5 benefits of analytics for ambulatory and outpatient facilities

By Asha Saxena
08:11 AM

Once touted for their efficiency and innovation, ambulatory surgical centers (ASCs) and hospital outpatient departments (HOPDs) are on the brink of a crisis.

In a 2013 report to Congress, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services noted that, as of 2008, there were 5,175 Medicare-certified ASCs treating 3.3 million Medicare beneficiaries. Since then, patient bases for both ASCs and HOPDs have ballooned because of changes such as the Affordable Care Act and Medicaid expansion.

Like so many facilities in the healthcare field, ASCs and HOPDs face the pressure to reduce costs — on supplies, procedures, salaries, and overtime, among other things — and boost revenue through more or diverse medical opportunities. This has put leaders of these facilities in a tough position. But by harnessing data, they can begin to enjoy a renewed level of efficiency.

Leaders of surgical centers need to keep track of data and performance metrics because it’s the key to heightened productivity and the only way to determine where (and how efficiently) money is funneling in and out of their facilities. Metrics can also help leaders identify areas of excess, procedures that will translate into higher profits, and where employees are excelling or failing to make cost-cutting adjustments.

For example, most financially sound ASCs use metrics to simplify operations, particularly surrounding scheduling. For one ASC director, that means constantly assessing each physician’s performance through data so he can carve out extra time for those who tend to run behind schedule. This way, the facility can shuffle patients in and out as quickly as possible without sacrificing quality or safety.

Surgical centers can also reduce scheduling inefficiencies by identifying key times or departments where overtime has become a regular issue and reworking the schedule accordingly. Or they can reassign responsibilities to ensure employees are spending their time on useful tasks and eliminate the need for certain auxiliary staff. It could also be as simple as streamlining regulatory requirements and checklists to cut down extra paperwork.

Without definitive numbers to illustrate these issues, leaders can’t make informed decisions to overcome obstacles and move their facilities toward a prosperous future. They’re simply left to struggle through day-to-day difficulties. But it doesn’t have to be that way. To achieve industry goals and find financial success, surgical centers must take steps to put more structured metrics systems in place, particularly focusing on:

1. Staffing: Without metrics, leaders will struggle to analyze labor costs based on system reports alone. It becomes difficult to identify trends and variances in staffing and labor, which contribute to nearly 60 percent of a healthcare organization’s expenses. However, by utilizing metrics to track schedules and spot weaknesses, leaders can align schedules for maximum efficiency and reduce unnecessary expenses such as overtime.

2. Forecasting: There is so much patient information that it is difficult to evaluate using spreadsheets. As a result, many leaders working without metrics cannot accurately forecast the demand for critical medications and supplies. So they might end up ordering some of everything or wind up empty-handed in times of need. But with the right infrastructure in place, leaders can process mass quantities of data to track everything from physician performance to ancillary test utilization, allowing them to accurately predict the drugs and devices they will need to have on hand.

3. Finances: Detecting patterns in profit margins can be difficult without metrics. It’s especially cumbersome on a physician-by-physician or service-by-service basis. However, a data analysis system can help leaders see where money is flowing in and where it’s escaping. Administrators can compare physician performance and service costs to make smarter contracting decisions and determine which services they should offer or decline.

4. Procedure time: Schedules are hardly foolproof, especially in healthcare. And with unstructured data, there’s no way for leaders to identify serious or perpetual problems that could be hurting business and draining resources. With a robust data analysis system, administrators can create visuals to contrast the scheduled start times and lengths of procedures versus actual start times and lengths to promote more accurate scheduling in the future.

5. Mobility: Surgical center leaders and administrators aren’t the only ones who need regular access to data. Doctors and nurses also need current data so they can better understand and improve day-to-day activities. And with data dashboards, all personnel can have instant access to the center’s metrics, allowing them to see how their department is performing in real time.

The rising pressure to cut costs while maintaining quality care for growing patient bases has put many ASCs and HOPDs in a difficult spot. But by tying numbers to issues surrounding timing, staffing, and finances, leaders can arm themselves with information to identify — and eradicate — vulnerabilities.

With access to the most accurate, up-to-date information, they can make more informed decisions, promoting a healthier bottom line and brighter future for their facilities.

Asha Saxena is the president and CEO of Future Technologies Inc., a data management and analytics firm based in Plainfield, New Jersey.