Making bank or bankrolling waste: Why surgical schedulers need healthy dictionaries

Documenting with specificity is key to successful surgical scheduling. Read on for a closer look at the role of precise terminology in an efficient OR.
View of the back of a surgeon in the OR.

For many health systems, providing surgical care requires a delicate balancing act. Running a suite of operating rooms is costly, but it is also a major source of revenue for many institutions. This means that staying in the black requires that all systems run smoothly, starting with getting surgical cases on the schedule.

What’s involved in effective surgical scheduling?

As simple as it might sound, surgical scheduling requires much more than an up-to-date calendar. It means coordinating and managing a host of surgical needs, ranging from ensuring necessary supplies are available, to adhering to surgeon’s preference cards, to keeping surgical dictionaries updated and unambiguous.

Indeed, between CPT terms, surgeons’ notes, and lab tests or assessments, there’s a lot of clinical terminology involved in operating. This makes it easy to end up with a surgical dictionary containing duplicative descriptions, ambiguous EHR terminology, and other “unhealthy” traits. And beyond the administrative burden, an unhealthy dictionary is the starting point for a host of other problems for a health system, like wasted time, OR delays, improper reimbursements, and worst of all, decreased quality of patient care.

The role of a healthy surgical dictionary

At an average rate of $1,000 per hour, surgical time doesn’t come cheap. With this in mind, it’s easy to see how delays – which often start out as vague dictionary language – can quickly tip the scales towards negative financial return. But what’s not always as obvious is the role healthy dictionaries can play in mitigating these pitfalls.

When a surgical dictionary is healthy, procedure names are clear and repeat entries are avoided. This means surgical schedulers don’t have to choose between selecting a “close enough” procedure or trying to track down the ordering physician to ensure the right type of case is on the calendar. Healthy dictionaries also mean that a surgeon’s preference cards are up to date, so that cases aren’t put on pause in order to find and sterilize the appropriate instruments.

And, most importantly, when dictionaries are healthy the clinical terminology in a patient’s chart is current. When schedulers can easily see which patients or procedures can afford to wait – and which ones can’t – they can better juggle unexpected situations, like add-on cases. By preventing delays in the operating room, healthy dictionaries also make sure patients aren’t under anesthesia longer than needed – an important metric that can be easy to overlook.

Overall, surgery is a field with many moving parts, but it’s difficult to find an aspect of an operation that doesn’t benefit from a current and comprehensive surgical dictionary that sets up schedulers and surgeons alike for optimal success.

For even more ways to improve operating room efficiency, watch our on-demand webinar, Streamlining your surgical workflows for better financial outcomes.

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