The Jigsaw Puzzle of Surgical Scheduling


In a conversation with a cardiovascular surgeon recently, I asked him what his greatest fear was as his hospital began to open up ORs for elective surgeries. I was expecting to hear about COVID screening or the need for more PPE. His greatest fear? That the surgical scheduler would take vacation or get ill over the next 6 months.

At almost every hospital I have visited over the last 3+ years, one role constantly strikes me as complex – the surgical scheduler. I have seen numerous methods for handling what is, in essence, a multi-variable equation for each OR. The complexity involved in getting all of the people and supplies in the right place at the right time is astounding. For every procedure, the staff (OR nurse, technician, clinician), the equipment, the implant/equipment vendor and the appropriate supplies all must arrive in perfect concert to make sure the surgeon can deliver the best care possible for the patient.

Countless surgeries get delayed or cancelled when those numerous variables don’t align correctly and succinctly. With the massive backlog of elective procedures growing daily, cancellations and delays compound what is already a significant challenge. The burden on the surgical scheduler is substantial and most professionals in that role keep the vital details about those multiple variables in their heads – they know which surgical nurse or technician needs to be done by 4:30pm on Tuesdays and Thursdays because of other obligations; which implant/equipment vendor can only be available on Wednesdays; which rooms can accommodate robotics, etc.

Every hospital relies heavily on the surgical scheduler’s knowledge, experience and expertise. Confusion or mistakes that could arise when that expertise isn’t available can have even greater consequences now more than ever before. The numerous multi-variable equations a surgical scheduler must solve is akin to putting together a massive jigsaw puzzle, every day, often without a clear picture to reference. I can understand the anxiety when a key piece is missing.

Together, we can lift each other up!

-Marcus Perez, EVP