By Bill Prentice
Last April, U.S. Department of Health & Human Services (HHS) Secretary Xavier Becerra extended the COVID-19 public health emergency (PHE) through July 19, 2021. Based on a letter HHS sent state governors earlier in the year, many health officials are expecting to see additional extensions issued, as needed, to keep the PHE in place through at least the remainder of 2021.
Extension of the PHE ensures the continuation of numerous regulatory flexibilities for health care providers, including waivers for expanded access to care, increases in Medicaid matching funds and emergency use authorizations for diagnostic services and treatments. As the U.S. continues to respond to and recover from the COVID-19 pandemic, these expanded services continue to help patients across the U.S. access the care they need.
Where do ASCs fit in?
With COVID-19 still on everyone’s mind, the PHE still in place and more vaccinations being delivered daily, we cannot rely on past patterns to project exactly what caseloads will look like inside ASCs through the rest of the year or even through the end of summer. We could see some of the summer slow downs we have seen in the past as patients begin to feel safe to travel more widely and staff take vacations they have been postponing for some time. Or, we could see some ASCs get even busier as more patients feel comfortable scheduling care they delayed earlier.
In either case, ASCs are prepared to respond and, as usual, do what is best for their patients. As I have discussed in this column previously, surveys demonstrate that, thanks to the infection prevention policies they already had in place and the additional precautions they implemented once COVID-19 was identified, ASCs have been able to provide outpatient surgery safely and deliver high-quality results throughout the pandemic. If they find that patients are ready to schedule procedures they postponed previously, ASCs are prepared to provide the care they need.
If, on the other hand, ASCs find themselves with less demanding schedules this summer, they will put that time to good use. In the past, ASC administrators have told us that when they get extra time, they use it to carefully review their policies and procedures to make sure they are compliant with any recent changes, take a closer look at their billing and collections to ensure they are capturing all the income they are earning and help staff complete training or earn continuing education credit they need.
With nearly all our educational resources available online this year, ASCA is a great partner for anyone who works in an ASC and wants to earn some CE or get help tackling a specific concern inside their facility.
ASCA’s Online Training Series, for example, covers topics ranging from managing latex allergies and administering medications safely to monitoring ambulatory surgery patients during moderate sedation, responding to a malignant hyperthermia event and preventing operating room fires. Our 2021 on-demand webinar series, which still has a few presentations set to be released live this year, has tracks for materials managers, clinical directors, infection preventionists and administrators. You don’t have to hold one of those titles to be able to use the content you will find there, but if you do fill one of those positions in your ASC, you are likely to find some valuable information there. Both of these programs allow users to proceed at their own pace and earn CE credit.
Participants in ASCA’s virtual programs this year tell us that we really knocked it out of the park. I am not sure when we will be able to post as much new, high-quality digital education online in one year again. This year, even if you haven’t already registered for the original programs online, you can register now for two that received rave reviews: “Management Essentials for ASC Administrators” and “Infection Prevention for ASCs.” You will get access to all the sessions and be able to earn CE credit for both programs.
Also, although you can no longer earn CE credit from ASCA 2021, you can still register for the full conference, view all the sessions and visit the exhibit hall. While we presented the entire ASCA 2021 conference virtually this year, we did not compromise on the quality of the content or the faculty. The program contains a wealth of information on topics ranging from communicating more effectively with the members of your board and adding new procedures to your ASC to laser safety, credentialing and recruiting non-investor physicians. Using the on-demand format, you can study in the comfort of your own home or surgery center and select only the sessions that interest you most.
All our programs and resources were created with ASCs in mind, so you never need to wonder if the material applies or is important in the ASC setting. If it doesn’t or isn’t, we don’t cover it. You can find out more about all these opportunities on the homepage of ASCA’s website (www.ascassociation.org) under the Education and Surveys tab.
While ASCs will be spending their time caring for patients, finetuning their operations and exploring new ways to take their facilities and customer service to the next level, ASCA will be continuing our conversations with White House staff, members of Congress and policymakers across the country on behalf of ASCs. During July, we typically spend time reviewing Medicare’s proposed ASC payment rule for the coming year and preparing comments to submit to the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services to improve the final rule. We expect that to remain a part of our summer plans this year as well.
If you work in an ASC, I encourage you to consider ASCA your partner and use the resources ASCA provides to support you in the work you are doing this year. If you do manage to find time for a vacation, please do what is needed to stay healthy and safe.