high-quality care at lower costs, while navigating a landscape characterized by regulatory upheaval, such as state governments suspending and then allowing elective procedures to resume, and fearful patients, who are reluctant to come into the hospital for treatment due to COVID-19. But a solid surgical and perioperative service line can help support financial recovery. Here are three ways for hospitals to enhance these services:

1. Engage physicians. Mr. Swaine said physicians are key to improving operations within surgical and perioperative service lines. Prior to joining University of Toledo Medical Center, Mr. Swaine was CEO of Beaumont Hospital in Grosse Pointe (Mich.) where he worked with Surgical Directions to create a surgical services executive committee.

The committee, which included surgical, nursing, anesthesia and senior hospital leadership, oversaw operating room operations and directed perioperative team activity. The committee developed policies surrounding block utilization, on-time starts and other common OR activity pain points. The committee was able to help the hospital grow surgical volume and increase revenue, Mr. Swaine said. Clinical quality and patient satisfaction also improved.

“In my experience, and I can’t stress this enough, physicians’ involvement in all aspects of surgical initiatives, whether it be in growing the various service lines, improving customer service or helping us evaluate joint venture opportunities — it has worked out wonderful for us,” Mr. Swaine said. “It has really united us.”

2. Explore the shift to ambulatory settings. Ambulatory settings are associated with quality care and low costs, Mr. Peters said. Patient satisfaction in these settings is also high. Though in the past hospitals tended to lean on hospital outpatient departments to offer patients a low-cost alternative for surgeries, patient and payer preferences are shifting to ambulatory surgical centers and reimbursement for HOPDs is simultaneously decreasing.

Also, during the pandemic, ASCs could help increase surgical volume as patients may be less nervous to come into a freestanding center that is not treating COVID-19 patients.

Hospitals can consider acquiring surgeon-owned ASCs or developing ambulatory surgery campuses, with surgery centers, physician offices, physical therapy and imaging facilities all offered across the same location.

3. Incorporate technology. New technology solutions and tools can help hospitals improve efficiency within surgical and perioperative service lines, Mr. Peters said. For example, there are new tools that can help facilities figure out how to optimize block utilization and capacity. These tools can help forecast the staffing and resource use required in ORs. These can be especially useful when reopening ORs that had been closed due to the pandemic, helping hospitals decide how many ORs should be opened, when they should be opened and how cases are prioritized.

“As many people have said — hospitals cannot shrink their way to growth,” Mr. Peters said. “We can manage our costs, but real growth is going to depend upon taking a strategic approach [to] how we develop and organize perioperative services systemwide.”

Watch the session here.



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