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Matching anesthesia supply with surgical demand: 3 key challenges & 3 reasons analytics is the solution

  • Drew Domagalski
    Drew Domagalski

    Senior Solutions Executive, iQueue for Operating Rooms

Nationwide, the supply of certified practicing anesthesia providers is declining due to an aging and retiring workforce, impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, and challenges associated with practice economics, while surgical demand continues to rise. Hospitals need anesthesia coverage for both surgical services and other procedural units besides surgical ones, and practicing anesthesiologists often have responsibilities beyond patients. Without enough time to meet case demand, anesthesiologists struggle to generate enough reimbursement through hospital-based cases, resulting in hospitals paying for anesthesia coverage.  

To free anesthesiologists’ time and avoid literally paying to be inefficient, hospitals must maximize overall operating room (OR) efficiency by matching supply and demand for services to reduce scheduled downtime.

Three challenges contributing to scheduled downtime in the OR

Scheduled downtime, or block time that surgeons and block owners may not be planning to use, accounts for more than half of the opportunity to increase OR utilization. 

Most hospitals use a static block management system to right-size their ORs, which assumes a level of predictability not based on actual data. This creates situations where surgical block owners are allocated more time than they need, leading to idle downtime when that block is unused – an expensive loss in ORs that cost hospitals $10-$15 million each per year to operate. 

To mitigate the lack of anesthesia coverage and reduced reimbursement for it, perioperative leaders must address three significant daily challenges:

  1. Limited access to ORs: Often providers are unaware of first come-first served time outside of their block, and lack the ability to secure this time. This is even further exacerbated by supply constraints.
  2. Lack of visibility into OR schedules: Surgeons and other stakeholders do not have the tools to review and identify patterns in utilization, block release, and scheduled downtime.
  3. Lack of accountability for block utilization and block time: Block utilization is an imperfect metric that does not inspire trust nor guide stakeholders to support positive operational changes and right-size their ORs. 

These challenges involve complex math that cannot be solved through human effort. ORs need support from high-powered analytics to begin addressing these and creating greater efficiency. 

How data analytics solutions address challenges, decrease scheduled downtime, and maximize utilization and anesthesia coverage

An analytics tool like iQueue for Operating Rooms uses historic patterns to predict upcoming demand for services and anesthesia coverage and calculates the best use of existing supply to eliminate downtime and support higher anesthesia reimbursement. 

  1. Analytics provide a deep dive into contextualized OR utilization metrics 

An effective analytics solution elevates visibility and transparency into OR utilization for surgeons, staff, and OR leadership, providing a single source of truth.

Detailed analytics help OR teams accurately negotiate anesthesia contracts to match supply to demand and/or justify coverage models built on more than “gut instinct”. Metrics like prime time utilization, to measure OR performance during peak business hours, or staffed room utilization, to measure use of rooms OR leadership planned to staff, are both more actionable metrics than block utilization alone. Both are invaluable to understanding OR performance and the most opportune time to justify adding anesthesiologists and coverage. 

By supporting metrics like these, iQueue for Operating Rooms provides visibility into OR performance, including predictive and prescriptive insights on case volume and staff predictions to help ensure resources are available to support upcoming demand.

  1. Analytics display a more actionable and surgeon-centric scheduling metric than block assignments

While block utilization tends to be treated as a universal KPI, blocks are used in different ways depending on the surgeon, service line, day of the week, and case mix complexity. “Collectable time”, as identified in iQueue, leverages case data and visualizes block time for physicians, making it easy to see variability on a day-to-day basis, as well as identify chunks of time that can be used productively. This promotes proactive releases of time to be repurposed, so utilization becomes higher and the OR much more efficient overall.

iQueue evaluates surgeons’ historical booking patterns and automatically reminds them to relinquish OR time if their current bookings are low. Anesthesiologists can also leverage “collectable time” visualizations on iQueue to understand where their downtime exists within the block schedule, so it can be collected and repurposed to best fit supply and demand. 

  1. Analytics deliver trusted insights beyond block utilization that empower stakeholders to make effective operational changes 

By showing end users which blocks will be unused, with up to 99% accuracy, iQueue empowers end users to reduce staff and anesthesia coverage, and close rooms in advance. Experiencing the accuracy of the predictions first hand, with full visibility into the data and how their actions drive better performance, surgeons can release time and leaders can repurpose staffing based on block fill predictions.This way anesthesia supply can be best matched to actual OR and surgeon demand to optimize performance and decrease costs. 

By taking large chunks of scheduled downtime that is truly “collectable”, perioperative and anesthesia leadership can diminish idle OR time, while optimizing prime time and staffed room utilization.

How iQueue for Operating Rooms deploys AI to support anesthesia coverage, and efficiency in the operating room overall

iQueue’s advanced analytics and superior block management decision support tools have generated an incredible amount of realized opportunity and ROI for health systems and hospitals nationwide. Scheduled downtime can be cut by 30% and unused time refilled to a high degree, e.g. 75%. It also maximizes prime time utilization, and drives revenue growth by allowing other providers to use repurposed time at a very high degree.

The solution also improves anesthesia provider satisfaction, as it leads to less idle time where cases are not scheduled, and maximizes anesthesia reimbursement by supporting greater OR efficiency. In today’s ecosystem, where skilled staff and anesthesia resources are at a premium and hospitals and health systems are constantly asked to do more with less, iQueue for Operating Rooms leverages AI and machine learning to best match the supply and demand patterns unique to each institution.

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