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Centralized surgical scheduling: an innovative model to streamline health systems, address case backlogs

  • Shreya Fernandez
    Shreya Fernandez

    Product Implementation Specialist, iQueue for Operating Rooms

In the wake of COVID-19 surges, many hospital leaders are struggling to work through an extensive backlog of cases with limited operating rooms (ORs) and staff available. Certain staff, such as often-undervalued and underestimated perioperative schedulers, are especially stretched since their work requires aligning the needs of patients, surgeons, and others across multiple locations and resources. 

Centralized scheduling is an innovative option for health systems, particularly those with staffing shortages, to ensure cases are scheduled accurately, efficiently, and with minimal wait times for clinics and their patients.

Surgery scheduling is complex and multi-pronged

OR schedulers are vital to ensuring safe delivery of care throughout the perioperative process. This starts with the preoperative phase when surgical intervention is deemed necessary and agreed upon by the physician and patient. From there, OR and office schedulers must communicate patient health history, determine the surgical procedure, and prioritize a room and time. 

Successfully navigating these steps involves aligning many stakeholders with multiple key points of information, which is why performing this efficiently at scale is often a challenge for perioperative departments and their staff. In order for schedulers and clinicians to continue scheduling and performing surgical procedures as needed, and prevent or manage rising backlogs, perioperative leaders need a streamlined approach. A centralized surgical scheduling model can align these disparate factors. 

How a centralized surgical scheduling model can help

A centralized scheduling model uses a team approach to scheduling surgical cases at hospital-affiliated locations within a similar geographic region. There are a variety of ways to organize a central scheduling team. Typically, a centralized scheduling department or office manages the scheduling of elective cases across several hospitals while each hospital has a local resource responsible for urgent, emergent, and same-day add-on cases. Recently, the centralized model has even enabled the centralized scheduling team to work remotely, an obvious benefit that can increase job satisfaction and staff retention. 

What prevents a centralized scheduling model from being effective?

Centralized scheduling continues to rely on manual communication methods such as telephone, fax, or email. These methods lead to unmanageable call volumes and an error-prone, fragmented flow of information between centralized scheduling staff and clinic schedulers. Centralized schedulers are required to memorize scheduling guidelines and manually search OR schedules within the EHR across several locations, all while accounting for the provider’s credentialing privileges and availability. This approach is antithetical to the streamlined and efficient process that a centralized scheduling model aims to achieve. 

A solution for centralized scheduling models 

iQueue for Operating Rooms streamlines the centralized scheduling process for both clinic and OR schedulers by standardizing processes and workflows and optimizing available resources based on supply and demand.

In iQueue, the entire scheduling process is completed in a single electronic platform, the Case Scheduling tool, that eliminates manual paper booking forms and reduces the multiple phone calls and faxes between surgeons, their clinics, and OR scheduling departments. 

Tool supports a centralized surgical scheduling model
The Case Scheduling tool allows staff to deliver requests in one clear, centralized location

Surgeons and clinic schedulers gain access to real-time OR availability for end-to-end electronic scheduling both in and out of block time, even at multiple locations where surgeons are credentialed. By simplifying workflows, clinic schedulers can book with ease and OR schedulers can avoid missing information and reduce potential transcription errors. With the tools they need to align the information that drives their functions, schedulers and staff can more efficiently clear backlogs and ensure the best use of OR resources.

Using iQueue to further support a centralized surgical scheduling model

Beyond the Case Scheduling tool, iQueue for Operating Rooms has additional features that can help streamline the scheduling process and support a centralized model. CHI Health Lakeside Hospital in Omaha, part of the CommonSpirit health network, is experiencing ongoing staffing constraints and leveraged iQueue for Operating Rooms to support the day-to-day operations of the existing centralized scheduling staff. Lakeside uses iQueue’s Capacity Manager to make immediate updates to OR availability, and effectively manage how many rooms they could run concurrently during the day. 

Using this tool, the centralized staff no longer has to remember specific room closures, and can more effectively manage the range of schedules and procedures for which they are responsible. Leadership has reported no persistent denials regarding room availability in the ORs, meaning they rarely have to attempt to schedule the same case more than once. This tool also automates resource constraints, like robotic or anesthesia availability, to account for what is available at a given time in a given facility. The manual burden experienced by OR schedulers is virtually non-existent with the use of iQueue for Operating Rooms, as the tool only delivers scheduling requests that fall within those bounds. For a quick video on iQueue for Operating Rooms and the features available that support a centralized scheduling model, visit here.

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