Surgeons performing surgery in an operating room.

Ambulatory surgery centers (ASCs) were originally designed to offer patients an alternative to traditional hospitals for minor surgical procedures. These centers typically offer the convenience of same day, outpatient services, and are generally able to perform procedures at a lower cost. While services vary by center, they may perform a myriad of procedures ranging from tonsillectomies and colonoscopies to complex joint replacements and spinal surgeries.

Many people think ASCs are just smaller versions of a traditional hospital. They are not. They are not regulated the same and staff are not always trained the same.

Since procedures performed at ASCs tend to cost less, over the years, regulators have approved the expansion of services that ASCs could offer patients. This has led to centers conducting more complex, and thus riskier procedures. Record keeping about outcomes of procedures is not tracked by a national agency and is inconsistent among centers. In some cases, the centers are part owned by doctors who perform services there or doctors who refer patients to the center.

Here are some topics to discuss with your doctor when considering an ASC for a procedure:

  • Learn about the center’s emergency plan and how far the center is from the local hospital in case of emergency.
  • Make sure that the center’s staff is properly trained to handle emergency situations and that they have emergency equipment readily available.
  • If you have any medical conditions that make you a higher risk surgical patient, such as heart problems, lung problems, obesity, or sleep apnea, consider having your procedure take place in a hospital.
  • Make sure your center is CMS certified. This means it meets Medicare standards.
  • Ask about the surgeon’s experience performing the procedure. Consumer Reports recommends the surgeon have successfully performed the procedure at least 50 times over the last year.

Facing a medical procedure can be extremely stressful. Hopefully, learning as much as you can about the facility where the procedure will take place can help you better manage that stress.

 

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