Developing a high-efficiency operating room (OR) is both a challenging and rewarding goal for any healthcare system. The OR is traditionally a high-cost/high-revenue environment1 and operative efficacy has been correlated with low complication rates and surgical success.2 An efficient OR is one that maximizes utilization while providing safe, reproducible, cost-effective, high-quality care. Total joint arthroplasty (TJA) has occupied the center stage for OR efficiency research, in part due to increasing demands from our aging population3 and economic pressures related to high implant costs, decreased reimbursement, and competition for market shares when OR time and space are limited.
A PubMed search on OR efficiency in TJA shows a disproportionately high focus on surgical technique, such as use of patient-specific instrumentation (PSI), computer-assisted surgery (CAS), minimally invasive surgery, and closure with barbed suture. In a retrospective review of 352 TKA patients who had PSI vs conventional instrumentation, DeHaan and colleagues4 found that PSI was associated with significantly decreased operative and room turnover times (20.4 minutes and 6.4 minutes, respectively). In another prospective multicenter study, Mont and colleagues5 showed a reduction in surgical time by 8.90 min for navigated total knee arthroplasty (TKA) performed with single-use instruments, cutting blocks, and trials. Other investigators compared PSI to CAS in TKA and found PSI to be 1.45 times more profitable than CAS, with 3 PSI cases performed in an 8-hour OR day compared to 2 CAS cases.6
There is no question that improved surgical technique can enhance OR efficiency. However, this model, while promising, is difficult to implement on a wide scale due to surgeon preferences, vendor limitations, and added costs related to the advanced preoperative imaging studies, manufacturing of the custom guides, and maintenance of navigation equipment. In addition, while interventions such as the use of barbed suture have the potential for speeding closure time, the time saved (4.7 minutes in one randomized trial)7 may not be enough to affect major utilization differences per OR per day. These technologies are also frequently employed by high-volume surgeons with high-volume teams and institutions.
Ideally, we need investment in the human capital and a collective change in work cultures to produce high-quality, well-choreographed, easily reproducible routines. An efficient OR requires the synchronous involvement of a large team of individuals, including hospital administrators, surgery schedulers, surgeons, anesthesiologists, preoperative holding area staff, OR nurses, surgical attendants, sterile processing personnel, and recovery room nurses. Case schedulers should match allocated block time with time required for surgery based on the historical performance of the individual surgeon, preferably scheduling similar cases on the same day. Preoperative work-up and medical clearance should be completed prior to scheduling to avoid last-minute cancellations. Patient reminders and accommodations for those traveling from long distances can further minimize late arrivals. Prompt initiation of the perioperative clinical pathway upon a patient’s check-in is important. The surgical site should be marked and the anesthesia plan confirmed upon arrival in the preoperative holding area. Necessary products need to be ready and/or administrated in time for transfer to the OR. These include prophylactic antibiotics, coagulation factors (eg, tranexamic acid), and blood products as indicated. Spinal anesthesia, regional nerve blocks, and intravenous (IV) lines should be completed before transfer to the OR. A “block room” close to the OR can allow concurrent induction of anesthesia and has been shown to increase the number of surgical cases performed during a regular workday.8 Hair clipping within the surgical site and pre-scrubbing of the operative extremity should also be performed prior to transfer to the OR in order to minimize micro-organisms and dispersal of loose hair onto the sterile field.