For nearly every hospital, surgery is one of the top specialties that drive the most revenue. However, the pandemic led to a major wave of surgery cancellations, due either to patients’ fears of contracting COVID or hospitals being forced to postpone elective procedures because of staff and bed shortages.

Many hospitals are still recovering from this massive financial shock. It may be 2-3 years before most of them return to profitability—that is, unless they understand how to ensure their operating room (OR) facilities and related downstream ancillary services are meeting financial goals.

Understanding the most critical fiscal pain points for ORs is the first step every hospital leader needs to take to keep their organization financially healthy. Here are the three key questions every facility must ask when assessing the financial health of their surgery department.

1. Is your surgical program fully staffed, day and night?

surgical team

A fully staffed OR is one that can handle the highest volume of both elective and emergency patients. Fully staffed ORs consistently have better performance, better patient outcomes and better revenue. But far too many surgical programs are struggling with staffing right now, as the medical field experiences record shortages of surgeons, anesthesiologists, advanced practitioners, and other specialists.

That is why it’s so important to consider staffing models that can ensure full coverage in a shrinking talent pool. One of these options is the Surgicalist Model, evolved by orthopedic surgeon visionaries Rand Schleusner, MD, and John D. Campbell, MD.

The Surgicalist Model is one of the best-kept secrets in hospital management today. It provides an entire clinical team to cover surgical on-call needs or to stand up a full program for general surgery, trauma, or orthopedics—covering emergent, elective and inpatient consult needs. Surgicalists function as a clinical team, all of whom are assigned coordinated shifts. Unlike locums physicians or travel nurses, these surgicalists are dedicated to their hospital facility, serve on committees, engage with the community at large and work side-by-side with the hospital’s other medical staff physicians and employees as a true team member.

2. Are your surgeons burned out?

Attracting and retaining quality surgeons is key to a healthy OR program. But according to research highlighted by the American Medical Association, doctors are leaving or planning to leave their jobs at alarming rates. This has been a growing problem since even before the pandemic. For many surgeons both in private practice and in hospitals, balancing administrative burdens with on-call duties is simply unsustainable long-term.

Combating burnout among your surgeons, however, is surprisingly simple. More than anything else, they crave transparency, competitive pay and work-life balance through set work hours. This is achievable through the Surgicalist Model. Surgicalist doctors have the flexibility to work seven to ten consecutive days per month, allowing for predictable blocks of time off. In turn, the private practice they are supporting can care for their patients with limited or no emergency department on-call responsibilities. Both get the work-life balance they want, and importantly, patients get continuous, top-notch care.

3. Is outmigration of facility services a concern?

When hospitals aren’t able to offer a full range of surgical services due to staffing concerns, they may experience patient outmigration, reduction in facilities fees, and stunted service line growth. They may also jeopardize important trauma center designation and the funding that goes along with it. As a result, talented healthcare workers will migrate to the other nearest available hospital system with jobs and competitive pay.

The Surgicalist Model supports hospital systems to keep revenues in-house and in the community by offering emergent and acute surgical care, even in difficult-to-recruit markets such as rural regions and certain metropolitan areas. It provides staffing predictability that ensures hospitals can perform the full range of surgical services and retain trauma center designation. At the same time, surgeons enjoy fewer administrative burdens, the elimination of unpredictable on-call duty, and a restored work-life balance, all of which supports physician and staff retention.

As hospital-based surgery programs struggle to regain financial footing after the pandemic, the Surgicalist Model offers them a number of major benefits. Working with a staffing partner that provides surgicalist teams provides high-quality, 24/7 coverage that also increases revenue, ensuring your OR meets its financial goals.

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Synergy Health Partners