What to consider when choosing an outpatient ambulatory surgery center

Despite conveniences, they are not for everybody

SAN ANTONIO – More and more these days, if people need surgery -- even something as complicated as joint replacement -- they might end up at an outpatient ambulatory surgery center, instead of a hospital.

Those centers are freestanding and designed to get you in and out on the same day, and often for less money than a hospital.

Tom Bligh had his meniscus repaired at this ambulatory surgery center. He said when his daughter had surgery there a year ago, he was impressed with the facility.

“We were able to come in an hour before surgery and leave that afternoon,” Bligh said. “It was great."

An ambulatory surgery center often provides faster registration and discharge procedures and can cost less out of pocket than in-patient surgery at a hospital.

"We really pride ourselves on trying to run our schedule in a very efficient way and try to avoid delays as much as possible," Dr. Roy Naturman said.

Despite the conveniences, “Ambulatory surgery centers are not for everyone,” said Diane Umansky, with Consumer Reports. “Elderly people and those with serious medical conditions may be safer in a hospital."

For people with serious conditions such as obesity, lung or heart problems, even the simplest surgery can trigger complications that may need hospital facilities.

"Before you opt for surgery at an ambulatory surgery center that is not affiliated with a hospital, check the center's certification,” Umansky said. “Some may not be held to the same standards as hospitals."

The center should be CMS certified, meaning it adheres to Medicare standards, as this one does.

People should also ask about the center's emergency plan. It's important to know if there is resuscitative equipment on site and how you would be transferred to a hospital if that became necessary.

Consumer Reports also said people should ask about the surgeon's experience.

They said, ideally, the doctor should have performed your type of surgery at least 50 times in the last year.