How to improve operating room efficiency

February 27, 2023

The operating room (OR) is the epicenter of any surgical facility. Although it is the most expensive resource, it also generates the most revenue. Inefficient use of the OR negatively impacts patients’ health, staff morale, and the facility’s revenue. Surgery cancellations are the primary reason for operating room underutilization. So how can you decrease cancellations and improve operating room efficiency?

To understand what operating room efficiency best practices will work for you, you first have to figure out the main causes of your facility’s surgery cancellations. Based on statistics from numerous sources and our own experience, we know the most widespread reasons.

Why don’t your patients show up for surgery?

Across the board, the main causes of surgery cancellation are:

  • Medical reasons. A patient may have decided to switch to non-operative management, or they may have recovered and no longer need the surgery, or perhaps they have gotten worse and now can’t have the surgery without major health implications.
  • Inadequate patient communication. This may entail poor communication with patients about pre-operative measures, the surgery process, or costs. Patients who aren’t clear on the steps before, during, and after surgery can forget to submit crucial documentation (e.g. lab tests) or, worse, lose confidence in the facility, cancel the operation, and seek care elsewhere. 
  • Booking issues. A facility can be overbooked, or there can be incorrect bookings caused by system errors or miscommunication in the facility.
  • Personal and financial reasons may block patients from having surgery on the intended day.

What is operating room efficiency?

Operating room efficiency is a term that describes the time and effort necessary to conduct a surgical procedure. 

Facilities with a high OR efficiency are able to successfully perform high-quality surgeries with minimal waste, effort, and cost. 

Steps to improve your OR efficiency

The cost of an operating room varies depending on multiple factors: facility location, procedure type, surgery complexity, and equipment and staff required. This is why the cost can range from a few hundred to several thousand dollars per hour. A study by JAMA Surgery used financial data from California’s short-term general and specialty hospitals in 2014 and determined that the average cost of OR time was $36 to $37 per minute. Knowing the approximate cost of OR time, you can realize how expensive every delay, error, and cancellation is.

There are many obstacles that may stop your surgical processes from going smoothly from A to Z. However, operating room inefficiencies (which many surgical facilities struggle with) are the root cause. Let’s discuss how your facility can start improving OR efficiency.

Simplify your surgery scheduling process

Operating room inefficiency often begins with an inefficient surgery scheduling process. Many ambulatory surgery centers (ASCs) continue using outdated methods like phone, fax, email, and paper to book surgeries, communicate with patients and physicians, coordinate information, and track updates right up to the day of surgery.

Coordinating over 70 unique pieces of information from multiple sources using these methods is labor-intensive, error-prone, and time-consuming. That’s why many ASCs feel the need to keep hiring more staff to handle scheduling. 

To simplify the surgery booking process and improve your operating room efficiency metrics, consider using surgical scheduling software. Not only does it enable faster scheduling; it also enables facilities to identify potential gaps before surgery, such as missing patient data, staff, or equipment; or insufficient time blocks for the surgical case. By noticing these issues early on, you have more time to fix them and keep OR efficiency high. 

Furthermore, surgical scheduling software allows you to make and see updates in real time, giving a clear picture of surgery statuses to staff, administrators, and surgeons. 

Centralize communication with all parties

Inadequate communication with patients is one of the main reasons for surgery cancellations. Ensuring that your patients are properly informed about the surgery process, costs, and preparation requirements is a critical step in improving operating room efficiency. 

To go through with a surgery successfully, you not only have to inform patients about pre-operative measures in advance but also need to have a system in place to regularly remind them about these measures. Otherwise, even if your OR schedules and equipment are perfectly organized and your staff are ready to go, the surgery can fall through if the patient shows up unprepared.

Surgical scheduling software can help with communication and reminders. First, thanks to the visibility that scheduling software provides, you’ll be able to see whether all questionnaires have been answered by the patient, whether all required information and documents have been added, and whether all necessary tests have been completed. You can make sure that the patient remembers all pre-operative measures, the time and date of the operation, and what paperwork they must submit through automated reminders to the channel of their choice.

Surgical scheduling platforms like PreferredMD provide chats among all parties (physician, patient, and facility) in every surgical case. Hence, you’re able to chat with a patient, check the discussion history, and see if anything was changed all within one tab.

Another crucial aspect in improving OR efficiency is clear communication among staff. Searching through emails and texts and calling or chasing down people to clarify information is time-consuming and messy. This chaotic communication leaves lots of room for mistakes. Even one piece of unreviewed or missing information can cause surgery delays and cancellations.

By using a platform that centralizes communication, you can significantly reduce mistakes and misunderstandings. Everyone will be able to see updates instantly and know exactly to which surgical case an update applies, since a chat is attached to each case with all of the details (including a patient’s demographics and documentation).

Prevent equipment issues 

Surgeons performing operations need the best equipment for this task. So you need to ensure that it’s always the case. Damaged, lost, or unavailable equipment hampers operating room efficiency, resulting in delays or cancellations on the day of an operation. 

And because your staff and surgeons rely on having all equipment and tools working and ready to go, if they aren’t, it can derail the operation and even the staff’s whole day. This causes major frustration for staff (and often creates additional work), as a lack of necessary equipment can obstruct them from performing a procedure safely and efficiently. 

Surgical vendor management can get complicated when you’re running a surgery center. It involves much more than just ordering supplies. You need to track vendor performance and ensure secure, smooth communication.

Surgery management software helps ambulatory surgery centers avoid issues with equipment too. It allows staff and surgeons to document all required equipment for every surgical case and report missing or damaged equipment so it can be delivered, fixed, or replaced promptly.

The right surgery management software can also put a stop to all the back-and-forth with vendors by letting you connect vendors to surgical cases immediately after a surgery is booked. You can request the necessary equipment right away and notify vendors about the order by linking them to booking sheets with supply requests directly from surgeons. 

Full-suite software options allow ASCs to automate, identify, track, and manage vendor processes, making sure that equipment is always available on time. Also, look out for software that has built-in chats for surgeons and vendors. They always come in handy.

Improve operating room efficiency with PreferredMD

Every ambulatory surgery center faces various operating room inefficiencies. To boost OR efficiency, start by making your communication with patients and staff transparent and easy to follow, get a good grip on your vendor management, and invest in a robust but flexible instrument for surgery booking.

You can address all of these aspects with surgery management software, reducing surgery cancellations and delays and providing your schedulers, surgeons, administrators, and other staff with a set of tools for smooth cooperation. 

There are a lot of software options out there, but we would like to make the case for PreferredMD.

#1 PreferredMD was not created by a group of businesspeople in an office but by an anesthesiologist with over a decade of experience and deep knowledge of all the issues ASCs struggle with.

#2 PreferredMD has all of the tools an ASC might need:

  • Simple yet dynamic booking forms that can be edited by surgeons and facilities
  • Embedded chats for every surgical case to ensure that surgical coordinators, nurses, and anesthesiologists are on the same page
  • Real-time notifications so you won’t miss updates
  • Tracking for all your licenses, credentials, and other documentation
  • Edit history access that keeps the surgery scheduling process fully transparent

You can check out all the other features here.

#3 PreferredMD is HIPAA-compliant and secure, ensuring the safety and confidentiality of both you and your patients.

#4 We want our customers to make an informed decision when adopting PreferredMD for their ASC. That’s why we offer demo video calls where you can see the inside of the platform with your own eyes and evaluate how helpful it will be for your practice.

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