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6 Ways to Overcome Operating Room Planning and Scheduling Challenges

Did the pandemic highlight challenges in your operating room (OR) planning and scheduling process? Though challenges may have been magnified, they are not new. Surgery scheduling has historically been fraught with inefficiencies, often dependent on outdated manual paper shuffling for communication. This is significant when you consider that surgery accounts for around one-third of all healthcare spending, and OR costs are measured by the minute.

The good news is that ASCs and Hospitals have an opportunity to use the insights from challenges to enact change and more effectively position themselves for future success. Hospitals and ASCs can find a competitive advantage by focusing on the perennial challenges with new tools. Adopting scheduling software can address the inherent obstacles with far-reaching positive effects.

Let’s examine six ways that surgery scheduling software can help you overcome operating room planning and scheduling challenges:

1. Maximizing Scheduling Blocks

An OR may cost $1,000 an hour to maintain. Most ASCs average just two OR rooms, so mismanagement of the schedule threatens profitability quickly. Surgery blocks are created to consolidate staff, time, equipment, and expertise. Some specialties strive for 80% utilization of each block, while others may accept as low as 50 to 60%, depending on many factors (physician appeasement, length of average surgery, cost). The science of building out the best block schedule is an ongoing project. It requires knowing the ideal lineup of procedures; knowing the surgery team’s preferences; keeping track of existing appointments; knowing the potential for risks and interventions on each patient; being mindful of how surgeries will intersect with subsequent blocks; and keeping track of logistics of staff and equipment.

To complicate matters, as soon as the scheduler has everything perfectly lined up, something often changes. Scheduling software can now consolidate all of the relevant information noted above and give stakeholders a way to see changes in real-time and participate in solutions. Auto-alerts generated by scheduling software can be the difference between a lost block downstream and the automatic creation of an open block that can put the schedule back on track.

Adding and taking away blocks can be a tense issue between physicians and administrators; to do so without a tightened surgery scheduling process as a control may be tampering with something that is not inherently broken. Scheduling software helps the physicians and schedulers make the most of their current allotted time. (Read here to find out how software can be integral to the operating room theatre.)

2. Promoting Better Perioperative Patient Communication

In the OR race to complete paperwork, reschedule patients, and organize staff, patients can feel like they are in the dark about their own procedures. Prior to surgery, many patients forget their date, change their feelings about elective surgery, or face a changing financial situation. During surgery, they may feel inadequately informed or ill at ease. Patient communication is an operating room planning and scheduling challenge throughout the surgery process that affects profitability, payment, and reputation.

No-shows are a persistent problem that represent immediate revenue loss. Some schedulers have had the added stress of intentionally double-booking because of the statistics of no-shows. According to the article “Evaluating the Impact of Patient No-Shows on Service Quality”: “forgetting about the appointment, patient scheduling conflicts, and miscommunication were found to be the most common causes of patient no-shows in various healthcare settings.” How much difference can a simple communication tool make? The aforementioned article also cites a study in which telephone reminders reduced no-shows from 20.00% to 7.07%.

Scheduling software automates AI-based patient messaging through email, text, or phone, depending on the patient’s preferences. This can alert the scheduling staff to patient confusion, at which time they may be able to answer critical questions and gauge the potential for no-shows. Software can also help mark the risk of a no-show in the schedule.

A “point of care” scheduling program that integrates with the master schedule creates efficiency that can give physicians more quality time with patients. Medscape’s 2018 Physician Compensation Report found that 84% of physicians spent between just 9 and 24 minutes with each patient individually—a modest amount of time for a life-changing surgery.

3. Staying on Track From First Case Forward

Organizing people and supplies needed for a procedure is a critical extension of scheduling and planning. Keeping the first procedure start time on track is known to improve operating room efficiency and reduce unnecessary costs. According to a 2020 study published in Pediatric Quality and Safety, “retrospective reviews have found that 50 to 80% of first cases at tertiary care hospitals were delayed by as much as 30 minutes on average, which represents significant preventable costs. The most common causes for delays in the first case include surgeon/staff unavailability, delayed patient registration, congestion in the preoperative areas, and transportation issues.”

Scheduling software streamlines communication with anesthesiologists, nurses, and other stakeholders. Better communication technology to improve OR coordination is recommended in the study “Coordination Challenges in Operating-Room Management: An In-Depth Field Study.” The researcher described the common dilemma of charge nurses in ORs:

"Schedules were observed to be routinely re-worked as a result of changing or missing information. The information formally recorded in the information systems was often incomplete or inaccurate, as a result of changes. For example, the official OR schedule in the information system (entered by the surgical scheduling office) contained a brief description of the surgery. From this information, the charge nurse and anesthesia charge person made assumptions regarding the requisite equipment and patient positioning needs. When the information was missing, they would attempt to contact the surgeon by phone, paging, or in person. If the surgeon could not be contacted in a timely manner, or if assumptions regarding the equipment or positioning needs were incorrect, the case was often delayed to accommodate the case’s special needs."


Scheduling software can give these parties a reliable single source for case information, a way to communicate remotely and in real-time, and cut down on errors.

4. Reducing Administrative Burden on Physicians

Disorganized scheduling processes can add to the non-operating time of surgeons as they go to extra lengths to make arrangements, cancel appointments, etc. According to the Medscape Physician Compensation Report 2020, physicians spend an average of 15.6 hours per week on paperwork and administration. Working with over 100 data points is daunting, and every physician might have their own lapses in recording or sharing important details. Scheduling software can keep a moving record of details for the physician to reference and alter in real time. Better scheduling can give a physician consistent and dedicated time to work on necessary paperwork without a constant deluge of distractions.

5. Reacting to Rescheduling in Real Time

Cancellations, absences, or an influx of semi-elective cases, can set off a chain reaction of negotiations and manual documentation to a variety of stakeholders. Reacting quickly is important, but so is thoughtful juggling of priorities. Without a doubt, the noise of paper processes and communication outreach takes focus off of strategic scheduling.

Scheduling software can allow confidence in quick rescheduling with a master view of the status pending cases. Physicians, anesthesiologists, charge nurses, room staff, equipment vendors, and insurance companies can receive a combination of automated alerts generated by scheduling software and receive status updates of an evolving schedule. Schedulers can now know faster what their options are for rearranging procedures.

6. Cloning Your Scheduler

Having one scheduler may be common in ASCs where staff numbers are lean. It's not uncommon for only one or two critical employees to have the essential knowledge that is needed every day. This puts your OR efficiency in the hands of only a few employees, increasing the risk for disruption. Additionally, the rest of the OR team may spend time sharing redundant knowledge or making guesses rather than going to an authoritative source.

However, real-time surgery scheduling software streamlines access to scheduling and planning information so that face-to-face communication, redundant tasks, needless stress, and delays can be averted. Equipment can be accounted for sooner, proper staff assignments made clearer, and details from the surgeon can be shared. All of this can happen regardless of where the scheduler is physically located.

These six challenges of operating room planning and scheduling can be transformed into revenue opportunities with the right surgery scheduling solution. Intelligent software makes it easy to share big-picture scheduling views and also details, surgeon preferences, alerts, and real-time updates.

CaseCTRL is a comprehensive surgery scheduling solution that transforms the planning process from start to finish. The Case Builder, Repository, intelligent Surgical Calendar, Risk Analyzer, and Automatic Notifications work cohesively to optimize scheduling processes (and increase revenue in the process). Contact CaseCTRL to learn more about how our software can transform the way you do surgery scheduling.

Supercharge your surgical scheduling. See how caseCTRL can work for you. Show me a demo.

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