How day hospitals provide premium care at a fraction of the cost

In South Africa, the use of day hospitals is on the rise, with medical aid schemes recognizing the benefits. Picture: Matthias Zomer /Pexels

In South Africa, the use of day hospitals is on the rise, with medical aid schemes recognizing the benefits. Picture: Matthias Zomer /Pexels

Published Feb 12, 2024


As the new year unfolds, consumers need to approach their health expenditure with foresight, particularly regarding scheduled surgeries.

In the current economic landscape where costs across the board are increasing and where medical aid benefits decrease year on year, savvy financial thinking and cost-savings are paramount.

Patients can save on medical expenses and prevent excess strain on their medical scheme funds by taking charge of their health-care decisions.

“It is always in the patient’s interest to shop around to save costs where possible, without sacrificing quality of care,” said Bibi Goss-Ross, MD of Advanced Health South Africa.

Day hospitals focus on same-day surgical procedures, offering operating theatres and ward accommodations at a lower cost compared to traditional acute hospitals.

Procedures such as colonoscopies, cataract surgeries and tonsil removals can be safely performed in day hospitals, making them a cost-efficient option.

“Information empowers and by asking the right questions about surgeries, consumers can obtain superior surgical and medical care at a competitive cost,” Goss-Ross emphasised.

Internationally, day hospitals are widely utilised with 70 to 80% of all surgical procedures performed in these facilities in countries such as Australia and the US, resulting in average savings of about 20% compared with acute hospitals.

In South Africa, the use of day hospitals is on the rise, with medical aid schemes recognising the benefits.

For instance, the Discovery Health Medical Scheme provides incentives to doctors for performing planned procedures with same-day discharge in day clinics. By 2022, 33% of its members' procedures were carried out in day clinics, a 9% increase from 2019.

Goss-Ross said: “Thinking that the medical aid pays, in any case, is certainly not a responsible attitude; all increases in medical expenses are most certainly passed on to the consumer in the form of increased premiums and decreased benefits.

“We need to think smart about hospitalisation and affordable health care.”

Understanding the cost factors of day hospitals allows individuals to be proactive in saving on their health-care expenses. Goss-Ross further explained the benefits of day hospitals, encouraging informed decisions for surgical procedures.

Cost effective

Day hospitals transform the surgical landscape by providing high-quality care at a fraction of the cost compared to traditional acute hospitals. Streamlined processes and focused services enable efficient space and resource use, resulting in substantial cost savings.

The absence of large kitchen facilities, intensive care units, specialised theatres, overnight beds, after-hours staff, and emergency units lowers the costs.

Theatre fees per minute compared with an acute facility are better priced, as are ward rates compared to larger health-care facilities.

Goss-Ross said private patients benefit from this as witnessed by an increase in cash-paying patients supporting day hospitals.

Faster admission and recovery

Day hospitals provide a distinct advantage in terms of expedited admissions and enhanced recovery, primarily due to their thoughtfully designed and user-friendly atmosphere.

In stark contrast to traditional patient recovery environments, day hospitals prioritise creating spaces that don't evoke the stereotypical aspects of a trauma setting.

This subtle yet significant departure from the conventional look and feel ensures that individuals entering these facilities are met with an ambience that is both comforting and non-intrusive.

By consciously steering away from the typical associations with medical distress, day hospitals aim to foster an environment that contributes positively to the healing process, emphasising the importance of a welcoming and rejuvenating space in expediting recovery.

Patients check in early morning and are home by nightfall, and benefit from a more comfortable and rapid recuperation process in the familiarity of their own homes.

Designed for efficiency

The small facility set-up with the wards next to the theatre complex eliminates the long passage walks of patients to the theatre complex. Waiting time is limited as no emergency cases are performed in between booked cases.

Theatre teams remain consistent as they are not subject to shifts per day or emergencies, which from a doctor’s perspective, contribute to theatre staff uniformity and greater productivity.

Day hospitals are designed with efficiency in mind, featuring compact facilities catering to a wide range of procedures. Surgeons benefit from a focused environment, enabling them to perform more procedures in less time, ultimately reducing costs for both the facility and the patient.

Technological advancements ensure quality outcomes

Rapid advances in surgery and anaesthetic technologies contribute to high-quality outcomes for patients undergoing procedures in day hospitals.

State-of-the-art technology ensures that quality and safety are never compromised.

Wide range of procedures

The versatility of services makes day hospitals a comprehensive option for various medical needs.

They offer a broad spectrum of surgeries, including plastic surgery, ophthalmic, dermatological, ENT, general surgery, gynaecological, maxillofacial and dentistry, orthopaedic and urology procedures, all performed in a sterile environment on a same-day-in-and-out basis.

Convenience and accessibility

The family-type atmosphere at most day hospital facilities creates a positive environment for both surgeons and patients. Globally, day hospitals offer an option for safe, convenient care in cost-effective settings for a growing number of relevant procedures.

“Medical cost drivers push up medical aid tariffs. Doctors charge more, hospitals charge more and medical aid premiums increase every year. Yet we seldom stop to think where these increases come from and how they can be prevented or managed.”

“Just as people shop around for value, whether it is for everyday household items or big-ticket items such as cars, so should consumers start actively looking for the best value when it comes to short-procedure surgery.

“Day hospitals offer cost-effective surgeries while maintaining the highest quality and safety standards. Anyone eligible for day surgery should strongly request this option as the smart alternative in hospitalisation,” said Goss-Ross.