While elective surgery restrictions devastated ASC finances in early 2020, the industry largely recovered rapidly and is poised to take on a greater share of procedures in 2021.

Four trends that will dominate the ASC space in 2021:

1. Market activity. Driven to reduce healthcare costs, insurers were already steering procedures to ASCs instead of higher-cost hospitals before COVID-19. Infection concerns due to the pandemic are now making ASCs an even more popular option for patients, as well. In 2021, expect to see more partnerships formed between existing surgery centers and hospitals, as well as the development of more joint-venture centers between independent practices and hospitals.

2. Payment. There’s a wide reimbursement gap between ASCs and hospital outpatient departments, and because CMS didn’t address this in its final rule for 2021, ASCs will continue fighting to eliminate the differential. Additionally, CMS announced compensation cuts for a number of physician specialties for next year, a move that ruffled feathers. Fortunately, having proved their ability to safely provide care during the pandemic, ASCs are avoiding new rounds of elective surgery restrictions — the latest state orders are more precisely targeting inpatient settings.

3. Staffing. ASCs have to continue keeping staff safe from COVID-19 exposure in 2021, as a single positive case among employees could quickly put others in isolation. In a nightmare scenario, a short-staffed center could have to cancel cases or temporarily close.

4. Supplies. As the coronavirus continues spreading like wildfire, the greater need to protect staff and patients from exposure is driving up supply costs — more personal protective equipment equals more money. Supply challenges also include bracing for potential shortages, creating new approaches to procuring inventory, and having to conserve supplies by reusing them.