Lessons Learned from Researching Ambulatory Surgery Centers

Technological innovations are enabling even more procedures to be performed outside the traditional hospital setting, driving interest in market research with healthcare professionals in ambulatory surgical centers (ASCs). Additionally, that trend is expected to continue. Becker’s ASC Review cites that currently, 41% of all surgeries are performed in ASCs and that 68% of all orthopedic surgeries will be conducted in ASCs by the mid-2020s. 

Recruiting healthcare professionals for market research studies is always challenging. However, ASCs pose some additional challenges for those who want to conduct marketing research in that environment. Reckner Healthcare has broad experience conducting marketing research with ASC leadership, administrators, physicians, and staff. Here are a few recent qualitative projects we completed successfully:

  • Administrators and physicians from ASCs on a target list who influence medical and surgical products and contracting decisions and implement practice protocols.
  • ASC decision-makers at privately or independently owned ASCs involved in technology solutions for revenue-cycle management.
  • Administrators and physicians from ASCs who could speak to current and changing needs in medical facilities as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic; focus on maintaining a clean and disinfected environment for patient and employee safety.
  • Owners, practice administrators, cataract surgeons and other personnel from a targeted list of centers involved in product adoption and billing/reimbursement processes.
  • ASC decision-makers (surgeons and administrators) experienced in purchasing and/or using surgical procedure packs in Ophthalmology operating rooms
  • Clinical, procurement, and IT stakeholders who play a role in the decision-making process for ASC software and equipment.

In hopes of making your research planning and execution more effective, here are some key takeaways we learned from our work with ASCs:

Ownership Structure: Ownership tends to be a mix of the below types. Independent, Private-equity, and Physician-owned ASCs may have physician owners who also qualify as purchasers, administrators, or C-Suite executives.

  • Corporate-owned ASCs may be owned by local, regional, or national chains or may be the only ASC owned by a corporation.  
  • Finally, ASCs might be owned by a hospital or independent delivery network, such as a large regional or local hospital. 

In general, ASCs that are independent, private, and physician-owned tend to be the most prevalent. Finding physicians at corporate-owned ASCs is more difficult, and finding purchasing, administrative, and C-Suite executives at these ASCs is also challenging. In hospital and IDN-owned ASCs filling quotas are possible, with some client flexibility.

ASC Specialty: Some ASCs are single-specialty (particularly ophthalmic (OPH), orthopedic (ORS), and General Surgery (GS) ASCs) but the majority of ASCs cover multiple specialties. For ASCs with multiple specialties, you can’t assume that the combinations of surgeries performed are related fields: for example, Ear Nose and Throat (ENT) surgeries seem to fit with OPH surgeries, as do ORS and GS. However, there are many ASCs where the surgeries performed do not intuitively fit well together (for example, ORS and Obstetrics and Gynecologic (OBGYN) surgeries or hernia and gastric bypass surgeries. Finding the right respondents in a single-specialty ASC is more straightforward than finding them in multiple-specialty ASCs. However, if the specific surgeries being conducted in the ASC is not an issue, you can fill quotas with specialists working in both single-specialty and multiple-specialty ASCs, with care in screening.

Respondent Types: Similar to ASCs themselves, the respondents available within those locations vary greatly. Physicians are the most sought respondents, and that is across all specialties. However, physicians perform their outpatient procedures and surgeries in a mix of places including their office, ASCs, and hospital outpatient facilities. Additionally, they may bring surgical staff with them or will utilize the team provided by the ASC.

RNs, Nurse Practitioners and Physician Assistants (NP/PAs), and Scrub and Surgical Techs in ASCs tend to be a little more difficult to recruit. However, ASC physician-owners will sometimes refer their staff when asked.

As the proportion of surgeries completed at ASCs increases, more and more marketing and research agencies and their healthcare clients will want to speak to the physicians, administrators, and support staff working at those facilities. By understanding exactly who you need to talk to, at what types of ASCs, and for what kind of information, you can help to make recruiting easier. And if you can’t make it easier, you can at least understand and plan for the complexity you are facing. Working with a healthcare panel partner who understands the ASC landscape is the key to any successful ASC marketing research project.