An ASC is a health care facility that specializes in providing surgery, including certain pain management and diagnostic (e.g., colonoscopy) services in an outpatient setting. Overall, the services provided can be generally called procedures. In simple terms, ASC-qualified procedures can be considered procedures that are more intensive than those done in the average doctor's office but not so intensive as to require a hospital stay. An ambulatory surgery center and a specialty hospital often provide similar facilities and support similar types of procedures. The specialty hospital may provide the same procedures or slightly more complex ones and the specialty hospital will often allow an overnight stay. ASCs do not routinely provide emergency services to patients who have not been admitted to the ASC for another procedure.
'Procedures' performed in ASCs are broad in scope. In the 1980s and 1990s, many procedures that used to be performed exclusively in hospitals began taking place in ambulatory surgery centers as well. Many knee, shoulder, eye, spine and other surgeries are currently performed in ASCs. In the United States today, more than 50% of Colonoscopy services are performed in ambulatory surgery centers.
The first ASC was established in Phoenix, Arizona in 1970 by two physicians who wanted to provide timely, convenient and comfortable surgical services to patients in their community, avoiding more impersonal venues like regular hospitals.
ASCs rarely have a single owner. Physicians partners who perform surgeries in the center will often own at least some part of the facility. Ownership percentages vary considerably, but most ASCs involve physician owners. Occasionally, an ASC is entirely physician-owned. However, it is most common for development/management companies to own a percentage of center.
Some large healthcare companies own many types of medical facilities, including ambulatory surgery centers. The largest operator by revenue is Surgical Care Affiliates, which is the former surgery division of HealthSouth Corporation, with 141 centers in 35 states. United Surgical Partners International (USPI) manages 138 centers in the US, HCA manages 95. There are currently four publicly traded companies in the US who specialize in operating ASCs: NovaMed, AMSURG, and Symbion. There are also many privately held companies in the US who specialize in developing, managing and operating ASCs: Facility Development and Management.
In the United States, more than 22 million surgeries a year are performed in more than 5,000 ASCs. ASCs are in all 50 states and can be found throughout the world. In the US, most ASCs are licensed, certified by Medicare and accredited by one of the major health care accrediting organizations.
Although complications are very rare, ASCs are required by Medicare and the accreditation organizations to have a backup plan for transfer of patients to a hospital if the need arises.
The national nonprofit organizations that represents the interests of ASCs and their patients is Ambulatory Surgery Center Association (ASC Association), which was formed in 2008 when the Federated Ambulatory Surgery Association (FASA) and the American Association of Ambulatory Surgery Centers (AAASC) merged.
Accreditation organizations are separate from the general trade organizations. Accreditation organizations for ASCs provide standards of medical care, record keeping, and auditing for ASCs. Some of the goals of these organizations include continuous improvement of medical care in surgery centers and providing an external organization where the public can get information on many aspects of ASCs. These accreditation organizations require members to receive periodic audits. These audits will come every one to three years, depending on the accreditation organization and the circumstances of the surgery center. In an audit, a team of auditors visits the facility and examines the ASC's medical records, written policies, and compliance with industry standards.
In 1996, California was the first state to require accreditation for all outpatient facilities that administer sedation or general anesthesia. Many other states have followed and require accreditation.
The three main accreditors of ASCs are the American Association for Accreditation of Ambulatory Surgery Facilities (AAAASF), Accreditation Association for Ambulatory Health Care (Accreditation Association or AAAHC) and The Joint Commission.