News | Ambulatory Care

Understanding the unique demands of ambulatory care settings

News | Ambulatory Care

Understanding the unique demands of ambulatory care settings

  • Ambulatory services should not be treated as a sub-department of hospital operations.
  • Consumerism and retail positioning are key to successful ambulatory service strategies.
  • An ambulatory governance and leadership committee can help hospitals and health systems operate ambulatory services in a non-hospital centric manner.

A successful ambulatory healthcare model allows patients to be seen when they want to be seen, to have access to nearby facilities and to have questions answered 24/7, Craig Ahrens, managing director, Ankura — Health Solutions, told workshop attendees today at HFMA’s 2019 Annual Conference in Orlando. Ahrens was joined by co-presenters John Ceelen, senior vice president of finance, Froedtert Health, and Ankura directors Ethan Franklin and Sarah G. Hull.  

Workshop attendees came away with insight about trends and challenges impacting health system ambulatory platforms and strategies to develop a high-level roadmap for an "ambulatory mindset.” 

Strategies for appealing to consumers

A consumer-focused approach is critical to an “ambulatory mindset” and includes the following patient-friendly strategies.

Focus on rapid convenience. Ambulatory customers expect speed and convenience. Rapid convenience means same-day appointments, immediate phone and e-mail responses, virtual options, price transparency and ease of payment.

Foster retail positioning. Retail positioning includes access and convenience, but it also involves experience and friendliness. How a facility looks and feels is vital, as is how customers are treated. Furthermore, pricing in the ambulatory realm is crucial when options are available that may be cheaper, workshop speakers said.

Another critical ambulatory-mindset factor is respect for the business model. “The ambulatory market and its financial, operational and leadership demands are different, and it should not be treated as a sub-department of hospital operations,” Ahrens said.

In addition, hospitals and health systems should leverage “systemness” when transitioning to ambulatory care delivery models. Hospitals and health systems should take advantage of being connected to a broader network of clinical services and corporate-support services. For example, there should be seamless interaction between a surgical specialist’s office and the inpatient perioperative area (e.g., for preoperative testing and scheduling) to enhance the ambulatory network’s customer value proposition, Ahrens said.

Strategies for implementing an ambulatory model

Workshop attendees also learned about investment strategies for the transition to an ambulatory care model. The speakers shared the following steps.

Create an ambulatory strategy. “Typically, we suggest the development of an ambulatory strategy by modality that addresses the market’s ambulatory competition and unique patient expectations, such as time to access, price, payer networks, location and new disruptive entrants,” Ahrens said.

Define “ambulatory” and develop an organizational philosophy. It is important to define the demarcation lines of what constitutes ambulatory care, and a philosophy of how your healthcare organization will organize its ambulatory business platform by modality (e.g., independent for-profit or subsidiary).

Create an ambulatory governance and leadership structure. Healthcare organizations should invest in an ambulatory governance and leadership structure that balances the strategy, philosophy and unique operational challenges inherent in ambulatory platforms. Often, this group will help address how to best operate in a manner that is non-hospital centric, identify partnerships to potentially accelerate ambulatory success, and leverage health system elements, such as human resources and IT, in a manner that enables ambulatory cost efficiency.

Learn more about HFMA’s Annual Conference.

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