When a patient needs to undergo a surgery, the surgeon may have several facilities to choose from, including a clinic, hospital or surgical center.
Doctors may perform some procedures in their own offices, especially relatively minor ones, but they will often choose a hospital for emergencies or complicated cases, or if the patient needs to be admitted and kept for observation afterwards. A doctor's office may also lack the full range of supplies, staff and equipment that a hospital has, and it may not meet the requirements for a sterile environment during surgery.
A doctor needs to be on the staff of a particular hospital in order to perform surgery there, which is a process that requires time and paperwork. Once the application process is complete, hospitals can offer quick access to an operating room for emergencies. For elective surgeries, waiting times can be quite long. Surgeons may still choose a hospital to get access to a full medical team, including pathologists, radiologists and anesthesiologists, along with around-the-clock staff to monitor the patient following surgery.
Surgical centers fill the gap between clinics and hospitals by offering some of the benefits of each, which includes access to a wide range of equipment and supplies, as well as a staff specialized in surgery. A surgical center (also known as an ambulatory surgical center or surgi-center) is a licensed facility specializing in providing a location for surgical care, but it does not offer doctor appointments for general diagnostic or primary care (although doctors can do diagnostic surgery in their facilities).
In comparison to hospitals, surgical centers typically have shorter waiting times to schedule a procedure, as well as fewer delays the day of the procedure. A doctor needs to be on staff to perform procedures at a surgical center, but this process also tends to take less time than applying for staff privileges at a hospital.
Surgical centers are not always the ideal choice. Since patients can't stay overnight, these facilities are not available for procedures that require observation and recovery after surgery. For complicated and risky cases, hospitals will remain the first choice.