By Mark Deshur

The operating room is an undeniably complex space in the acute care landscape. It involves a multitude of different care providers and stakeholders to carefully manage and coordinate the many phases of surgical work.

To run smoothly and efficiently, the OR relies on accurate and comprehensive schedules, experienced and engaged providers, and exceptional dedication to patient safety. Because of this, hospitals often rely on their most trusted senior nurse managers to handle the complex and time-consuming task of scheduling. They have deep knowledge of the many rules and dependencies to know who the right people are to schedule at the right time for the right patient, and they don’t want to leave this critical work to chance — or technology.

This is exactly what the staff at University Medical Center, a public hospital with 412 patient beds in Lubbock, Texas, faced. Until recently, University Medical Center’s perioperative staff signed up for schedules on clipboards, administrative staff posted paper schedules every day, and vacation requests were emailed and captured in private, onsite systems with zero visibility to employees at home. According to Adria Renegar, MSN, RN, CNOR, the director of operating room services, “If shift swaps – which were handled via paper forms – weren’t received by administrative staff, the incorrect schedule would be posted and cause confusion when those called weren’t truly on call. It was an extremely slow and ineffective process.”

However, new and intelligent health care technology can help – rather than hinder – providers do their jobs faster and more accurately, without reducing their control over the process. After investing in a new solution to better support its fast-moving surgical suite, University Medical Center saw a spike in employee engagement and team morale – and it had a positive trickledown effect on patients as well.

From reconciling tricky schedules to increasing facetime between providers and patients, an automated workforce management solution can be a gamechanger for operating rooms to ensure that they’re securing proper coverage, enhancing productivity, meeting safety measures, and improving the overall patient experience.

Simplify and automate complex scheduling

It’s no secret that provider, patient, and staff availability can fluctuate at a moment’s notice, and manual or paper-based scheduling can make managing staff, call, and OR schedules extraordinarily challenging. This is where an intelligent perioperative scheduling solution can help: With powerful artificial intelligence and self-scheduling capabilities, organizations can more easily create fair and transparent schedules that are accessible to providers and staff through mobile devices in real-time. This ensures schedules are always optimized based on availability, overtime, and coverage requirements.

For organizations that are still managing and updating schedules manually or on paper, compliance with labor laws, operating room policies, and rest period requirements is a fool’s errand. With the help of a digital and automated solution, organizations with custom staffing rules, such as University Medical Center, can more effectively develop schedules that take into account employee preferences and capabilities, helping better manage compliance and create an engaged culture with the right people with the right skills working at the right time.

Engage clinicians through transparent and mobile-friendly scheduling technology

Optimized schedules that account for shift preferences, availability, and real-time changes can empower OR staff to be more present. Imagine a scheduling solution doing all the comprehensive work of spreading out call shifts, aligning patient needs with clinician skills, and matching shift swaps. The time that employees will save on administrative work can be spent on quality initiatives such as staff training and patient communication.

Intelligent scheduling can also help organizations reduce the risk of overtime and ensure employees are working preferred and compliant schedules that enhance patient outcomes.
With mobile access to schedules, on-call shifts, and time-off requests anytime, anywhere, employees can also achieve a work-life balance that makes sense for them and their priorities. From helping to manage an unforeseen family emergency, to swapping shifts in order to attend a child’s upcoming championship soccer game, mobile workplace technology is now as instantly accessible and easy to use as personal technology.

For University Medical Center, the impact of real-time scheduling on the OR workforce has been immense. “Since implementing our periop scheduling software, we’ve seen employee satisfaction scores increase from 83% to 96%,” said Renegar, “the highest score our department has ever had. We’ve reduced fatigue, improved patient safety, and boosted staff morale – which ultimately helps us enhance the quality of care for our surgical services.”

Manage patients in the moment

Quality surgical care begins with an accurate nurse scheduling process and real-time dashboards that don’t just allow employee participation but invite it. Even the best operating room teams will struggle if there are coverage gaps or mismatched skill sets. Increasingly complex patient procedures necessitate the right number and mix of providers with the right skills and certifications at all times.

Effective schedules and access to real-time data makes it easier to ensure staff members are taking needed and recommended rest breaks between shifts, which help reduce staff fatigue and, most importantly, improve patient safety. Mobile-friendly scheduling solutions also empower staff to access upcoming schedules and prepare for the scheduled next-day assignments and procedures.

“We live and work at a time when we expect information at our fingertips and our organization is committed to giving that kind of instant access to our employees — which means we demand the ease of use of popular apps from all technology,” said Renegar. “Our scheduling technology has been a high-impact investment with benefits that we’ve seen reverberate through our hospital. Now, our operating room teams can deliver the highest level of quality care and feel more engaged at work.”

In his book “Patients Come Second: Leading Change by Changing the Way You Lead,” Paul Spiegelman wrote, “Hospitals have missed the point that the best way to improve the patient experience is to build better engagement with their employees, who will then provide better service and health care to patients.” It’s a simple equation with an enormous outcome: Happy staff plus happy providers equals happy patients.

Mark Deshur, MD, MBA, is a health care industry consultant for Kronos Incorporated.