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Rising Outpatient Surgery Volumes Offer Opportunity For Value-Based Care Models, Study Finds

Analysis  |  By Amanda Schiavo  
   January 11, 2023

The move to more outpatient surgeries has resulted in a 22% cost savings for hospitals.

Hospitals and health systems are working hard to cut costs, and one strategy that has become more popular is shifting to more outpatient procedures.

Inpatient surgery utilization levels decreased 7.33% from 2019 to 2021, according to a survey of over 12 million commercial insurance members by Cedar Gate Technologies—an analytics, population health, and payment technologies company. The research found that hospital outpatient surgery volume grew by 3.1%. However, the largest increase was in ambulatory surgical centers, with utilization rates rising by 10.26%.

Following an initial decline in monthly surgeries from March to April of 175,000 per month to 70,000 per month, Cedar Gate found that volumes recovered by June 2020 to pre-pandemic levels, but those surgeries were taking place on an outpatient basis.

Between 2020 and 2021, many patients avoided hospitals and elective procedures out of fear of contracting COVID-19, according to Cedar Gate, which is one of the factors that led to this shift to outpatient surgery. Some patients opted to forgo surgery altogether when they could. For example, the data shows that people who postponed total knee arthroplasty instead opted for less invasive treatment options, including nonsurgical orthopedic care alternatives such as physical therapy. The Cedar Gate data found a 2.26% increase in orthopedic physical therapy from 2019 to 2021.

"The pandemic accelerated a trend toward decreasing inpatient surgeries, and this shift is impacting hospital revenue in real-time," Rajiv Mahale, SVP, and chief analytics product officer at Cedar Gate, said in an email release. "Experts increasingly agree that hospital inpatient surgery volume is unlikely to ever go back to pre-pandemic levels. Increases in outpatient and ASC surgical volumes, however, present an opportunity for value-based care delivery models by providing strong patient outcomes and lower costs."


Amanda Schiavo is the Finance Editor for HealthLeaders.

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