Ambulatory surgical centers cheaper than hospitals

The use of ambulatory surgery centers spiked in recent years, partly because they're more convenient for patients than hospitals. It turns out they're cheaper as well.

A procedure performed at a surgery center not only gets patients back to their homes quicker, it's significantly less expensive, according to a study published in Health Affairs.

Patient costs were anywhere from $363 to $1,000 less per procedure compared to a hospital setting, according to the study, led by researchers Elizabeth Munnich of the University of Louisville and Stephen Parente of the University of Minnesota. Using data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, they studied records for more than 52,000 patient visits involving procedures performed at 437 different medical facilities.

And the procedures took about 25 percent less time when performed at a surgery center than compared to a hospital, strongly suggesting that the organizations could provide more procedures--and therefore, take in more revenue.

This may be why ambulatory surgical centers have grown enormously popular in recent decades, Claims Journal suggested. More than 60 percent of all surgeries in the U.S. performed in 2011 were outpatient procedures, compared to 19 percent in the early 1980s, according to the article.

Some surgery centers use their operational efficiencies to place economic pressure on hospitals. The Surgery Center of Oklahoma began to post  full-package prices for its procedures in 2009. In many instances, its prices are anywhere from one-sixth to one-eighth the cost that hospitals charge. As a result, hospitals in the Oklahoma City area cut their prices in order to compete.

The number of outpatient surgeries could increase between 8 percent and 16 percent annually through 2021, Munnich and Parente concluded.

To learn more:
- read the Claims Journal article
- here's the study abstract

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