Print film cameras. Dial-up internet. Floppy disks. Dot-matrix printers. Walkmans. Discmans! None of these technologies broke; we stopped using them because they were replaced by faster, better alternatives.
The same goes for paper-based and ‘workaround’ surgical scheduling. Wall calendars, hand-written forms, paper books, sticky notes and a hodge-podge of spreadsheets, docs and PDFs. They still work per se, but there are smarter technologies available today.
We have worked with hundreds of surgical practices of all specialties and sizes across the country. We found that practices approach surgical scheduling in one of three ways: the traditional approach, the hybrid approach, and the automated approach.
Traditional surgical scheduling
When using the traditional approach, surgical scheduling is a manual and labor intensive process. Forms and paperwork are completed by hand or repeatedly typed into a computer template. Calendars are filled-in manually, often in multiple locations – paper book, surgeon’s personal calendar, whiteboard, and so on – and each calendar needs to be updated every time there’s a change or even a minor modification. Organized chaos, at best.
Multiple paper folders are maintained to manage different categories of surgeries, e.g. ‘Insurance needing verification’, ‘On hold’, or ‘To be posted’. Finding a specific record means manually shuffling through all the records in any given folder. Very few tasks, if any, in this workflow are automated. Traditional scheduling is time-consuming, error-prone and inefficient, and it doesn’t scale with growing surgical volume. In short, it’s broken.
The hybrid surgical scheduling approach
The hybrid approach uses a combination of technologies to process surgery. This may include EHR systems, PM or programs like Microsoft Outlook, PDF Writer, Google Calendar and Google Docs. While this approach is more effective than the purely paper-based method, the systems mentioned were never designed for surgical scheduling – and this has significant ramifications.
For example, some EHR solutions may generate forms using pre-designed templates, but these templates are limited in design and any modification or addition of a new form can be costly and take time to implement. Additionally, practice management calendars are primarily designed for in-office scheduling and cannot manage the complexities of a surgical schedule.
And yes, some EMR and PM systems can perform some of the tasks associated with surgical scheduling. But remember, they were designed to store patients’ clinical and demographic data, and as such, they only provide a partial solution.
You can probably see where this is going…
Automated surgical scheduling
Automated scheduling is today’s broadband to yesterday’s dial-up. It’s the only approach designed to address the needs of everyone involved in the surgical scheduling cycle – surgeons, surgical schedulers, insurance and billing staff, and practice managers.
From the moment surgery is recommended to a patient, a new record is created to manage the life-cycle of that case. Once the data is saved in the patient’s surgical record, the information can be outputted anywhere – paperwork, calendars, or reports. With the click of a button, all forms are auto-populated with the patient’s demographic and insurance information. After the block time in the electronic calendar is filled with the surgical data, the calendar becomes accessible to any authorized staff member from any location, and is synched with the surgeon’s smartphone.
With an automated system, insurance staff can easily track the progress of precertifications using electronic checklists and alerts; practice managers can run reports to analyze booking success and track surgical volume and revenue over time.
Automated scheduling has a huge upside for your business. Faster booking means the same number of staff can book more surgeries, so you can add another surgeon to your practice without needing to hire extra scheduling staff. What’s more, automated scheduling means staff spend less time on paperwork and more time with the patients – who are, after all, your most important asset.
At the end of the day, you need the right tools to help run and grow your business. And just like so many other processes in your surgical practice are now automated, surgical scheduling should be no different.