Surgical Backlogging – Strategies to Help you Move Forward

Client, Healthcare Staffing, Hospital Staffing

Hospitals are rapidly increasing surgery volume to keep up with backlogged surgery demand. As the pandemic backlog is addressed, having experienced and trained staff to handle the volume is more important than ever. Surgical services personnel (RNs, SPTs, ORTs) have always been in high demand throughout the country, but COVID-19 has shaken up the distribution of those highly trained professionals. July, August, and September saw an unprecedented increase in demand (up 30% YOY) for healthcare professionals, and a lower supply of surgical personnel (down 40% YOY).

When elective surgeries came to a screeching halt in Q2 2020, nurses and technicians had to make difficult decisions. Ranges of directions included: vacating the hospital setting completely, utilizing other skill sets to move out of the specialty completely, and early retirement. As hospitals ramp up surgeries, they are also making unique adjustments that will make the demand for RNs, SPTs, and ORTs higher than ever before. This Harvard Business Review study, “Covid-19 Created an Elective Surgery Backlog. How Can Hospitals Get Back on Track?”, gives a peak into innovative ways backlogged surgeries are being addressed. Here are some takeaways:

Develop consistent, transparent, and bias-aware algorithms for surgical prioritization. When you approach the backlog with a “first come first serve” mentality, you put yourself before overall patient care and the best interest of the hospital. The key to meeting your clinical objective is to prioritize surgeries based on ethics and providing the maximum patient benefit, which can achieved through an algorithm that looks at unbiased factors, such as surgical risk factors, capacity requirements, and Covid-19 risk factors.

Expand surgical capacity by transitioning to outpatient care. By expanding into outpatient and utilizing less-intensive care settings, you can have more streamlined and focused care for patients than you would in a hospital setting with high capacity and limited resources. Dermatological surgeries are a good example of performing a procedure all in one visit in an outpatient setting.

Form dedicated teams to improve operating room efficiency. Many surgical nurses and technicians work on procedures for a variety of specialties, as healthcare leaders emphasize staff having a diverse range. This strategy, however, can hinder efficiency and create more risk for error compared to having a nurse being highly experienced and focused on one specialty.

Think beyond the traditional five-day work week. Not everyone has the flexibility to take time off during the work week for their elective surgeries. By expanding surgeries into the weekends, you can decompress the workday schedule, decrease operating room capacity, and allow patients equitable access.

Focus on simplifying patients’ surgical care experience. Patients are seeking medical help less due the fear of catching Covid-19 at hospitals. To ensure people feel safe while getting the care they need, healthcare leaders need to put a strategies in place that put the patient first, such as offering telemedicine for  those that might not feel completely comfortable or creating one point of contact to assist with logistical planning.


Josh Smith, Director of Operations – Nurse Bridge Division

Josh has more than 20 years of experience in the healthcare staffing industry and has been with Medical Solutions since 2000. He is responsible for the operations and financial oversight of several of the company’s staffing solutions, including EMR conversion expertise, labor dispute staffing, and travel staffing. Josh earned his BA from the University of Mississippi.

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