You are invited — ASCs open doors to public

Open houses offer marketing opportunities

(Editor's note: This is the first of a two-part series on sponsoring community events and open houses. In this month's issue, we cover open houses. In next month's issue, we will give suggestions for handling the media.)

Balloons, cookies and punch, tours, and free health screenings are just a few of the ways that outpatient surgery programs can make open house events fun and appealing to the community. Although the Federated Ambulatory Surgery Association (FASA) promotes Aug. 15 as National ASC Day and encourages outpatient surgery programs to invite the community to their facility, outpatient surgery managers often find themselves planning open houses or community events for a variety of reasons.

"We did hold an open house on National ASC day in 2006, and it was very successful," recalls Mindy Vieck, facility administrator at Vincennes (IN) Surgery Center. About 100 people attended Vieck's event to enjoy refreshments, hand massages by a licensed massage therapist, blood pressure and blood sugar screenings, and an assortment of door prizes such as tickets to local sporting events. "Staff members took people on a tour of our pre-op and recovery areas and one procedure room," Vieck says. Operating rooms were not included in the tour so that the staff would not have to sterilize the rooms, she adds.

The staff at Corvallis (OR) Clinic Surgery Center did allow tours through the operating rooms, but they picked the days and times carefully to allow time for sterilization, says Judy Corwin, director of marketing and public relations for the Corvallis Clinic. "Our open house was a big deal because it was our grand opening, and we are the first freestanding multispecialty surgery center in the area," she says. It was important to let physicians, their office staffs, and members of the community see that the facility was capable of offering the same outpatient surgery services a hospital surgery department can offer, she explains.

They actually held three open houses or tours, says Corwin. The first tour was for retired physicians who had been supportive of the development of the center before their retirement. The second open house and tour focused on the office staff members of referring physicians. The third open house and tour was for the general public and community and business leaders.

"Our first two events were held before we performed any procedures so we did not have to worry about maintaining a sterile area," she says. "The community event was after we had performed some procedures in order to meet requirements for state and Medicare accreditation," Corwin says. Not only did the timing enable them to tell members of the community that they were accredited, but it also enabled the surgery center to be up and running full speed immediately after the community event, she explains. The community event was held on a Friday from 4 to 6 p.m. This timing gave the staff the weekend to clean the operating room areas, she explains.

When planning tours of the facility, don't assume staff members know how to conduct tours, suggests Corwin.

"Our surgery center director spent a great deal of time coaching staff members on the messages we wanted to convey, what items to point out, what questions to expect, and how to answer questions," she says. The primary message throughout the tours was the center's emphasis on exceptional service from the first pre-op call through every step of the process, she says. "We know that people are anxious about surgery, so we try to answer all questions to alleviate their anxiety," she adds.

"Staff members were also trained to give a tour of the entire center and explain all activities that occur in each department, regardless of where they work," explains Corwin. Staff members learned the purpose of different equipment, how long patients stayed in certain areas, and what services are provided by the center, she says. To make sure everyone could answer questions, mock tours of the center were conducted during the weeks leading up to the open house, she adds.

If reporters attend the events, make sure that specific staff members are available to work with the media to help them get the information they need, she adds.

Because the main attraction at Corwin's events was the new facility, the main focus was on tours and answering questions from people attending the open houses. At most open houses, there is a need to offer something to attract guests, says Pam Wrobleski, CRNA, administrator of Southwestern Ambulatory Surgery Center in Pittsburgh. Wrobleski's center uses open houses to promote the physicians on staff by offering screenings by different physicians. "Our podiatrists offer foot and ankle screenings, our ophthalmologists offer eye screenings, and other physicians offer skin cancer screenings, hemocult tests, or other screenings that get their name into the community," she says.

They also offer tours, so they schedule the open house at a time when they can block out time so that there are no cases going on, says Wrobleski. "We usually have a light schedule in the morning, then no cases in the afternoon, to make sure that we respect our patients' privacy," she explains. Visitors wear shoe covers and hats, and a cleaning crew is available to clean immediately after the open house, she says.

Because Wrobleski's facility is part of a larger medical office complex, there are frequent joint open houses with other medical offices, she says. "We have holiday open houses with refreshments, and every Halloween the entire complex offers a safe trick or treat program in which children visit the different offices," she says. All of these events are important because they make your facility a part of the community, she adds.

Be sure to allow enough time to plan your event, suggests Vieck. "We started planning our open house 45 days prior to the event," she says. This gave staff time to plan the screenings, send fliers to physician offices, and place advertisements in the newspaper, she says.

"The FASA open house planning kit also is a useful tool that saves you a lot of time," suggests Wrobleski. Sample ads, press releases, and checklists help you avoid the time it takes to create something from scratch, she explains. (For a free copy of the FASA open house planning kit, go to www.fasa.org/ascopenhouse.)

Although Vieck did not plan a general open house for National ASC Day in 2007, she is continuing events to invite the community to her facility. "We are now planning events that promote one specialty at a time," she explains. They recently sponsored an evening seminar on female incontinence that featured urologists, Vieck says. "It attracted 30 people and did generate some immediate new business for the physicians," she says. [Editor's note: Have you had a successful community event? Tell your peers! Contact Joy Daughtery Dickinson, senior managing editor. Phone: (229) 551-9195. E-mail: joy.dickinson@ reliasmedia.com.]