It may be considered just another niche in the ‘back-office’, but the stakes are high in the surgical scheduling department. If you think about it, this is the team that is ultimately responsible for managing your surgeons’ schedules and ensuring their block time in the OR is maximized. Scheduling affects your bottom line.
When the surgical scheduling workflow is streamlined and optimized, there are many benefits that extend beyond completing forms electronically and synchronizing calendars. With the right tools and processes in place, cancellations can be prevented, last-minute cancelled slots easily filled, and surgical volume increased – all contributing to growing your practice’s bottom line.
Let’s explore each of these in more depth.
How to Prevent Surgical Cancellations
You only need to experience a surgeon’s reaction to a last-minute cancellation once in order to understand the ramifications. All surgeons want to get the most out of their block time, so every minute in the OR is valuable to them.
Cancelled surgeries are a significant loss to the practice, not only in wasted surgeon block time but also in the time spent coordinating the details. The majority of cancellations can be attributed to missed clearances and NPO violations, and these are two problems that can definitely be avoided with the right tools.
Let’s talk about clearances first.
An electronic checklist is the most effective way to manage the pre-surgery process. Schedulers can determine all the items they will need in order to complete the surgical booking, and then track the progress of the surgery. This can include insurance authorizations, x-rays, MRIs, medical clearances, and so on. Obviously not all items will be relevant to each case, but the scheduler can indicate which items will be needed per case. They can then run a report and view all of their upcoming surgeries, and easily identify if any clearances are outstanding or if there are other items that require immediate attention in order to get the surgery finalized.
As far as NPO violations are concerned, this is something that can easily be prevented through effective communication with the patient. The patient needs to know exactly what they can and cannot do before and on the day of their surgery. Whether this means stopping a certain medication they are taking, or not eating after midnight the night before surgery (if that’s what the prescribed form of anesthesia requires), providing the patient with clear and customized pre-op instructions is the best method.
Most often, practices provide a generic page of pre-op instructions, but it’s usually a very long list and many of the items aren’t relevant to every patient. Patients end up skimming the document or missing important snippets. That’s why providing patients only with the information that is applicable to them and their surgery is pivotal. So, if they’re on Coumadin, it should be written explicitly that they should stop taking the drug on the specific date seven days prior to surgery – or whatever their requirements are. Needless to say, all the information should be typed up and laid out neatly with headings so it’s easy to follow.
This patient letter / instruction sheet can be printed and given to them while they are in the office during their surgery scheduling session, or mailed/e-mailed to them at a later date. The patient will then have all their personalized pre-surgery information, and can refer to it at any time.
Filling cancelled surgical slots
Unlike the scenarios mentioned above, schedulers have little control over when patients will call in to cancel their surgery due to illness or other unforeseen circumstances. But they do have the responsibility to fill the cancelled slot in the schedule. If the slot is not filled, the surgeon may still need to pay for his block time in the OR or risk having it reduced in the future. The challenge for schedulers is to quickly find another authorized surgical candidate in time. Schedulers who have had the misfortune of leaving redundant gaps in their surgeons’ schedule know exactly what I’m talking about!
Maintaining a real-time list of surgical candidates who are ready to “move up” in the schedule is the best way to prepare for this situation. If someone is ready to “move up”, this means that all of their authorizations and clearances for surgery have been fulfilled, and they are eager to fill a cancelled slot – should one become available.
Schedulers should always be sure to ask patients if they want to be put on the waiting list / move -up list so they can keep enough candidates on standby for when they need them.
Utilizing these candidates means last-minute openings will be filled, and the surgeons’ paid block time will be maximized. This will also keep the surgeons happy – which means everyone in the office will be in good spirits!
Increasing surgical volume
A patient who needs surgery but is undecided about timing is a dormant revenue source for your practice. We’re all familiar with the classic “don’t call us, we’ll call you” case of a patient who says they’ll call to schedule (or reschedule) their surgery, but never follows through. Or, there are those candidates who were scheduled for a surgery, but for whatever reason, were denied insurance or Workers Comp authorization. If your staff want to ensure that these surgical candidates schedule (or reschedule) their surgery, active follow-up is vital.
When each surgical case is assigned a status and all of their surgical data is stored electronically, the process for follow-up is straightforward and effective. Staff can easily run a report with an up-to-date list of surgical candidates who have not yet scheduled surgeries, along with the associated reasons. They can then instantly identify suitable candidates to contact and schedule a time for surgery. This is particularly effective when the patient has expressed that they want to be contacted within a certain time-frame.
Schedulers play a key role in determining the practice’s bottom line. Having the right tools and processes in place for the scheduling department can have a significant impact on the financial interests of your practice. When scheduling is streamlined and automated, it means schedulers spend less time on paperwork, and more time on follow-up with patients. And the upshot is clear: the more surgeries that are scheduled and performed, and the less cancellations, the more revenue for your practice.
Take a peek at Surgimate’s platform to see the tools we’ve implemented at practices to optimize the scheduling workflow and the follow-up process.