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New survey shows perioperative leaders’ focus on staffing as nationwide shortages continue into 2024

  • Ashley Walsh, MHA

    SVP, Client Services, iQueue for Operating Rooms & Inpatient Flow

For patients, surgeons, and clinical staff alike, the experience of scheduling surgical procedures can be highly frustrating. Patients, on top of their apprehension going into surgery, often undergo long lead times before procedures and in some cases, last-minute reschedules. For surgeons and OR staff, operational roadblocks are also far too common. These include surgeons being uncertain if they will have the time they need to perform their cases, staff facing excessive overtime, and unpredictable work schedules and volumes for all.  Strains on OR staffing is often a root cause, as well as an effect, of these issues. 

In a recent survey conducted by LeanTaaS, perioperative leaders were asked about their most pressing operational challenges and anticipated priorities for the new year. The results shed light on critical issues facing different types of healthcare facilities and provide valuable insights into the complex dynamics of OR management. They have also revealed potential solutions to operational challenges, especially in utilizing and retaining OR staff. 

These were the key findings and themes from our survey: 

Staff recruitment and retention dominates priorities

One of the survey’s most significant findings is that staff recruitment and retention have emerged as the top priority for OR leaders going into 2024, with 76% of respondents citing this as their primary concern. This overwhelming consensus in the perioperative space is not surprising given the ongoing workforce shortage experienced by the healthcare industry overall.

Healthcare facilities in general have for years struggled to fill vacancies and retain skilled staff, resulting in increased workloads and burnout among existing employees. A recent Kaufman Hall survey centered on healthcare performance improvement reported that nearly all respondents (98%) said they have engaged in multiple strategies to hire and keep workers, noting how important recruitment is for leaders. In perioperative care the problem is especially urgent as efficiency drastically decreases with fewer staff available to cover scheduled cases and fill specially-skilled roles.  

Moving forward, OR and hospital leaders will need to implement creative strategies to attract and retain talent. This may range from developing competitive compensation packages, giving more admin support, providing opportunities for professional growth, and fostering a positive work environment. By investing in their staff, OR facilities can ensure they have the necessary personnel to meet patient demand for procedures and maintain timely, high-quality care. Investing in technology such as AI solutions can alleviate staffing pressures and support staff retention. These solutions can automate redundant admin tasks, such as emails and phone calls about scheduling, to support a better staff experience. They can also enable surgeon offices to schedule more cases for higher compensation, and give targeted recommendations on staff development opportunities. 

Improving operational efficiency and sustaining volume during staffing shortages

Another key area that OR leaders are focused on improving is operational efficiency (65%) and sustaining volume (36%). The unfortunate truth is that hospitals cannot keep up with patient demand at the current limits of capacity, including both physical space and equipment and the bandwidth of staff. 70% of respondents said they have more demand for OR time than capacity. With an influx of healthcare volumes ebbing and flowing in line with whatever illness is spreading, facilities are experiencing volumes too high for them to manage. 

Even when they do have the capacity, OR leaders noted that they face unpredictable late and long-running cases (60%), as well as schedule change requests (56%) that they don’t know how to handle, leading to long patient wait times and delayed care. This problem is unlikely to resolve itself, as an overwhelming 81% of survey respondents say they anticipate their case volumes to increase in 2024. 

To improve operational efficiency and ultimately accommodate more patients, health systems will need to overhaul their current operational workflows, including by implementing AI-based technology tools that can see into the future, and predict schedule changes and long cases. Sustaining volume in the face of staffing shortages and increasing patient demand requires data-driven approaches to resource allocation and case prioritization. Alignment among surgeons, anesthesiologists, and nurses is crucial to ensure that cases are optimally treated and resources are utilized efficiently. 

Looking for strategies to improve staffing efficiency

Many skilled people must be aligned to fully utilize an OR. The team for a scheduled surgical procedure may have all needed equipment ready and five out of six staff members scrubbed up, but if someone such as an anesthesia provider is caught up in another case, the team – and the patient – are all left waiting. The survey findings noted that one of the main reasons why respondents might not be able to run all ORs is anesthesia coverage (40%) as well as staffing constraints (33%). Additionally, in the new year, staffing shortages (61%) and anesthesia coverage (54%) are the top predicted efficiency challenges. 

Critical staff like OR nurses and surgical techs are in high demand. Given the competitive market, if hospitals can’t simply recruit their way out of a staffing shortage, they will need to explore new staffing models such as cross-training and flexible scheduling. Intelligent technology can support these models, by identifying optimal cross-training opportunities and anticipating future scheduling needs. This technology can also help OR leaders strategize the use of valuable anesthesia resources based on likely future need. 

The AI solutions that support OR staffing efficiency in 2024

Health system leaders looking to improve operational efficiency and address the top challenges OR leaders are facing today can turn to iQueue for Operating Rooms to help diminish staffing issues. iQueue for ORs is an AI/ML-based solution that provides automation, real-time analytics and prescriptive recommendations, and block and open time management tools, to help perioperative leaders optimize staff, equipment, and capital utilization. This tool is not only creating operational efficiencies while addressing the most top-of-mind challenges for OR leaders, but it’s shaping the OR of the future — where surgeons can access the time they need, surgical staff are satisfied and scheduled intelligently, procedures are timely and performed on schedule, and ORs and resources are fully utilized. 

Learn more about OR leaders’ success deploying iQueue for Operating Rooms to achieve greater efficiency.

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