When Surgical Demand Returns, How Will Hospitals Manage Their Growing Backlog?

Nearly a year into the COVID crisis, hospitals are continuing to have to postpone elective surgeries. In December, Becker’s Hospital Review cited over a hundred hospitals halting elective procedures for the time being. Inevitably, this has created a massive backlog, increasing by the day, that hospitals will have to manage effectively in the future — or risk procedures being primarily outsourced to surgical centers. Based on the problems hospitals are facing now, there are a couple of key solutions they can adopt to process surgical backlog safely. 

Current Challenges that Hospitals Face in Reinstating Elective Surgeries

Fluctuations in COVID infection rates are likely to hinder the OR for months to come. Some orthopedic surgeons expect procedure rates to return to 90% of typical volume in five month’s time; a simulated analysis estimates it may be 12 months or more

Here are the challenges hospitals are currently facing in reinstating elective surgeries and working through their surgical backlog:

  1. Staff availability. Hospital systems have indicated that their number one challenge in increasing surgical volume is workforce shortages, and this problem is likely to continue to plague them for the foreseeable future.
  2. Ever-present COVID concerns. Necessary supplies need to be available and measures taken to ensure safety. Patient perception of COVID risk at hospitals remains high, according to 84% of surgeons in an AAOS survey.
  3. Treatment space. Hospitals will continue to have to block off rooms and departments for COVID treatment. Even when infections decrease, there will be many types of procedures to catch up on.

Outsourcing to surgical centers has become a more common practice, and these challenges are increasing that trend. Especially in the realm of spinal surgeries, in-house IONM programs may lose support if procedures are consistently shifted to surgical centers. For hospitals who have a higher degree of specialty programs, staffing shortages and procedure outsourcing can be a major obstacle to future growth. 

How can hospitals respond in a way that allows them to process surgical backlog safely and efficiently? Two key strategies may help.


Two Strategies for Processing Surgical Backlog Safely and Efficiently

It makes sense for hospitals to focus on expanding capacity to accommodate surgical backlog, but without proper management, such a move could easily create more stress on their operations and workforce. However, expanding capacity does not have to be a process that risks the burnout of staff or the strain of limited resources. Here are two key strategies that could be uniquely effective in solving this problem:

  1. Extend Hours of Operation. In a McKinsey & Company survey, 60% of hospital system respondents answered that they would move to extend typical hours of operation to work through the volume of procedures that have accumulated in the COVID era. The same percentage also indicated that they would be reevaluating their operating room block allocation. With these changes, greater flexibility would allow more surgeries to take place at the hospital without requiring outsourcing to surgical centers.
  2. Utilize the Support of Temporary, High-Quality Surgical Staff. Finding, vetting, and onboarding highly-trained, specialty staff members as full-time employees can be a heavy burden on hospital systems. The process can be arduous, taking hours away from current employees who are already consumed with other important tasks. Not only that, but the recruiting landscape is set to become increasingly more competitive: McKinsey & Company data reveals that 48% of hospital system respondents said, among other operational changes, they were going to hire more staff to meet the need for surgical procedures.

To obtain high-quality surgical staff and manage fluctuating demand, hospitals are increasingly looking to specialized external organizations such as SpecialtyCare. We can provide the mix of specialty staff you need to work through your backlog during extended hours of operation. 

Our highly-trained staff can supplement your workforce, boosting your in-house IONM program and helping your surgical team conduct safe procedures within the hospital setting. We can help you retain procedures without draining your already limited capacity and resources. You can maintain consistent care for your surgical patients and stabilize the future of your IONM program. 

Hospitals Need Workforce Solutions Now More Than Ever

Workforce solutions are no longer an option, but a necessity. Your hospital system already has many critical needs to support, and you deserve to be able to focus on improving outcomes and reducing costs. The future remains uncertain and maintaining a staff primarily related to elective procedures can be a risk, but you can plan ahead to meet the inevitable surgical demand with a partner who can meet your changing needs. Contact our team today to find out more about how we can offer superior staff placement to help you maintain your in-house IONM program and manage your surgical backlog.

Click here to discover key strategies for safely working through surgical backlog.