When someone requires surgery, most of the time they want to get it over and done with as soon as possible. And it’s not just the patient who doesn’t want to wait around. Surgeons are also keen to get each case taken care of as quickly as possible. So, why are there often surgical wait times of weeks and even months?
Why Surgical Practices Can’t Make Surgery Happen Overnight
While short surgical wait times are a gold standard of the health care system, there’s a very good reason that surgery can’t be scheduled from today to tomorrow. Enter the insurance companies.
Insurance Authorization Woes
Whether we like it or not, the insurance companies have a 14-day window to authorize each surgical procedure. Sometimes that authorization arrives much faster, but sometimes it takes the entire two weeks to get the go-ahead.
It’s clear, then, that scheduling a procedure within a week (or even two) is not practical and likely to frustrate patients. It can also cause unnecessary stress chasing up surgery insurance authorizations. And who wants to do that?
That being said, 14 days is a long time to have to wait for permission for surgery and it’s incredibly frustrating that the process can get held up over paperwork.
No Available Surgeon Slots
At the other end of the spectrum is the patient who can’t get a surgery date for months – because the surgeon is booked out. While it is true that patients often choose their surgeon based on rapport and surgeon-patient communication, one other essential factor guiding that choice is when they’ll be able to go under the knife. If it’s as hard to decrease patient waiting times for surgery as it is to get a table at the hottest restaurant in town, it’s likely they’ll go to another surgeon who can fix what ails them sometime this century.
5 Ways to Reduce Patient Wait Times for Surgical Procedures
To prevent the surgical wait times from getting too backed up, here are our top surgery wait time management strategies. Discover how to achieve the sweet spot of the “good things come to those who wait” type of waitlist time that everyone can agree is acceptable, including:
- schedulers, and even
- insurance companies.
1. Centralize your Scheduling Setup
It’s already the 21st century, but there are still so many practices operating like it’s 1999. Setting up a centralized scheduling setup gets rid of so much of the minutiae involved in scheduling surgery. And it also hits it out of the ballpark in terms of efficiency.
It’s difficult to keep on top of everything needed for each procedure, for instance:
- the endless calls to the insurance company, and so on.
A centralized surgery scheduling setup minimizes the time involved in each of these steps. Multiple patients can get precerted at once, which is a huge time saver. This is also a surgery saver given the insurance companies and their strict procedures and requirements, which can so easily nix a procedure at the last minute.
Which brings us on to tip numero duo of how to decrease surgical wait times.
2. Keep a Move-em-on-up List
No one wants to be a B-list invite, but for surgery, there’s nothing better than getting a firm surgical date because someone else canceled. How the list gets set up and who gets the upgrade depends on the individual practice. However, having a defined system in place can avoid canceled surgical slots going to waste, prevent lost income due to surgery cancellations and wait lines that never seem to get any shorter.
3. Give High Volume Surgeons More Block Time
Block time has been described as being like a reservation at a restaurant – a surgeon turns up and knows they have a space at the exact time they ordered. For busier surgeons, it’s not always enough to show up at a restaurant, they want to know the restaurant has received rave reviews. That might be stretching the metaphor a bit far, but the busier a surgeon, the more block time they need because they have more patients and do more surgery (natch).
On the other hand, a surgeon who doesn’t fill their block time is losing money for themselves and the facility in which they are operating. This also causes other surgeon’s waitlists to be longer than they should be.
Practices should be able to analyze their surgical practices’ data and their block time usage in order to make informed decisions and move things around within the block time allocation. This will help to decrease patient waiting times for surgeries.
4. Maximize Block Time
Once a surgeon has the block time they want, they need to get the most out of it. One way of maximizing block time is using the “flip room strategy.” What this means is running two OR rooms side-by-side. Then the surgeon can jump from one room to the next without having to hang about while the room gets cleaned and set up or patients get wheeled in or out.
Surgeons like this strategy because it allows them to work seamlessly. However, it has its detractors because it leaves the ORs unused for periods of time (how long depends on the surgery taking place). This is why this strategy is most suited to short-duration procedures like carpal tunnels.
5. Urgent Cases Come First
The problem with efficiency – like maximizing block time and keeping the cancellation list moving – could mean that all surgical spots are taken. Yay for efficiency, but nay for anyone who needs an urgent procedure (sorry poor lady who just fell and needs a hip replacement, ASAP!).
Practices need to ensure there is some space available for these urgent cases – without compromising other patients.
The best way to do it is to take a longer view of things and instead of scheduling elective surgery within a few weeks or even a month, to schedule it further out. This way, everyone’s happy: the patient has a firm date, the surgeon’s all booked up and there’s room for last-minute emergencies that have a habit of cropping up.
The Perfect Combination: Decrease Surgical Wait Times & Increase Patient Satisfaction
Scheduling surgery is a deft art. Too soon and authorization might not come through, too long and another surgery spot might open up because the patient got fed up with waiting and shifted allegiances to another surgeon.
At the end of the day, how to cut surgical wait times depends on a combination of:
- strategic scheduling
- keeping on top of things, and
- ensuring surgical time never goes to waste.
Discover how using Surgimate can help your practice reduce patient waiting times for surgical procedures and keep patients satisfied.