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Working Towards 0% Preventable Delays in Surgical Services

A well-functioning Pre-Anesthesia Screening (PAS) program prepares patients for surgery, prior to the day of surgery. PAS affects the day of surgery by minimizing surgical services delays, unanticipated workups, and potential case cancellations. These negative events directly impact the patient, physicians, and staff experience while decreasing the efficiency and throughput of the preoperative department. 


Minimizing Delays in Surgical Services


Mitigating delays on the day of surgery requires proactive patient care planning initiated prior to the patient leaving the surgeon’s clinic. Clearly defined pre-anesthesia guidelines should be evidence based and data driven, which will lead to preop testing that is appropriate and specific to each patient.


The industry trend is to communicate clearly through anesthesia driven protocols that keep decision making within the anesthesia scope of practice. When patients and office staff know exactly what is required to prepare for the day of surgery, coupled with robust nursing assessments, preventable delays are minimized and or eliminated.


How to Work Towards 0% Preventable Surgical Service Delays


Preoperative patient care planning begins during the consulting consenting appointment when the patient decides that a surgical intervention is the best option. While the patient is in the surgical clinic or office, this is the best time to capture all of the patient information needed to minimize unexpected events resulting in preoperative delays. 


Preparing a plan of care includes determining and obtaining:


  • Which provider will provide the H&P within 30 days of the procedure

  • NPO status and instructions

  • Medications to take or not to take as recommended by anesthesia

  • Patient’s driver post procedure

  • Consent that aligns with the scheduled procedure

  • Interpreter services

  • Legal documents

  • Tests

  • Consults

  • Arrival time

  • Teaching

  • Discharge planning needs


Rely on an Experienced Anesthesia Medical Director to Develop Testing Guidelines


Clearly defined anesthesia guidelines, based on current literature and national standards of practice ensure that patient preparation activities will produce meaningful data that facilitates anesthesia care planning.


The PAS program needs an anesthesia medical director to lead the development of testing guidelines—defining which tests and consults are required based on the patient’s comorbidities to minimize unnecessary testing and eliminate redundant testing. 


The criteria used in current literature is: will the result of a test, exam or consult change the anesthesia plan of care? If the answer is no, then that test is deemed unnecessary. This process of challenging current testing protocols assists in narrowing down to meaningful testing based on patient comorbidities.


Clear Medication Guidelines for the Day of Surgery


A set of clearly defined medication guidelines also need to be developed so that the clinic or office and PAS nurses can instruct patients on what to take and what to hold on the day of surgery. Specifically, perioperative medication recommendations defining, at minimum, which medications to take on the day of surgery and medications to hold and for how long. Medication guidelines should also detail who will manage the process if bridging is needed for anticoagulants/antiplatelets.


Defined Roles and Managing Medications 


Medication guidelines should detail which provider will manage the process for:


  • Chronic pain medications

  • Insulin

  • Opioid addiction medications 

  • Chronic steroid use 

  • Chemotherapeutics 

  • Over the counter medications

  • Vitamins 

  • Supplements

  • Herbals

  • Any other medication that can affect anesthetics


Preprocedural consults need to be addressed by anesthesia. Questions such as:


  • When are they required? 

  • How far from the day of procedure is acceptable? 

  • When should they be repeated? 

  • What type of consults are necessary?


When these elements are used together a patient can leave the office or clinic with a well-defined plan of care that is customized to their medical history and reduces delays for surgical services.


Establish Baseline Data


Measuring success of a pre-anesthesia screening program begins with tracking preventable delays and case cancellations on the day of surgery. Successful programs also actively monitor patient care metrics and define preventable day of surgery delays to establish baseline data. 


Define Expectations


It is critical that electively scheduled patient charts be complete by noon the day before surgery to ensure efficiency. Patients that have incomplete charts represent preventable delays. This hinders anesthesia from reviewing the charts ahead of time. Escalating communication regarding incomplete charts is crucial in order to minimize the impact to the patient and prevent further case delays/reschedules. 


  • Define what constitutes a complete chart. 

  • Communicate and educate  specific to the performance improvement plan to improve patient care and minimize delays/cancellations in surgical services.

  • Calculate percent of elective charts complete at 3-days, 2-days, and 1-day prior to the day of procedure. 

  • Establish goal for 100% of elective charts to be complete by 12 noon the day prior to procedure. 

  • Highlight the effectiveness of the coordinated preoperative patient plan of care that creates a smooth admission process on day of surgery. 


Proactive Patient Care Planning for Minimizing Surgical Services Delays


Preoperative patient care planning begins with the patient’s decision to proceed with a procedure as outlined by the surgeon during the consultation. Initiating a pre-anesthesia plan of care based on anesthesia guidelines should occur before the patient leaves the office. 


A successful pre-anesthesia plan also communicates to patients what is expected of them and where and when to get tests done. Before the patient leaves the office, ensure the patient file includes test results, consultation notes, patient history and physical if available or make plans to obtain these. This proactive planning approach keeps patient records together so preoperative telephone screening can occur seamlessly. These combined efforts minimize preventable delays and case cancellations related to missing chart components.


Proven Track Record of Implementing Best Approaches


Sullivan Healthcare Consulting has implemented best approaches to pre-anesthesia screening programs in hospitals across the country. These programs have consistently proven the ability to minimize or eliminate preventable surgical services delays on the day of surgery. 


For example, our perioperative consultants recently assisted a large metropolitan hospital running 18 OR’s, where first case delays were consistently running 13% or 2.3 OR’s each morning. During the communication and education of the new program, preventable delays dropped to 7%, a 50% improvement. Feedback from office staff confirmed that our protocols eliminated guesswork, streamlined their internal processes, and decreased the number of phone calls to the office for missing chart components.


Read our case study, ‘Improving Presurgical Evaluation to Optimize the Daily Schedule’ to learn more about our approach and the value of partnering with a Sullivan Heathcare Consultant. 

To learn more about how Sullivan Healthcare Consultants can help reduce preventable surgery delays, contact us today.



Sullivan Healthcare Consulting offers a full range of perioperative, sterile processing and healthcare consulting services. Our experts have an in-depth understanding of industry standards and best practices to maximize the strategic goals of your hospital.


Tammy Tenerowicz, MPA, BSN, RN, CNOR, CRSCT

Senior Clinical Consultant
Sullivan Healthcare Consulting



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