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Surgimate’s COVID-19 response: Surgimate is committed to supporting its clients’ needs through providing a cloud-based platform that supports remote scheduling. Surgimate also added new functionality to prioritize the backlog of surgeries & expedite the rescheduling process.

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The Case for Centralized Scheduling
Justin Rockman | November 18, 2020

Everyone loves one-on-one attention, but with surgical scheduling, having a dedicated scheduler for each case is not necessarily the best way to navigate the system. That’s because the surgical scheduling process can be best described as… a juggling act, with schedulers constantly having to keep each part of the process moving forward.

 

Surgery scheduling is literally like a juggling act

 

There are just so many things that have to happen simultaneously in the run-up to surgery. There’s benefits checks, precerts, clearances, date confirmations/finalizations, equipment orders and so on. If there are only one or two surgeons, it can be hard but manageable. Once the practice scales up, things get more complicated.

 

The good news is there’s a way of breaking that process down so no one’s juggling a million tasks at once. Called centralized scheduling, it turns scheduling from an individual Sysiphian task to a manageable team effort in which each scheduler covers a different part of the workflow.

 

Advantages of a Centralized Setup

 

There are some clear advantages of a centralized setup: 

 

One Uniform & Streamlined Workflow

 

Each individual in an office brings their unique flare to the mix. It’s what makes having co-workers such a pleasure… But leaving surgery scheduling to each individual to figure out and manage their own path is risky. In theory, taking an individual approach to scheduling can work well, but it means each scheduler needs to remember each step of their scheduling process and be on top of their workflow. Added to that, the scheduler would need to promise to never be sick, take a vacation day or leave the company. Unlikely, right? 

 

Even more worrisome with COVID-19

 

Without a set process in place, it’s harder for others to know what steps have been completed and even where to find information. This can lead to logistical hiccups, repeated work and potential conflicts. 

 

This situation is eliminated in a centralized process because everyone follows the exact same workflow and any staff member can interchange with another without hassle. 

 

Efficiency

 

In a “killing two birds with one stone” sort of way (even though we’re all for animal rights!), schedulers can accomplish more in the same time. For instance, using the one-to-one setup, a scheduler might call an insurance company to get one surgery precerted (waiting 30 minutes on hold until they reach the precerter – if they’re lucky). In a centralized setup, one person will still have the pleasure of calling the insurance company (and still wait 30 minutes on hold!) but get five patients precerted in a single call.

 

Reduction in HR Problems

 

Another major problem with schedulers “running their own individual show” is the high turnover rate among schedulers. So, if Dr. Jones is completely reliant on his scheduler, and no-one else knows that scheduler’s process, and the scheduler leaves the practice, that’s a problem. With the centralized setup, there’s no brain drain when someone leaves.

 

In addition, if someone only does a few tasks on the job, it’s so much easier to hire and train a replacement than to have to teach a newcomer (who might not stick around for long anyway) every step of the (complicated) scheduling process. Centralized scheduling is really a “plug n play” system, which makes managing staff easier, especially when there’s a high turnover rate.

 

Reduction in Overtime

 

Another win for the centralized system, from a financial perspective, is that if managed effectively, schedulers are more likely to stick to their work hours, without the need to do overtime. 

 

Overtime = burnt out staff

 

This is because scheduling tasks are distributed between the team rather than being the responsibility of just one person. So different people can step in and complete various tasks in the workflow rather than one person becoming bogged down by a particular case and being stuck at their desk trying to get everything taken care of before an imminent surgery date.

 

Measurability

 

A centralized setup enables managers to assess the effectiveness of the team, see how quickly tasks are completed, share information between staff members and departments, and so on. It also means KPIs can be set, along with incentives and bonuses.

 

Disadvantages of a Centralized System

 

While there are plenty of advantages to a centralized approach, like any system, there are also drawbacks for some users:

 

Patient Care May Suffer 

 

No one wants to go through surgery. It’s a daunting and uncertain process at the best of times. With a centralized setup, there’s a risk patients might feel they are being processed through a factory, and won’t have that personalized care that they crave during this vulnerable time. 

 

The personal touch can go a long way

 

That’s a genuine concern. But a practice can set up their centralized structure in such a way that maintains the personal touch of the one-on-one process. For example, the practice can assign a “front person” who will be the “patient facing” scheduler and main point of contact for the patient. This scheduler’s job is to keep the patient informed of everything and guide them through the process, and be available for all their questions. While this is going on, the rest of the scheduling team does the coordinating of the surgery and everything “behind the scenes,” albeit without ever speaking to the patient. 

 

Ultimately, when implemented properly, centralized scheduling will actually improve patient care as surgeries get processed faster, and all the steps will be more efficient.

 

Needs Close Management

 

There’s no doubt that ensuring a centralized scheduling team is performing effectively requires a lot of management resources. A manager needs to be on top of what’s happening, assign tasks, confirm all items are in place prior to surgery, and oversee the overall effectiveness of the team. There’s no denying this. However, even with additional management manpower needed, using a centralized scheduling system will, without a doubt, provide a greater ROI in the long run.

 

Surgeons Lose their Personal Scheduler (aka their Assistant)

 

Everyone likes having someone taking care of them, and surgeons are no different. Busy people – and surgeons rank very highly in this category – enjoy having a personal secretary who knows the ins and outs of their setup and schedules. 

 

Many doctors depend on their schedulers

 

There’s no doubt the centralized scheduling system sacrifices some of that personalization. But at what price? As Henry Ford said, “to resent efficiency is a mark of inefficiency.” It may be tough for surgeons to lose the one-on-one approach, but at the end of the day, a surgical practice is a business and needs to operate in the most effective fashion. 

 

Implementing a Centralized System 

 

Technology

 

In order to implement centralized scheduling, clinical managers and schedulers need to have one platform where all information around surgeries resides. Such a platform will enable all relevant staff (schedulers, precert, surgeons, managers, billing) to share all surgical information, tasks, and schedules with other team members. 

 

Typically, EHR or PM systems do not suffice in providing the functionality required to manage this process. While they are very robust systems, they are primarily designed to manage clinical data, and not surgical data.

 

Dedicated surgery scheduling platforms like Surgimate PracticeTM are designed to manage the intricacies involved in managing surgeries. These systems empower large practices to scale up their business and implement centralized scheduling effectively. The best surgery scheduling platforms provide full transparency on all items related to surgery, and managers have a reliable 360-degree view of all staff members and their productivity levels.

 

While surgery scheduling platforms won’t make surgeons a cup of coffee and send off their dry cleaning, they can provide surgeons with 24/7 HIPAA-compliant mobile access to their surgery schedules – without having to ask a scheduler to provide it.  

 

Surgeons can stay connected without having to rely on asking staff

 

Surgery scheduling platforms can also keep the surgeon up-to-date with last-minute changes or additions, and enable them to communicate codes back to their scheduling and billing teams in real-time. Talk about Henry Ford-approved efficiency! 

 

Bottom Line: Centralized Scheduling Makes Running a Practice More Like Running a Business

 

Moving away from pre-existing and comfortable processes and systems can be difficult. It takes time and a powerful mindshift to implement something new. Given all its advantages, centralized scheduling is the go-to option to ensure a practice runs like a business. However, it’s impossible to implement this system without the right technology. Adding a dedicated surgery scheduling platform makes moving to centralized scheduling seamless; leaving you with one less ball in the air.

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About the author: Justin is an industry expert in surgery scheduling & coordination. With over 15 years experience in digital health, he has accumulated a comprehensive knowledge and understanding of the intricacies involved in running a successful surgical practice. He has an in-depth knowledge of the workflow and technology issues faced by practices on a daily basis.
Published on November 18, 2020. All rights reserved by the author.
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