Remember when all surgeries were done in hospitals? That began to change four decades ago when two doctors from Phoenix opened the first ambulatory surgery center (ASC) in the US, a health care facility that offered patients the convenience of having medical procedures done safely outside of the hospital setting. Since then, ASCs have played a key role in a successful transformation of health care delivery, allowing more and more patients to be treated away from hospitals.
In 1998, a group of six Buffalo area eye doctors began looking for a better way to serve their patients needing cataract surgery. They sought a solution to scheduling delays, limited operating room availability, and challenges in obtaining new equipment due to hospital budgets and policies. They determined that by developing a new independent ASC, they could assemble a team of specially trained staff, choose equipment best suited to their techniques, and design a facility tailored to their specialty and to the specific needs of their patients.
In 1999, after approval by the NYS Department of Health, they opened the Ambulatory Surgery Center of Western New York (ASCWNY), at 3112 Sheridan Drive. Initially the physician owners were ophthalmologists, but strong interest by other specialists led to the addition of plastic surgeons and ear, nose and throat (ENT) doctors. In 2004, the State approved expansion from two to four operating rooms, which allowed the addition of orthopedics, podiatry, and pain management procedures. A final expansion in 2006 created six operating rooms and three treatment rooms totaling 16,000 square feet. The ASCWNY was ranked the number one ASC by volume in Buffalo Business First. Today it treats over 15,000 patients and performs 27,000 procedures per year.
In simple terms, ASCs offer procedures that are more complicated than those done in most doctor’s offices but not so intensive as to require a hospital stay. ASCs focus on ensuring that patients have the best surgical experience possible, yet also provide cost savings. On average, the Medicare program saves more than $2.6 billion each year for procedures performed in ASCs when compared to the rates paid to hospitals for the same procedures. Patients prefer ASCs because they offer a warm welcoming environment, lower out of pocket expense, more convenient locations, shorter waiting times, and easier scheduling.
Each year, physicians perform more than 23 million procedures in 5,464 Medicare-certified ASCs. Medicare allows its beneficiaries to have more than 3,500 different procedures performed in an ASC. ASCs are in all 50 states and can be found throughout the world. In the US, most ASCs are licensed, certified by Medicare, and accredited by one of the major health care accrediting organizations. The ASCWNY is both Medicare Certified and Accredited by the Accreditation Association for Ambulatory Health Care (AAAHC).
- Much of the growth in the number of ASCs is due to technological improvements that have allowed for faster patient recovery times and the ability to go home soon after the procedure. Advances include less invasive surgical techniques, short acting anesthetics, and better medications to prevent post-operative pain. For instance, cataract surgeries that took several hours to perform under general anesthesia in the hospital can now be performed painlessly in an ASC in minutes. The demand for this service alone is increasing as our population ages. By age 80, more than half of all Americans either have a cataract or have had cataract surgery.
As medical innovation continues to advance, more and more procedures are moving safely to ASCs. To accommodate the increasing demand, ASCWNY has recently opened a spacious new facility at 945 Sweet Home Road, Amherst. This contemporary 30,000 square foot ASC was designed by Silvestri Architects and built by Lamparelli Construction Company to change patients’ experiences and expectations of what an ASC should be. Using “best practice” patient centered healthcare design, the building has features found in many high-end hotels. The bright, beautiful lobby features an atrium with glass exterior walls, and private registration areas. There is ample room for families to wait comfortably. Beyond the calming aesthetics, patient safety is of utmost importance. The new building uses special ventilation and filtration systems to control and prevent the spread of infections. It also uses surfaces that can be easily decontaminated, and facilitates hand washing with the ready availability of sinks and alcohol hand rubs. Also considered were lighting conditions, noise levels, and patient room design where assistive devices help to avert patient falls. The six large operating rooms, three minor procedure rooms, and two laser suites are configured to improve the physical environment in which ASC nurses and other caregivers work, and thus improve patient outcomes.
The Ambulatory Surgery Center of Western New York has been an area leader in ambulatory surgery for eighteen years, and is now well prepared to provide high quality care to an increasing number of Western New Yorkers seeking care outside of the hospital.