August 24, 2017 4:25 pm

The trend of outpatient spine surgeries being performed in specialized ambulatory surgical centers (ASC’s) rather than hospitals has been growing steadily in recent years— and for good reason.

In the past many felt that a “traditional hospital setting” was the safest place to have any and all surgical procedures, however, when it comes to minimally invasive, outpatient procedures, studies show that’s not the case.

Ambulatory Surgical Centers (ASC’s) are held to an extremely high standard and many are often solely focused on performing certain types of surgeries, thus the surgeons and supporting surgical team are well versed in specific procedures and their required safety protocols. This often leads to a more focused approach with fewer variables, leading to fewer complications and lower infection rates.

Regulations are in place to ensure that ASC’s have the same rigorous safety standards as hospitals. They must be prepared to perform cardiopulmonary resuscitation and have an effective means for transferring patients in the very rare case that complications occur.

One of the greatest risks of surgery especially in a traditional hospital setting is infection of the surgical site. ASC’s are required to establish programs for prevention, identification, treatment and reporting of infections, which meet the requirements of the Centers for Disease Control. In fact, ASC’s have been shown to have lower infection rates (in some instances significantly lower) than hospitals.

Recent studies of infection rates for surgeries performed in hospitals vs. ambulatory surgical centers have shown ASC’s to have the lowest risk of infection. It is not uncommon for ASC’s to report between 1 and 5 surgical site infections per 1000 patients (0.1%-0.5%) on average. The rate for hospitals can be approximately 20 times higher, as much as 20 infections per 1000 patients or as much as 2%.

Additional research suggests that ambulatory surgical centers that specialize in only one type of surgery (i.e. orthopedics/spine surgery, etc.) experience even lower rates of infection than those accommodating surgeries from multiple specialties.

Why do Ambulatory Surgery Centers have lower rates of infection?

There are a number of reasons that might explain the exceptionally low infection rates at ASC’s. First, these surgery centers are often owned and run by a small group of surgeons practicing in a particular specialty. This allows surgeons to tailor the center to their specialty, focusing on the equipment, layout, procedures and staff skill level that they require to help them achieve the best outcomes possible.

This control over their environment coupled with advancements in technology and anesthesia as well as less invasive surgical procedures makes having surgery in an ASC safer than ever.