Experts from the ASC industry weigh in on five important things to know about building quality relationships with the physicians in your ASC.
1. Recruit constantly. According to Scott Becker, JD, CPA, healthcare attorney with McGuireWoods, existing ASCs should aim for 10 percent growth in case volume every year, whether that means taking on new physician partners, replacing retiring owners, adding new specialties or other tactics. Your ASC should constantly be looking for opportunities to recruit new physicians, which means talking to your existing physicians about opportunities in the local community.
According to Lori Ramirez, founder, president and CEO of Elite Surgical Affiliates, the best way to get interest from physicians is through their peers. She advises ASCs not to waste time cold-calling physicians to increase referrals. "We find physicians that have influence, and we task them with recruiting other physicians when we start the partnership," she said. When you're initially discussing the partnership between a physician and your ASC, ask the physician if he or she is willing to take responsibility for physician referrals.
2. Create a relationship with each physician's liaison. Larry Taylor, president and CEO of Practice Partners in Healthcare, says ASC leaders should work to create a relationship with a physician's liaison to ensure optimal satisfaction. "The liaison for the physician's office may be an RN in the back or a physician's assistant that will be the best advocate for the surgeon," he says. "Use that staff to get their scheduler and figure out how you can help them efficiently schedule cases." He says ASCs should work to be an "extension of the physician's office" and regularly work with schedulers to send medical records, verify benefits and schedule cases.
3. Look at market information during physician recruitment. According to Amanda Kane, manager, business development, for Blue Chip Surgical Center Partners, ASC leaders should look at local market information on volume in various specialties, payor relationships and surgeons' outlook toward the local hospitals. "Maybe there is another ENT practice in town that's looking for an outpatient environment for their patients," she says. "Adding spine cases may make sense. Hernia specialist, colonsocopists and physiatrists may all be viable partners and excellent sources of new cases."
Nap Gary, COO of Regent Surgical Health, says that ASC administrators looking to recruit physicians need to know whether those physicians are employed by a local hospital or have invested in another surgery center. The physicians may be bound by contractual restricts on making similar investments within the geographic area, and you need to make sure that new investors can meet safe harbor requirements.
4. Make sure physicians stay committed after the "newly opened" period. According to Joyce K. (Deno) Thomas, senior vice president of operations for Regent Surgical Health, physician commitment may start to fall off a year or two after the ASC's opening. The first year and a half should see a steady, healthy case volume because physicians understand the necessity of cases for keeping the center financially viable and are worried about the ASC failing. As an ASC leader, you must make sure physicians don't get too comfortable and therefore take cases elsewhere or start doing less work.
"[Physicians] lose focus on what they need to do for continued success, begin to think their volume isn't necessary and other physicians are doing cases and it won't make any difference," she said. "But it does make a difference. I have seen facilities that have gone from being on top of the world with great EBITDA but within six months they trash the EBITDA because of lost focus."
5. Follow up with physicians about the patient's experience. Cindy Givens, administrator of The Surgery Center at Tanasbourne in Hillsboro, Ore., says physicians may be hesitant to refer patients to specialists if they never hear back about the patient's experience. "I make sure the loop is closed," she says. "When they send a referral over, we follow up with them to let them know the patient was scheduled on this date, or that we were not able to contact the patient, or that the patient was referred on to another provider." She says once the physician at her facility does the procedure, the procedurist does the dictation and makes sure a copy is sent to the primary care provider.
Ms. Givens says keeping your referring physicians in the loop regarding patient care is essential for recurring referrals. If physicians know your facility is providing quality care and keeping their patients satisfied, they are more likely to refer other cases and boost your case volume.
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