Feature | April 08, 2008 | Rick Dana Barlow

Plugging Cracks in Fortress ASC’s Armor?

When a Nevada clinic made headlines recently about sloppy infection control and ineffectual sterilization practices, admitting that it had reused syringes on patients and forcing thousands of patients to undergo disease testing, the ambulatory surgery center community had to wince and shudder.

Logically, what one facility does and how that one facility operates by no means represents the practices of an entire industry. But it’s easy for the general public to make that giant leap. And we all know that in most everything in this self-centered, media-saturated world that perception too often is construed as reality.

Certainly, we are concerned about the health and well-being of those patients who put their trust in their caregivers to act responsibly, morally and ethically to contribute to their healing process or wellness regimen. That should be inherent. But inside the business of ASC operations, we are concerned about how this incident affects those making decisions and shaping policy involving ASCs.

It’s no secret that the ASC industry has been crusading for years for equivalent financial respect and treatment from a reimbursement standpoint for its noteworthy achievements and generous participation in the healthcare industry alongside its acute-care siblings. In fact, hospitals regularly are involved in infection control and sterilization lapses for a variety of reasons, to which the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) are starting to classify as medical errors – and rightly so – and not reimbursing facilities for follow-up treatment – again, rightly so.

Even as the ASC industry tries to emphasize its separation from physician-owned hospitals by the hospital community trying to influence perceptions that fuse the two healthcare facility types under one umbrella, let’s hope government leaders, industry regulators and professional watchdogs put this incident in perspective and not rush to a flash judgment condemning an entire industry.

Politicians may resign for moral lapses and youthful indiscretions, but the president of The Joint Commission once told me in an exclusive interview that, “If we were to put out of business every hospital in which any error occurred there would be no place to receive care anywhere in the world.” One bad apple should not define an industry that does so much good and represents a key component to healthcare’s success and future. In a presidential election year where healthcare reform is a hot topic it’s paramount to remember that.