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Update on AHRQ’s Safety Program for Ambulatory Surgery

by William Prentice

As mentioned in this column previously, as a part of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) National Action Plan to Prevent Healthcare-Associated Infections, the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ) is funding a series of 12-month patient safety improvement programs for ambulatory surgery centers. To date, three cohorts of ambulatory surgery centers and hospital outpatient departments have signed up to participate.

The Safety Program for Ambulatory Surgery (SPAS) aspires to improve communication and teamwork in order to strengthen the culture of safety at ASCs.

If your ASC has not participated in one of the first three cohorts, I strongly encourage you to consider participating in the upcoming fall program. Details on participating will be posted on the ASCA website and at when available.

AHRQ also has developed an ASC-specific toolkit that will help ASCs with coaching, mentoring, implementation of the surgical safety checklist, teamwork, communication and reduction in surgical site infections. It is available as a free download on the AHRQ website.

The current 12-month patient safety improvement collaborative is being conducted online and via conference calls. It is led by the Health Research and Educational Trust (HRET), an affiliate of the American Hospital Association, together with ASCA, the ASC Quality Collaboration and the Harvard School of Public Health, among others.

The program focuses on effectively implementing a surgical safety checklist as a means of strengthening the culture of safety and improving communication among the surgical team. It also provides guidance for establishing facility-based monitoring and reporting systems, educational webinars and learning groups, as well as peer-to-peer learning and networking opportunities.

Participation in the SPAS program has the added benefit of demonstrating to HHS and the patients ASCs serve that ASCs are committed to improving safety and compliance in our daily practices.

As you may know, the advent of a Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services patient experience of care survey (akin to the Hospital Consumer Assessment of Healthcare Providers and Systems survey required of hospitals) is also drawing near. ASCs’ ability to demonstrate to their patients that they maintain an uncompromising commitment to quality and safety will be an essential element of guaranteeing exceptional survey results. I believe that participation in the SPAS program is exactly the kind of educational effort that would add real value to the relationship that surgical centers have with their patients.

What’s more, ASCs — as the low-cost provider of ambulatory surgery — are essential to slowing the growth of health care expenses that today strain the budgets of our nation and families alike. The more compellingly we can demonstrate that ASCs provide high-quality care, the stronger our argument with policymakers and insurers. The SPAS program, therefore, is an important step in ensuring quality outcomes for patients and strengthening ASCs’ position within the U.S. healthcare system.

To learn more or enroll, please contact Kelly Vrablic at or visit

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



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