Nuts and bolts of preoperative clinics: The view from three institutions

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Three directors of dedicated preoperative assessment clinics share their experience in setting up and running their programs. Standardizing and centralizing all or part of the preoperative evaluation process—obtaining patient records; the history and physical examination; the surgical, anesthesiology, and nursing assessments; ordering tests; and documentation and billing—increases efficiency. The savings achieved from minimizing redundancy, avoiding surgery delays and cancellations, and improved reimbursement coding offset the increased costs of setting up and running the clinic.


  • Standardizing the preoperative assessment process helps ensure that regulatory, accreditation, and payer requirements and guidelines are met.
  • Careful triage based on a patient’s history can help avoid unnecessary assessment of low-risk patients and ensure that necessary assessments for higher-risk patients are completed before the day of surgery.
  • Perioperative assessment and management guidelines for various types of surgery and patient risk factors should be developed, continuously updated, and made available online to all providers within the institution.
  • Electronic medical records allow standardization of patient information, avoid redundancy, and provide a database for research.



Weiner Center for Preoperative Evaluation at Brigham and Women’s Hospital

By Angela M. Bader, MD, MPH

When organizing our preoperative clinic at Brigham and Women’s Hospital, we had several goals. Overall, we wanted a standardized process to help us achieve a high level of excellence. We hoped that creating a new system would eliminate ambiguity about who was responsible for following up on a patient’s abnormal laboratory test result—the surgeon, anesthesiologist, or primary care physician. We also wanted to better coordinate the various care teams involved throughout the perioperative period.


Standardization can occur at many levels:

  • Performance of assessments and testing
  • Organization of the patient chart and medical records
  • Systems checks throughout the process to ensure that nothing is missed
  • Team-to-team communication.

Documentation requirements apply regardless of institutional structure

When considering any system of preoperative assessment, keep in mind that the hospital must meet and appropriately document compliance with all regulatory, accreditation, and payer requirements and guidelines, such as those of the Joint Commission, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS), and the National Surgical Quality Improvement Program. For example, the Joint Commission requires that a surgical history and physical examination be done within 30 days of a procedure. An anesthesiology assessment and a nursing assessment are also required. All of these assessments have mandatory elements, including documenting “never events” and ordering appropriate laboratory tests, electrocardiograms (ECGs), and radiographs.

Sometimes administrators of other hospitals say to me, “We can’t afford a preoperative clinic, and we don’t need one.” My response is that regardless of whether a hospital has a preoperative clinic, the regulatory requirements and guidelines must be met: it is not an issue of avoiding certain steps. Having a dedicated preoperative clinic simply shifts the work to a standardized, centralized system and avoids delaying these required steps until the day of surgery, when taking care of a problem involves the most inefficient use of resources.

Tailor system to institutional needs and characteristics

Within the regulatory framework, the organizational scheme of every institution must address issues of volume and acuity, the types of surgery performed, and the time frames required. A system must be able to deal with the preoperative needs of patients undergoing operations that are booked weeks in advance (often the case for ortho­pedic surgery) as well as those that may not be booked until a day before the procedure (eg, cancer surgery).

Our plan was developed for our very high-volume, tertiary care institution. In 2008, 24,000 patients used our clinic (roughly 100 patients per day).


A nurse practitioner–based model for ‘one-stop shopping’

We decided that the clinic should offer all elements of the preoperative assessment and thereby give patients “one-stop shopping.” Each patient sees a nurse practitioner, who performs the surgical history and physical examination as well as the anesthesiology and nursing assessments. The result is a multidisciplinary approach with a single assessment output. We shifted employees who had been responsible for preoperative assessment in the offices of various surgeons to a central clinic so that all assessments could be standardized, and we provided additional training to enable them to perform various assessments. The nurse practitioners are supervised by an on-site attending physician, as detailed below.

This model offers a number of advantages:

  • Patients see a single provider.
  • Assessment is facilitated for our surgeons, who may not be completely up-to-date on perioperative risk assessment and management.
  • We have a central location for standardized education programs for our physicians, nurses, and residents.
  • The clinic’s standardized records and processes facilitate data generation for research and clinical practice improvement.

Independent budgetary and staffing structure

The preoperative clinic is a separate cost center under the leadership of the department of anesthesiology. Resources were shifted to a central location so that as volume increases, we can add resources to meet the additional volume. We contracted with the hospital administration to provide payment for two full-time-equivalent anesthesiologists per day, who serve as on-site attending physicians. The hospital is willing to do this because not only do these attending physicians supervise the anesthesiology assessment, they are the collaborating physicians for the entire perioperative assessment. They review every patient, order tests and write prescriptions as needed, and discuss issues with the primary care physicians and referring specialists.

The preoperative clinic has an anesthesiologist director (me) who reports directly to the hospital’s vice president for surgical services on budget and staffing issues. I also report to the chairman of the department of anesthesiology, though he is not involved in budgetary functions (the hospital contracts with him to provide the anesthesiology staffing). The clerical and nursing staff work directly for the clinic.

The clinic is run in a self-contained area with a central waiting room and space for doing all the assessments and laboratory work internally, including 16 examination rooms and a room for chart organization.


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