Why surgery is so expensive

The latest developments in operational AI mean advanced scheduling and planning in real time and on demand is becoming a key element in the delivery of cost-effective surgical procedures with better patient outcomes.

Within the $3.65 trillion healthcare system, surgery is one of the highest cost centers, accounting for as much as 30% of that total, around one trillion dollars. This is a lot of money, but let’s consider all the aspects of a typical surgery: highly skilled physicians, nurses and support staff operating state-of-the-art equipment, requisite tests, medications, and surgical supplies, possibly implants too. Reliable pre-op and post-op transitions and care are key elements of every surgical procedure.

A health care center’s systems for case management, staff scheduling, lab, supply, and imaging all play an important role. Unfortunately, these systems are often disparate, and so data is gleaned and transferred manually from system to system. The surgery scheduling system is included in this mix, with its hourly, even minute-by-minute updates. And while some scheduling applications include staff skills criteria and equipment maintenance schedules, these are sometimes maintained on a simple spreadsheet. In the end, the actual live schedule may be posted on a whiteboard, requiring the daily surgery scheduling team to bounce between the various systems and sources, ensuring that all resources and processes are in place for each surgical procedure.

However, especially for large surgery centers, priorities are dynamic, and disruptions occur regularly. Emergencies arise. Procedures run late and so on. These not only have a cascading effect on the ongoing surgery schedule, but add overtime pay to the ballooning costs. Moreover, the operational staff are in a continuous catch up process, adjusting the various systems to reflect the dynamic situation. This leads to situations where surgeons, anesthesiologists and surgical nurses are waiting to enter the operating theater, as another procedure has run longer than expected. Delays like this are costly and negatively impact pre- and post-operative room assignments. And as the pre-op and recovery rooms fill up, the quality and consistency of patient care suffers too.

When the schedule is over-burdened, much needed breaks for the front-line medical professionals are often the first sacrifice. This despite the overwhelming evidence showing a rested, alert and coordinated team correlates strongly with better post-operative outcomes and shorter hospital stays, not to mention more satisfied employees.

It should come then as no surprise then that surgery is a major expense item in our health care system’s books. Skilled physicians and nurses and state-of-the-art operating theaters are premium assets. The business of healthcare demands that these critical resources be fully and optimally utilized, with a keen eye on improving patient outcomes every step of the way.

With the latest advances in operational AI, service optimization for surgical scheduling and planning sees the intricate operating room logistics iterated automatically as the schedule develops during the days leading up to the procedure. Throughout a day, as long-running operations and emergencies crop up, AI-optimized scheduling navigates the complex resource realignment in real-time and on-demand, while ensuring processes including mandated breaks are protected.

The paradox here is while science and medicine push the boundaries of what is surgically possible to save and improve lives, the complex set of resources and processes required to deliver these procedures lag behind. However, visionary organizations are beginning to recognize that AI optimization of these costly and critical resources with advanced scheduling and planning, they not only serve their bottom lines, but contribute to improved employee satisfaction and most importantly, better patient outcomes.

This article originally appeared on LinkedIn

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