With over 10 years of experience helping hundreds of surgical practices improve their scheduling workflow, maximize revenue and enhance patient experience, we’ve learned many of the best efficiency tricks of the trade, and are thrilled to share our findings with you. Read on for the top 10 ways you can improve your surgical scheduling.
Tip #1: Create a Unified Workflow
Every practice has its own process for scheduling patients for surgery. In some cases, the patient goes straight from the surgical consult to the scheduler while in others the scheduler makes a follow-up phone call to the patient the next day. In your practice, perhaps the surgeon is the one who kicks off the scheduling process or maybe it falls to the MA or PA.
Regardless of what the process is (although some techniques are better than others, as we discuss below), it is important that everyone in the practice knows and follows the exact same steps each and every time surgery is scheduled. A unified workflow means clear staff expectations where everyone knows exactly what is required of them, and any temporary replacement or new staff member will easily be able to slip into the role. In such an efficient environment, patients benefit too as they can easily be informed about what to expect along the way.
Tip #2: Automate Form Generation
Stacks of paper forms that need to be filled out manually went out the window some time ago. If you haven’t already, it’s time to catch up with the times and go digital. We can’t make the paperwork involved with scheduling surgery disappear, but we can make it much simpler and less error-prone.
If you are currently low-tech, you could start out slow and type into PDFs, utilize mail merges or your EHR to complete some of the necessary forms – if this option is available. Alternatively, try out a dedicated surgical scheduling system like Surgimate which can generate all customized forms with just a few clicks. You’ll save so much time that you’ll never turn back.
Tip #3: Provide Patients with Customized Information About Their Surgery
Patients can feel overwhelmed when they learn that they need to have surgery. While your team is well versed in what’s going to happen and what the patient will have to undergo, your patient is hearing this information for the first time. Rather than bombard them with a whole bunch of information and expect them to absorb it in the moment, it will put them at ease if you offer a fully customized letter containing all the information they need including pre-op instructions and a checklist of things they need to do and/or bring with them. This is especially important in current times when hospitals have many Covid-related protocols that patients need to be aware of.
In addition to giving your patients much needed peace-of-mind before surgery, you’ll also reduce the amount of clarifying phone calls needed and eliminate the risk of miscommunications. 93% of patients reported that a letter of this nature helped them understand and recall the information provided, with the knock-on effect of reducing cancellations too.
Tip #4: Use a Digital Checklist to Track Items Leading Up to Surgery
Your staff probably know all the steps involved in scheduling a surgery like the back of their hand. Get insurance authorization, confirm the date with the hospital, order equipment, complete any medical clearances and pre-surgery testing, communicate with the patient, and on and on. But when there are so many steps involved and things may differ based on the procedure, it’s easy for something to fall between the cracks. Implementing a digital checklist means having one place – accessible from anywhere – to keep track of each step and whether or not its been completed.
You can create a digital checklist in Excel or Google or you can use Surgimate’s dedicated surgical scheduling checklist, that can be customized based on procedure type and you’ll be sure to never miss a step.
Tip #5: Create Templates / Surgeon Preference Cards per Procedure
There’s no need to reinvent the wheel each time a new surgery is scheduled. Especially when your surgeons specialize in a certain area and are likely to be performing the same procedures over and over. Your staff know that for each surgery they will need to select the facility to schedule (i.e. an ASC or hospital), what CPT & ICD-10 codes to use, what equipment is needed, and the case length.
If you create a template with this information for each type of surgery, taking into account each surgeons’ preferences, you’ll reap the following benefits:
- Greater accuracy
- An expedited and more efficient process
- Uniformity across the practice
- Streamlined coding process, ensuring that the correct codes are used to optimize reimbursements.
You can create manual templates using index cards, but you’ll still need to input the information each time. Even better would be to create a digital template stored in a shared folder that all relevant staff can access. The most efficient option is Surgimate’s feature that allows you to store surgeon-specific templates that will then auto-populate when applied to a specific surgery.
Tip #6: Have a Cohesive System for Surgeons to Submit Codes Post-Surgery
At the end of the day, your surgical practice is a business that needs to earn money and reimbursements play a hefty role in this. In order for the billing department to submit codes to the insurance companies for reimbursement, they have to receive accurate and timely information from the surgeon post-surgery. Yet this is something that frequently goes wrong, causing payment delays.
The best way to avoid this is to implement a defined process that all surgeons know they must follow within a certain time frame after each surgery. Many practices still use outdated methods of capturing codes including index cards or paper checklists that have to be physically brought back to the office. Not only are these methods inefficient, but they are also not necessarily HIPAA compliant and can easily get lost, resulting in significant revenue loss.
If the surgeons in your practice are old school and want to work manually, that’s ok as long as you ensure that the process is managed carefully. However, we recommend going digital – whether it’s through your EHR or Surgimate’s app that is designed specially to automate the process of confirming codes post-surgery. Surgimate’s HIPAA-compliant app means processing reimbursements faster and with much less room for error.
Tip #7: Ensure that Billing Takes Place Once Codes are Submitted
Don’t stop with tip #6 because that is only the first step of the billing process. The billing department also needs a process in place to ensure that they can easily access the coding information shared by the surgeons and then categorize the surgeries by date, insurance company, etc. for submission. In this way, they can work through the codes systematically and not let anything that may lead to billing errors fall through the cracks.
Such a process is especially crucial when it comes to time-sensitive codes that will only be reimbursed if submitted within a certain time frame. Having safeguards in place will make sure that all revenue is captured.
Tip #8: Create a Central Repository for All Surgery-Related Information
In today’s cloud-based world, there is no reason why all relevant information about surgeries shouldn’t be accessible from anywhere. A central repository means that any relevant staff can access the information they need from anywhere at any time. This is important if your practice has multiple locations and surgeons bounce from place to place or if scheduling, insurance and billing staff are all in different locations. It may be especially relevant today when the Covid-reality means staff is working remotely.
All communication around each surgery should be stored in this system so any user can access at any time and know the status of each surgery. Of course, since PHI is involved, all information has to be secure and HIPAA compliant, so access will need to be protected.
Tip #9: Provide Surgeons HIPAA-Compliant Access to their Surgery Schedules on-the-go
Just seeing the initials HIPAA is enough to send some surgeons and schedulers into a panic, but the truth is that being HIPAA-compliant does not have to be complicated. Despite the fact that it’s 2021, there are still many practices out there using paper calendars or printing off schedules for the surgeons to take to the OR. We are not naming and shaming, but even if you’ve moved past paper and are typing case details into Outlook or Google Calendar, you’ve still got room to improve.
A busy surgeon is not always in the same location and needs to know on the go whether there have been any changes to their schedule. Your schedulers may need to manually update calendars for 3 or 4 surgeons at once – imagine how much time is wasted doing this manually, and how many potential mistakes could be made. Surgimate’s Calendar syncs with the app that is fully HIPAA-compliant and keeps all surgeons’ schedules in one place so that anyone in the practice can access it – in the office or remotely – keeping everyone in the loop in real-time.
Tip #10: Easy Access to Surgical Data for Reporting Purposes
Like most practices, you probably need to take stock frequently to see where the business is headed. Data like the number of surgeries performed, facilities where surgeries are performed, number of surgeries per surgeon, number of and reasons for cancellations, and number of surgeries that have been recommended but not yet scheduled is critical to understand where the business stands and being able to make informed decisions.
Some EHR & PM platforms offer reporting capabilities that can provide some of the items mentioned above. But digging deeper and ascertaining more information about surgeries may be more challenging. Given that surgeries usually account for ~40% of a practice’s revenue, it’s critical that managers have access to the data they need.
Rather than scrambling to find this data when it comes time to analyze or report on it, reports like those listed above (and many more) can be run on-demand from Surgimate. Since Surgimate captures and stores so many data points around surgery, reports can be configured to any number of filters or parameters depending on your requirements. All of the data is at your fingertips.
The Ball is in Your Court…
We’ve laid it all out for you, but don’t feel overwhelmed and like you have to change all of your processes all at once. Just choose your favorite tips (or highest priorities!) and start there. Then you can implement and sit back and watch your efficiency soar!