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6 Tips for Smarter Case Scheduling

Efficient case scheduling can make all the difference in boosting an ambulatory surgery centers revenue and patient satisfaction.

Here several industry experts weigh in on their six tips for smarter scheduling.

1. Consider consolidating cases. Case scheduling is an important aspect of profitability, said Douglas Won, MD, director and founder of Minimally Invasive SpineCARE, based in Irving, Texas. While it may be convenient for surgeons to obtain block time or schedule last minute cases at the ASC, it may not always make the most economic sense when running a business.

"Sometimes they want to schedule cases in late afternoon on Mondays or Tuesdays when all our other cases are in the mornings," Dr. Won said. "When this happens, the full team must be available all the way through the afternoon, which increases staffing costs. Staffing is a significant cost to the ASC, so we need the surgeons to understand how to schedule so it's convenient and cost-effective."

If all cases are finished in the morning one day, the staff can go home early. On the other hand, if there is a day when only a few cases are scheduled — such as on Fridays — the ASC can shut down one of the operating bays to save overhead costs.

2. Maintain positive scheduler relations. Your scheduling process must be as simple and painless as possible if you want to increase your case volume, said Jessica Nantz, president and CEO of the consulting firm Outpatient HealthCare Strategies. She recommends auditing the scheduler in your front office, as well as examining relations with physicians' schedulers. "You need to monitor your scheduler from time to time," Ms. Nantz said. "When I perform an on-site operational assessment, a key component is observing and assessing the responsiveness of the scheduler."

She examines the scheduler's reaction to scheduling issues: For example, if a physician's office calls and wants a case during a closed slot, does the scheduler simply say no, or does she look for an alternative? It's essential to know how your scheduler and their back-up staff handle incoming calls, since they directly impact your case volume.

3. Cross train staff members. Central Maine Orthopaedics has cross trained staff members from both the clinic and surgery center to address issues on both sides. This increased flexibility allows the practice to respond quickly to staffing changes in a cost-effective way, said Anne Marie Kayashima, director of clinical and surgical services at Central Maine Orthopaedics.

"Over the course of the last few years we have been able to address costs and other strategic issues by cross training staff," said Jeffrey Wigton, director of operations at Central Maine Orthopaedics. "Through cross training we have been able to add clinical programs (and providers) while minimizing the increase in support staff costs."

Cross-trained staff can also help CMO maintain its position as the low cost, high quality provider in the marketplace. "That will keep us sustainable in the future," Ms. Kayashima said. "We've been a low cost leader for some time, but trying to maintain that position is a challenge."

4. Monitor physician utilization. One of the most important case volume metrics to measure is block scheduling and utilization, Ms. Nantz said. Block scheduling is one of the most effective tools an administrator can use to evaluate which physicians and specialties are supporting their center by tracking their utilization. She recommends setting a utilization percentage goal — most administrators recommend between 70 and 90 percent — and then measuring how many physicians are meeting that goal.

Once you understand which physicians are filling their block time, you can sit down with the ones that aren't to discuss the cause. Maybe the physician scheduler is taking cases elsewhere, or the physician is dissatisfied in some way with the surgery center. Managing this metric will help determine which physicians are supporting the surgery center and how you can improve physician relations to increase case volume from every provider.

5. Make scheduling easier. If it isn't easy for the surgeon's office to schedule surgery at the ASC, their office managers likely aren't scheduling all possible cases there. If you are trying to increase case volume, visit the surgeons' offices and find out how you can better serve them to bring in more potential cases, said Catherine Sayers, director of operations at Pinnacle III.

"If you don't have a good relationship with them or there are too many hoops for them to jump through, they will go to a different surgery center," she said. "If it's easy, they will be more likely to schedule those patients with you. Invest time in the relationship by periodically visiting the surgeon's office and make sure the relationship is working for all involved."

6. Combat office inefficiency. Using electronic scheduling can help an ASC get work done faster, and can increase patient satisfaction. Physician offices must run as efficiently as possible to create a positive experience for patients, said Oliver Kharraz, MD, COO and co-founder of ZocDoc. Many practices are concerned with implementing new technology and changing their processes because of the time and energy put into the change. However, more information technology companies are becoming savvy to these concerns and simplifying the integration process by using the Cloud.

"These systems should pull information on available times from the Cloud," he said. "We have tools on how the office manager can engage with these appointments. There is also a two-way messaging system to coordinate the times."

For practices that do not have electronic scheduling, there is a web-based gathering system that shows available times. "These platforms should be designed to have a minimum impact on workflow and provide all the information neatly written down in a copy/paste format that can be used easily," Dr. Kharraz said.

More Articles on Improving Performance:
10 Tips to Make Efficient ASCs Even Better
5 Steps to Turn Your ASC Into a Destination Setting
5 Ways for Spine Surgery Centers to Save on Implants

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