Today’s high-tech operating rooms are a marvel of modern technology, but the planning and management of these ORs still rely on the traditional, manual block scheduling methods that came into favor decades ago. Given that idle ORs cost a hospital money while active ORs make money, it’s crucial that surgical block utilization is maximized with efficient throughput and minimal delays, while still leaving enough room to accommodate emergent and add-on cases.

Inefficient OR utilization has high costs for hospitals

Although block allocation dominates operating room schedules with 80%-100% of prime-time allocated to blockholders, perioperative leaders are reluctant to reallocate, or even re-examine, existing block allocation for multiple reasons. Although EHRs provide hospitals with a mountain of data, pulling and analyzing that data is a laborious, manual process and the reports created from it can lack trust and transparency for many stakeholders. That problem, combined with the internal political conflicts that stems from attempting to take block time away from surgeons, leaves many organizations simply rubber-stamping existing block during quarterly reviews, if it’s reviewed at all.

Webinar: Optimizing the Block Schedule

But the risks of continuing along with underperforming blocks – underutilized ORs, unnecessary delays and cancellations, and lost revenue – are clear. And perioperative leaders are just as likely to receive pressure to launch improvement initiatives from above as they are from surgeons to maintain the status quo or, if anything, assign them even more time.

This doesn’t have to be the case. Organizations can streamline their efforts to increase OR utilization and optimize block allocation by following three key principles to grow their perioperative services.

1. Unlock Hidden Operating Room Time

Perioperative leaders can increase OR block utilization and case volume without changing existing block allocation by unlocking hidden OR time. That is, allocated prime-time blocks without a scheduled procedure. Hospital IQ’s AI-driven Perioperative solution applies machine learning to a hospital’s own historic data to accurately predict upcoming OR blocks that are likely to go unused up to 35 days in advance, and prompts the blockholder to release that time.

That block then becomes available in a virtual marketplace that is accessible to all stakeholders. Surgeons, service line leaders, and private practice administrators can view all available time and submit a request for it or request a particular date and time to be notified if it later becomes available.

All requests are reviewed and approved by the perioperative scheduling office, allowing hospitals to maintain control of their OR time and align requests to existing policies, but by giving more control of time over to surgeons, utilization and case volume increase for an existing block schedule.

2. Empower Perioperative Service Line Leadership to Drive Growth

There’s tremendous value in prioritizing particular service lines, whether from case volume or profit margins on procedures. Not only does Hospital IQ identify these high-value areas, but the flexibility of our solutions also allows perioperative leaders to set up suites of micro ORs. Rather than folding high-value service lines into an overall prime-time block schedule, they can be assigned dedicated rooms for which they have control of block allocation to surgeons and practices and the scheduling of cases. To assist in the management of these micro ORs, Hospital IQ provides customizable, automated reports detailing the resulting performance to continuously maximize the utilization of their block time. Perioperative leadership can use this information across all micro-ORs to gauge the success of the approach and determine whether it should be adjusted or expanded.

3. Provide Surgeons with Visibility into the Block Performance and Management

Too many conversations around OR block performance include removing block time from surgeons without attempting to empower the surgeons to deliver more care. Lack of visibility and trust in the process can also be blockers here. Surgeons must be informed about their impact to organization’s overall block performance, so they can understand the opportunity available to them. This naturally creates a better environment for surgeons, administrators, and the patients that benefit from increased utilization.

Hospital IQ analyzes procedures and utilization across all surgeons, service lines, and practices, including off-prime procedures, those performed outside of the allocated block, to identify who should receive more block time, who should have their allocation reduced, and how much the organization could benefit from open block. These recommendations enable perioperative leaders to either make targeted or wholesale changes to existing block allocation to improve OR utilization and increase case volume.

A Holistic Approach to Operating Room Block Management

It’s time to take a technology-enabled, holistic approach to OR block management. AI-driven workflows and advanced analytics technologies offer hospitals new insights into planning OR blocks in the most strategic and optimal way possible. Thanks to the power of technology, healthcare leaders are empowered to shift from being reactive to proactive in managing the OR, while delivering significant return on investment and improving patient care.


This blog was originally published in July 2017, and has been updated to reflect platform enhancements.

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