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How Novant Health managed OR capacity throughout a COVID surge

Ashley Walsh, MHA

VP, Client Services, iQueue for Operating Rooms & Inpatient Beds

Even before the onset of COVID-19, health systems across the US faced a host of challenges in capacity management. Existing healthcare infrastructure struggled to provide the increased amount of care needed by an aging, growing population while avoiding costly added resources. Addressing these challenges would be critical in the long term, and the pandemic made these issues immediate. Over the past year and a half many health systems have rapidly found ways to address their unique capacity problems and efficiently deliver care. 

All healthcare functions were affected, but operating rooms experienced a dramatic impact as scheduling surgeon time, already a challenge for numerous reasons, suddenly became much more difficult as case loads quickly became backlogged. Novant Health, a health system with 18 medical centers that performs almost 165,000 surgeries per year, experienced this challenge.

COVID brought OR capacity management to the forefront

Prior to the pandemic, Novant, even with its relatively large footprint of 138 ORs with over a thousand affiliated surgeons, struggled with the same capacity challenges faced by OR staff and surgeons throughout the country –  the underlying perception and often reality of not having OR access for all cases. 

Further exacerbating this, 41% of Novant’s many surgeons are “splitters”, or independent surgeons who choose which facilities to spend their time at and take cases throughout the regional market. To fully staff their ORs and keep case loads moving, Novant had to compete for these surgeons’ time, by offering a transparent and uncomplicated experience to them. 

Novant was already working to address these pressing circumstances before 2020. But when COVID hit, and 8,000 surgical cases suddenly were postponed and eventually needed to be rescheduled, managing OR capacity successfully became critical and urgent.

 

Preparing to solve post-COVID capacity management challenges 

During the initial COVID surges in 2020, as well as later ones in 2021, surgeries were delayed or postponed, or otherwise not performed at all. Post-surge, all health systems have inevitably needed to handle their resulting backlogs, and will likely need to do so again. For many this could be a scramble, with insufficient time, space, and capacity to manage cases in a timely way, causing undue expense, provider burnout, and poor patient outcomes.

But if a health system is prepared, as Novant took steps to ensure it was, the aftermath could look very different. Even before COVID, Novant’s leaders recognized that to manage their surgical case backlog, they would need to do more with the capacity that was already available, at a feasible cost. They knew in their particular situation, surgeon buy-in was crucial. A tool that made OR time simple to view, access, and share, while engaging surgeons with their own data and accurate performance metrics, would attract independent surgeons to perform cases at Novant and help all to efficiently use the rooms and time available. In the iQueue for Operating Rooms solution, Novant surgeons found a platform as user-friendly as OpenTable, that provided visibility and access to time. 

Novant decided to implement iQueue immediately after the onset of COVID-19 in the spring of 2020. iQueue proved vital in navigating the aftermath of the return of surgical cases for their ORs. 

Opening more capacity than ever, even in the wake of COVID surges 

Using iQueue to distribute time and engage surgeons, Novant achieved stunning results. From June 2020 through May 2021, compared to the previous, pre-COVID year, the system saw the following: 

    • Case volume from splitter surgeons increased by 12.7% – and 55% of surgeons overall were engaged in their own data. As Novant relies on “splitter” surgeons, these indicate a clear optimization of both the capacity and critical resources (i.e. surgeon’s time) the health system already had. 
    • Days before surgical block release increased from an average of 6 to 17. This showed how individual surgeons trusted in the data they found on the iQueue platform, and knew they could always obtain time when they needed it, so they had confidence to quickly release unneeded time for other’s use. 
    • Prime Time Utilization increased by 6%. In working through the post-COVID surge case backlog, using as much Prime Time as possible is crucial to provider and patient satisfaction. 

Rather than scramble to move through their case backlog, Novant saw stronger results than ever. They also cleared their entire backlog, which had accumulated over 75-90 days, in just a further 90 days. Other health systems can achieve the same, by recognizing their own individual capacity challenges, finding the right tools to address them, and thus being ready to prepare for both COVID surges and other unprecedented crises ahead. 

To learn more about solutions mathematically designed to optimize OR capacity, visit our Knowledge Center.

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