Empower Surgeons To Increase Case Volume And OR Efficiency

Post written by

Rich Krueger

CEO, Hospital IQ, a leading provider of hospital operations management software solutions that drive enterprise-wide operational efficiency.

The surgical suite is one of the more expensive departments in a hospital. It’s also the most lucrative. A recent report by Frost & Sullivan found operating rooms (ORs) account for nearly 60% of a hospital’s revenue. Given this, it’s no surprise hospital administrators have prioritized surgical volume and OR efficiency as a means to drive profitability in today’s era of razor-thin hospital margins.

In the OR, time is money. Depending on the procedure, a minute of OR time can cost $22-$133. As a majority of these costs are fixed, each additional case performed during primetime results in an incremental margin improvement. That is why the primary measures of OR efficiency are surgical volume and utilization. Are there enough rooms and staff available to fully meet surgical demand without leaving ORs sitting empty and unused? Are our surgeons able to access available OR time when they need it? It’s a delicate balance that depends on a complex set of variables, including OR block allocation, patient access, surgeon schedules and preferences, procedure duration, turnover times, hospital policies and staff schedules.

Given the revenue at stake, it’s surprising many hospitals still rely on manual methods like Excel spreadsheets, canned reports and surgeon input to manage the surgical suite. These methods are cumbersome and lack real-time accuracy. Scheduling inefficiencies and underutilized block time result in empty ORs, cancellations, delays and overruns. Surgical delays alone, which average 28 minutes per case according to the Journal of Patient-Centered Research and Reviews, add up to thousands of dollars lost daily. Surgical overruns result in resource constraints, high overtime costs and staff dissatisfaction.

Some perioperative leaders are using technology to improve operational tasks that affect utilization and efficiency, including:

  • Workflow Management: Improved visibility regarding the many steps in a patient’s journey, from pre-op and PACU to discharge or admission, can allow staff member to better manage each case, as well as identify and mitigate bottlenecks.
  • First Case On-Time Starts: Perioperative leaders monitor and track compliance to the first case start time to avoid a domino effect, where a delay in the first case affects all subsequent cases.
  • Room Turnover Times: Hospitals are benchmarking turnover times against other organizations and putting in place new best practices to ensure a more efficient turnover process.

Others are using the availability of data and new technologies, such as advanced analytics and artificial intelligence, to increasing a surgeon’s access to available operating rooms. Advanced analytics tools employ machine learning to analyze the patterns and preferences of surgeons and recommend block time that will likely go unused weeks in advance, allowing surgeons (and their administrators) to find new cases to fill the time. This type of pattern recognition is similar to smartphones learning our daily patterns. My phone has learned that every weekday, I get into my car around the same time and travel to the same location using the same route. Based on that and other external data, such as traffic, accidents and speed limits, my phone provides predictions of how long it will take to get to work.

These tools put more control in the hands of surgeons and their staff, who must balance not only OR time, but also clinical consults, pre- and post-op appointments, meetings and conferences. Surgeons can make adjustments to their OR schedules as plans change. The information is made available in real time to either their service or the entire surgical community. Hidden OR time is easily identified and made available while eliminating the manual back and forth with the scheduling department.

Other industries have employed predictive capabilities to increase access to and optimize the use of expiring assets. For example, travel search engines often provide travelers with available flights that would have gone unused otherwise. Engaging surgeons through data gives them more options to adjust and schedule OR time, helping hospitals capture hundreds of hours of OR time per month that would have otherwise been wasted.

There are a few basic steps to help secure success when it comes to ensuring predictive analytics can take a proactive place within a health system environment. These include getting C-suite buy-in and consensus at the start of the project, especially in regard to strategic areas where the organization must see improvement through an analytics platform. It's also important to align your platform with your organization’s daily activity to ensure widespread adoption so staff members aren’t required to completely reinvent processes and protocols to which they’re accustomed. In addition, you must continue to show the impact of your platform when it comes to your desired KPIs.

If an organization can’t get organized on these basic steps, it may be premature for it to invest in a predictive analytics platform since success may prove more challenging to achieve.

The pressure on U.S. hospitals to reduce costs and deliver profit in an age of declining reimbursements is only expected to increase. Unused OR time is a wasted opportunity that hospitals can’t afford. Operations planning and management platforms, like those used in other industries, can apply system-specific policies, machine learning and optimization algorithms to hospital OR data to simplify the process of growing volume, improving performance and throughput.

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The surgical suite is one of the more expensive departments in a hospital. It’s also the most lucrative. A recent report by Frost & Sullivan found operating rooms (ORs) account for nearly 60% of a hospital’s revenue. Given this, it’s no surprise hospital administrators have prioritized surgical volume and OR efficiency as a means to drive profitability in today’s era of razor-thin hospital margins.

In the OR, time is money. Depending on the procedure, a minute of OR time can cost $22-$133. As a majority of these costs are fixed, each additional case performed during primetime results in an incremental margin improvement. That is why the primary measures of OR efficiency are surgical volume and utilization. Are there enough rooms and staff available to fully meet surgical demand without leaving ORs sitting empty and unused? Are our surgeons able to access available OR time when they need it? It’s a delicate balance that depends on a complex set of variables, including OR block allocation, patient access, surgeon schedules and preferences, procedure duration, turnover times, hospital policies and staff schedules.

Given the revenue at stake, it’s surprising many hospitals still rely on manual methods like Excel spreadsheets, canned reports and surgeon input to manage the surgical suite. These methods are cumbersome and lack real-time accuracy. Scheduling inefficiencies and underutilized block time result in empty ORs, cancellations, delays and overruns. Surgical delays alone, which average 28 minutes per case according to the Journal of Patient-Centered Research and Reviews, add up to thousands of dollars lost daily. Surgical overruns result in resource constraints, high overtime costs and staff dissatisfaction.

Some perioperative leaders are using technology to improve operational tasks that affect utilization and efficiency, including:

  • Workflow Management: Improved visibility regarding the many steps in a patient’s journey, from pre-op and PACU to discharge or admission, can allow staff member to better manage each case, as well as identify and mitigate bottlenecks.
  • First Case On-Time Starts: Perioperative leaders monitor and track compliance to the first case start time to avoid a domino effect, where a delay in the first case affects all subsequent cases.
  • Room Turnover Times: Hospitals are benchmarking turnover times against other organizations and putting in place new best practices to ensure a more efficient turnover process.

Others are using the availability of data and new technologies, such as advanced analytics and artificial intelligence, to increasing a surgeon’s access to available operating rooms. Advanced analytics tools employ machine learning to analyze the patterns and preferences of surgeons and recommend block time that will likely go unused weeks in advance, allowing surgeons (and their administrators) to find new cases to fill the time. This type of pattern recognition is similar to smartphones learning our daily patterns. My phone has learned that every weekday, I get into my car around the same time and travel to the same location using the same route. Based on that and other external data, such as traffic, accidents and speed limits, my phone provides predictions of how long it will take to get to work.

These tools put more control in the hands of surgeons and their staff, who must balance not only OR time, but also clinical consults, pre- and post-op appointments, meetings and conferences. Surgeons can make adjustments to their OR schedules as plans change. The information is made available in real time to either their service or the entire surgical community. Hidden OR time is easily identified and made available while eliminating the manual back and forth with the scheduling department.

Other industries have employed predictive capabilities to increase access to and optimize the use of expiring assets. For example, travel search engines often provide travelers with available flights that would have gone unused otherwise. Engaging surgeons through data gives them more options to adjust and schedule OR time, helping hospitals capture hundreds of hours of OR time per month that would have otherwise been wasted.

There are a few basic steps to help secure success when it comes to ensuring predictive analytics can take a proactive place within a health system environment. These include getting C-suite buy-in and consensus at the start of the project, especially in regard to strategic areas where the organization must see improvement through an analytics platform. It's also important to align your platform with your organization’s daily activity to ensure widespread adoption so staff members aren’t required to completely reinvent processes and protocols to which they’re accustomed. In addition, you must continue to show the impact of your platform when it comes to your desired KPIs.

If an organization can’t get organized on these basic steps, it may be premature for it to invest in a predictive analytics platform since success may prove more challenging to achieve.

The pressure on U.S. hospitals to reduce costs and deliver profit in an age of declining reimbursements is only expected to increase. Unused OR time is a wasted opportunity that hospitals can’t afford. Operations planning and management platforms, like those used in other industries, can apply system-specific policies, machine learning and optimization algorithms to hospital OR data to simplify the process of growing volume, improving performance and throughput.

Forbes Technology Council is an invitation-only community for world-class CIOs, CTOs and technology executives. Do I qualify?

CEO, Hospital IQ, a leading provider of hospital operations management software solutions that drive enterprise-wide operational efficiency....