Researchers in Finland have implemented a classification system for emergency operations that allows for a fair and efficient way to manage a large volume of such surgery. The system is described in a special issue of the BJS (British Journal of Surgery) that focuses on emergency surgery.

Among hospitals there is growing interest in centralizing emergency surgery into specialized centers that have sufficient resources and available expertise to improve patient care and save more lives. Increasing the volume of emergency operations in such regional centers — which also perform elective, or planned, surgery — requires new structural and organizational elements that allow patients needing emergency surgery to be operated on without unnecessary delay, but also ensure that elective operations are not negatively affected.

Ari Leppäniemi, MD, PhD, and Irma Jousela, MD, PhD, of the University of Helsinki, in Finland, now describe a system that has been in use at their hospital for several years that addresses these issues. The system introduces elements such as having a significant number of operating tables designated specifically for emergency surgery during the daytime. Also, because some emergency operations can be safely postponed until the next day, only operations that are truly urgent can be performed in the evenings and at nighttime. A color-coding system categorizes emergency operations by urgency and helps to optimize the timing of emergency operations in a rational and fair way. The computerized system also enables the investigators to monitor how effective their system is and whether there are systematic errors or problems that need to be solved.

“Our study documents some of the objectively measurable benefits of the system. For example, the proportion of nighttime emergency operations has clearly decreased without causing disturbances in elective surgery or delaying surgery for those patients who need it urgently — the red code patients,” Leppäniemi explained.