Sunday, November 7, 2010

Hospitals reach out to suburbs for outpatient dollars

Nashville-area hospitals are adding more services closer to where people live, hoping to attract better-paying, commercially insured patients — as well as provide basic care and medical tests in settings that don't require an overnight stay.
After taking a pause on construction amid a slower economy, hospitals here are once again starting to invest in outpatient services — often in suburban settings — to bring medical tests and minor surgeries to the places where many people live.

Vanderbilt University Medical Center recently revealed plans for a $200 million, 500,000-square-foot outpatient services campus in Franklin that will consolidate some noncritical services under a single roof. It's all designed to capture market share in one of the nation's wealthier counties and build brand loyalty.

Rival TriStar Health System wants to set up a satellite emergency department of its Centennial Medical Center in Spring Hill. It would offer diagnostic services,
X-rays, ultrasounds and CT scans 24 hours a day.

In recent years, Saint Thomas Health Services has been expanding its presence in Williamson County, including by opening an outpatient rehabilitation clinic in Cool Springs last year.

The outpatient boom is part of a national trend. In the past two years, hospital outpatient care has accounted for the most growth in health-care spending for the typical American family of four, according to actuarial consulting firm Milliman. From 2009 to 2010, it rose to 17.1 percent of total costs, outpacing growth in other categories such as inpatient care, physician services and prescription drugs.

Another study by McKinsey & Co. suggests outpatient care accounts for 40 percent or more of U.S. health system spending, with same-day hospital care the fastest-growing part of that. Overall, outpatient spending was expected to be about $163 billion this year.

"Typically, hospital companies place their assets in markets that are growing," said Frank Morgan, an analyst with RBC Capital Markets in Brentwood. "You want to put your business in high-growth markets, places that have a strong base of residents with insurance."

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