Health systems are seeing continued demand for elective surgical cases, especially as patients return for procedures that were delayed during the pandemic. Demand is also increasing as the population ages and expands, and as the shift towards value-based care takes root. As more procedures move to ambulatory settings, an opportunity arises for ORs to accommodate higher numbers of patients while sustaining organizational growth. This is only possible, however, if the OR can maintain and optimize a sufficient workforce, which is essential to delivering efficient, safe, and high quality care.
A 2022 OR Manager survey showed that while OR staff hires had increased, well over half of respondents reported increases in vacancies for both surgical RNs and technologists, while 51% were continuing to lose staff due to the COVID pandemic. A growing number of respondents, up to 47% from the 35% in the prior year, also reported their reliance on expensive solutions like agency and travel staff. Recent interviews with perioperative nurses leaders indicate concerns that this reliance will continue.
These trends are poised to disrupt operations in the OR, where specialized nurses and techs are needed to perform particular cases. A surgical tech only trained in ophthalmic surgery instruments and techniques, for instance, cannot easily transfer to a neurosurgical procedure or a surgery that involves robotic equipment. The highly varied and unpredictable case volume and mix in a given facility, combined with factors like surgeon preferences or staff scheduling constraints, makes strategic staffing highly complex.
Without appropriately trained staff to perform requested cases, ORs experience long scheduling lead times, extended or disrupted operating hours, including excessive overtime or traveler pay, and ultimately deferred care. Complications in scheduling cases and allocating appropriate nurses and techs place burden on clinical managers, while added hours performing cases contribute to burnout in clinical staff.
The simplest and most cost effective solutions to these challenges focus on retaining, empowering, and developing the existing OR workforce. These include better utilizing staff skills and time, giving them the tools they need to schedule cases optimally and within prime time hours, and directing them to opportunities to cross-train and advance their careers within the organization while contributing flexibly to the OR team.
To do so, technology that combines AI-powered algorithms, predictive analytics, and automation to support data-driven decision making throughout the OR is key. LeanTaaS’ iQueue for Operating Rooms, which now includes a module for Staffing, is designed for this.
How AI technology empowers staff to address OR efficiency challenges
The AI-based iQueue for Operating Rooms’ predictive analytics leverages historic data and real-time insights to drive strategic resource optimization throughout the OR. The solution automatically accounts for likely caseload and capacity, giving recommendations to help OR stakeholders proactively assign time, rooms, and equipment for maximum efficiency. Fitting seamlessly into existing workflows, iQueue also streamlines administrative tasks like releasing or booking block time.
Overall iQueue’s AI-powered capabilities empower human expertise in the OR, giving stakeholders information and tools to make and execute optimal decisions quickly. Average results from a number of the 94 health systems who have deployed iQueue include a 12% increase in case volume, an 18% increase in staffed room utilization, and a 4% increase in prime time utilization. Experiencing these impactful outcomes drives staff satisfaction as well.
The new iQueue for Operating Rooms Staffing module, piloted at several hospitals, utilizes the same AI-powered capabilities to optimize staffing in the OR, as well as help develop members of the workforce themselves.
AI technology solves for staffing allocation in the OR, in the future and day-to-day
Staffing uses past data to forecast likely future case volumes and staffing needs so that perioperative leaders can plan resources to meet them. The module’s Staff Forecast tool offers demand-based prediction ability that considers future volume, booking patterns, and predicted case lengths, including unique staffing needs for specific services, and predicts hourly staffing needs weeks in advance. OR leaders can use this information to make proactive decisions for staffing, avoiding under- or overstaffing and providing OR staff with predictable, consistent workloads. Staffing also offers an automated Daily Roster that optimizes daily staff assignments, accounting for current staff’s qualifications, skills, availability, and preferences, and helps best map these onto daily schedules.
These tools not only create level schedules for staff, but support staff satisfaction by providing transparency and reducing administrative tasks involved in assigning or changing staff, rooms, or time blocks. They also help foster surgical schedules that offer higher accessibility and minimal disruption for patients.
How AI-powered technology can support stronger surgical units and develop talent in the OR
Beyond allocating staff, Staffing also helps OR leaders make the best use of surgical and staff skills. A feature within the module suggests opportunities for staff cross-training and professional development to create higher flexibility and engagement. The tool recommends surgical staffing teams that combine complementary skill sets from nurses, techs, and surgeons needed to best perform a procedure. By doing so, as well as drawing insights from individual performance analytics, it also surfaces training opportunities targeted to equip staff to cover a maximum range of procedure types, achieve orientation goals in a timely manner, and grow in their career paths.
In the form of tailored recommendations for training and education, Staffing guides each staff member to hone their unique strengths and build abilities to support higher levels of care delivery in their organization and be engaged and productive in their career goals. This builds the number of multi-skilled staff in the OR, ensures more coverage and flexibility, and supports staff recruitment and retention.
Promising outcomes and opportunities from AI-powered OR staffing technology
Early adopters of iQueue for Operating Rooms’ Staffing module have begun seeing noticeable results, and are looking forward to further positive outcomes in the months ahead. After implementing an automated daily staffing roster in the OR, one hospital already reported a significant reduction in staff assignment time. Perioperative leaders who gathered at an iQueue user group meeting in September 2023 discussed the potential benefits of the new technology with one another, including the opportunity to optimize all clinical resources, intelligent assignment of OR staff that considers the schedule and staff as a whole, and integration of staff training at the point of assignment with communication tools for charge nurses and educators. With AI solutions such as Staffing, hospitals can continue to deliver higher productivity, lower costs, increased staff satisfaction, and more quality care to growing numbers of patients.
For more about applying AI technology to meet OR workforce needs, download our OR Manager white paper “Reimagining Operating Room Staffing Through AI.”
Explore leading health system’s successful applications of iQueue for Operating Rooms here.