Your Surgery Scheduler: One of Your Most Overlooked Assets

Have you ever watched a sports team that had all the right players but underachieved? In operating rooms, the surgery scheduler is like the offensive coordinator. The profitability of the hospital or ASC depends on how well the scheduling is managed. Experienced surgeons will often latch onto a great surgery scheduler and universally cringe when their surgery schedulers leave for vacation.

If you want to keep the best schedulers, not burn them out, and focus their efforts, empower them with modern surgery scheduling software. The administrative burden and insurance requirements for surgery scheduling continue to balloon. Existing manual surgery scheduling methods of the past are not cut out for the efficiency required in the present (more outpatient procedures, red tape, competition among surgeons, etc.). Moreover, opaque paper-based surgical scheduling processes preclude collaboration and increase dependency on single schedulers.

Practices cannot afford to ignore the importance of a great surgery scheduling software and teams.

At a running cost of $1,000 per hour, an operating room is either the greatest asset or liability of a hospital or ASC. According to Kellogg Insight, ORs generate 70% of hospital revenue. Scheduling is not just a matter of setting up as many procedures as possible. A scheduler must balance the long term well-being of the practice with day-to-day profit maximizing. A great surgery scheduler can be your biggest asset if they combine communication and special knowledge under pressure to achieve this.

Surgery Scheduler Communication

Surgery schedulers are at the nexus of a well-run surgical practice. Schedulers communicate with surgical facility staff, office staff, supply chain managers, surgeons, physician extenders, anesthesiologists, and administration. They are expected to deliver and obtain accurate information, set expectations, and remain calm amid changes.

Surgeon Schedules

The first communication hurdle is working the surgery into the surgeon’s schedule. ASCs, especially, have to constantly interface with referring physician offices. Surgeon’s often negotiate for protected OR time. Along with simple availability, critical information to communicate includes special equipment needed, special risks or complications, anatomical site of surgery, anesthesia requirements, and staffing needs. Based on their insight and available resources, the scheduler has to maximize the surgeons limited OR time, and optimize case sequences. Access to historical scheduling data may help them, as research shows that surgeons chronically underestimate total surgery time. As schedulers formalize surgical plans, the insurance authorization process begins.

Managing resources to maximize a surgeon’s throughput can be a daunting challenge. Otherwise-competent schedulers may be overwhelmed by the chaos of manual or paper processes often involved in coordination of the many associated parties. When surgery schedulers rely on paper posting sheets from surgeons, important notes may be handwritten on paper patient information forms that must be incorporated into the surgery request. A lack of visibility surrounding each surgical cases requirements can make it extremely difficult to optimize surgery scheduling. Understanding the impact of each surgeon’s requirements on total surgery time ultimately requires countless phone calls to double check information and communicate changes.

For years, software has been a solution, but now it’s even better because it exists as a real time interface that can wrangle all of the paper processes and information conveyed by email, text, phone, or fax.

Patient Communication

Finally, there are the patient communication challenges. Consider the routine points of contact with the patient as described by Washington Orthopedic, an ASC.

  • Step 1: A referring physician or patient makes an appointment with the ASC.
  • Step 2: If surgery is the best treatment option, they are directed to a scheduler.
  • Step 3: Another scheduler contacts the patient's insurance company and reviews this information with the patient.
  • Step 4: A scheduler will start the authorization process.
  • Step 5: A scheduler will contact the patient to review their medical history and confirm their place in the schedule.
  • Step 6: Patient will undergo preoperative teaching, either in person or on the phone.
  • Step 7: A scheduler contacts the patient the business day prior to notifying them of what time to arrive at the ASC.

CaseCTRL’s surgery scheduling software allows schedulers to automate text, email, and phone reminders to patients and keeps track of receipts of that information. The incidence of no-shows can be greatly reduced with these practices. Patients can be flagged in the schedule if they are not responsive.

And after all of that communication, schedulers still deal with patient no-shows, surgery time overruns, and misplaced equipment that all costs money and stress. What makes a scheduler unique is that they maintain composure and awareness when the schedule begins to go off track. Software can help them deliver their time and energy to where it matters most.

Surgery Scheduler Knowledge

Competent surgery schedulers take time to fit into a practice. Block scheduling, which is at least part of most scheduling frameworks, requires that the scheduler understand procedures and risks of delay with each patient. It also introduces a political element between the competing needs of the surgeons and surgical facilities that a scheduler must tactfully manage.

Block scheduling became popular because it affords surgeons a predictable schedule and autonomy in managing their caseload. Administrators of surgical facilities, on the other hand, push their OR to maintain utilization rates near the American Hospital Association standard of 75%. Push rates too high, and it leaves no flexibility for cases that have unforeseen complications, causes over-time and burnout; leave rates too low, and some surgeons who are performing higher may have to backlog patients, while other blocks of time go unused. The scheduler has to be aware that certain cases and specialties have longer surgery times and greater variability and unpredictability in requirements. This insider knowledge is critical for schedulers to master optimal surgery scheduling. Equally important, they have to learn the personal preferences of each surgeon: sequencing, equipment, staffing, etc., that impact the variability in the case sequence

Here is how surgery scheduling software can allow schedulers to amplify the impact of their knowledge:

  • Give surgeons more access to the schedule and remote interaction with the scheduler.
  • Store physician preferences for easy recall and referencing
  • Auto-message all parties any changes
  • Share data that makes surgeons aware of their utilization rates and the accuracy of their estimates
  • Gain the ability to pinpoint what may be increasing turnover time and anticipate scheduling conflicts

Block scheduling is not a perfect system because there are too many variables in each surgery and in the time that passes. For that reason, most ORs have “open time,” which is created for surgeons to catch up or fit in emergent cases each week. This open time becomes another responsibility for the scheduler to manage. Manual processes meant that more assertive or organized schedulers could get more surgeries scheduled or that other offices were too slow to fill the time at all. Surgery scheduling software allows the scheduler to set guidelines for when blocks will be released if unfilled and maintain a fair, predictable online procedure for filling open time. Teams can also notify peer surgeons of openings and opportunities to do more surgery, which benefits the practice as a whole.

Surgery schedulers are an irreplaceable talent for an OR: their ability to communicate accurately and apply knowledge under pressure takes years of experience. Eliminating manual processes is the best way to let them work more happily and more effectively. Their finite energy can be applied to growing your practice rather than just fighting against the tide of inefficiency. Learn more about the ways that software can amplify your schedulers’ talents here.

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