By William Prentice

August 19 was National ASC Day 2015. On that day, ASCs across the country invited policy makers and other members of their communities into their facilities to learn more about the services and benefits that ASCs provide. ASCs have been recognizing this day each year for more than a decade. As a result, thousands have shared in these events, including many who learned about outpatient surgery and ASCs for the first time.

As the number and types of outpatient surgery procedures performed in the U.S. continue to grow, patients and policy makers are much more likely to be familiar with outpatient surgery and ASCs than they were when this program began. Still, ASCs have more work to do to make certain that those involved in national and local health policy decision making fully understand the reasons that so many patients and physicians prefer the ASC setting and all that ASCs have to offer them.

The story behind ASCs today is simple but often overlooked or ignored: ASCs offer cost savings, high-quality outcomes and outstanding customer service. In other words, ASCs are economical providers of top-quality, patient-focused outpatient surgical care. In general, when patients get the outpatient surgical care they need in ASCs, patients, government programs like Medicare and private insurance providers all save money and see top patient outcomes and high patient satisfaction scores.

ASCs are also small businesses that offer employment opportunities to residents of their local communities and pay taxes. In many cases, they also provide free support services for community events that include free sports physicals for students, free vision screenings, health care support teams for outdoor events and, in some cases, free surgery to those in need.

A number of studies and patient satisfaction surveys demonstrate the value that ASCs provide. As I mentioned in an earlier column in OR Today magazine, recent policy changes adopted by the California Public Employees Retirement System (CalPERS) that provide opportunities and incentives for patients to consider the cost of the health care services they need and to participate more fully in selecting the site of service for that care take another step forward. That program demonstrates that when given the choice and the knowledge they need to make an informed decision, patients will choose the lower cost, high-quality ASC setting. What’s more, those who studied the results of the changes that CalPERS made found that many of the hospitals that originally offered the same services at a higher price actually lowered their prices in response.

This is a message that all health care policy decision makers need to hear. ASCs can deliver low-cost, high-quality care and promote changes in the marketplace that can reduce the overall cost of care.

At ASCA, we encourage all ASCs and ASC professionals to recognize National ASC Day each year. If August is not the right time for a particular ASC to host visitors, we encourage that facility to consider another date during the year. For ASC professionals who are not able to host visitors in their ASC, we suggest investing the short amount of time it takes to write a few letters to their representatives asking them to support some of the important legislation pending in Congress that is designed to protect and promote the ASC model of care. ASCA members can get help with those letters at www.ascassociation.org/takeaction.

For ASC professionals who work in an ASC that cannot provide facility tours for policy makers, another way to make an impact this year is to reach out to the representatives of the insurance providers that you work with each day. Share the good news about the cost savings and quality of care your ASC provides and, then, take the next step. Show them a way that they can help their beneficiaries reduce the cost of the outpatient surgical care that they need by sharing the news about the CalPERS program. A short summary of that program that appeared in The Hill’s Congress Blog is available on ASCA’s website at www.ascassociation.org/opedjuly092015. A free abstract of that study is available from Health Affairs at http://content.healthaffairs.org/content/34/3/415.abstract.

Just as the early ASC tours and open houses conducted more than 10 years ago helped promote an understanding and awareness of the value that ASCs provide, these individual outreach efforts can go a long way toward educating insurance providers about their options for reducing costs without compromising care. It is also important to remember that this kind of outreach needs to be conducted all year long, not just on National ASC Day.

ASCA supports a number of other initiatives that help individual ASCs and ASC professionals share the good news about ASCs and reach those who make the policy decisions that determine how outpatient surgical care, and all health care, is provided. To learn more, contact Jack Coleman at jcoleman@ascassociation.org.

William Prentice is the chief executive officer of the Ambulatory Surgery Center Association.