Ambulatory centers perform surgery more efficiently than hospitals and could offer a viable way for the nation keep pace with a growing demand for outpatient procedures.
That's the finding of a study published in the May issue of the journal Health Affairs by health economists Elizabeth Munnich of the University of Louisville and Stephen Parente of the University of Minnesota.
The researchers analyzed Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data for 52,000 surgical visits at 437 facilities over four years. Not only did they find that surgery center patients spent 25 percent less time undergoing outpatient surgery than hospital patients, but they inferred that patient costs were $363 to $1,000 lower while their health care was just as satisfactory.
Demand for outpatient surgery has soared over the past three decades, partly due to advances in anesthesia and laparoscopic techniques. In 2011, more than 60 percent of all U.S. surgeries were outpatient procedures compared to 19 percent in 1981.
Munnich and Parente predict in their study that the number of outpatient surgeries in hospitals alone will continue to climb by 8 percent to 16 percent each year through 2021.
The Congressional Budget Office has said that in two more years, 25 million more Americans will have health insurance as a result of the Affordable Care Act (ACA). The statistic has raised questions as to how health care providers will meet the anticipated surge in demand.
"Ambulatory surgery centers are a high-quality, lower-cost substitute for hospitals as venues for outpatient surgery," Munnich said. "Their increased use may generate substantial cost savings, helping achieve the ACA's goals of reducing the cost and improving the quality of health care."
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