Original Research

Neurosurgery Operating Room Efficiency During the COVID-19 Era



From the Department of Neurological Surgery, Vanderbilt University Medical Center, Nashville, TN (Stefan W. Koester, Puja Jagasia, and Drs. Liles, Dambrino IV, Feldman, and Chambless), and the Department of Anesthesiology, Vanderbilt University Medical Center, Nashville, TN (Drs. Mathews and Tiwari).


Background: The COVID-19 pandemic has had broad effects on surgical care, including operating room (OR) staffing, personal protective equipment (PPE) utilization, and newly implemented anti-infective measures. Our aim was to assess neurosurgery OR efficiency before the COVID-19 pandemic, during peak COVID-19, and during current times.

Methods: Institutional perioperative databases at a single, high-volume neurosurgical center were queried for operations performed from December 2019 until October 2021. March 12, 2020, the day that the state of Tennessee declared a state of emergency, was chosen as the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. The 90-day periods before and after this day were used to define the pre-COVID-19, peak-COVID-19, and post-peak restrictions time periods for comparative analysis. Outcomes included delay in first-start and OR turnover time between neurosurgical cases. Preset threshold times were used in analyses to adjust for normal leniency in OR scheduling (15 minutes for first start and 90 minutes for turnover). Univariate analysis used Wilcoxon rank-sum test for continuous outcomes, while chi-square test and Fisher’s exact test were used for categorical comparisons. Significance was defined as P < .05.

Results: First-start time was analyzed in 426 pre-COVID-19, 357 peak-restrictions, and 2304 post-peak-restrictions cases. The unadjusted mean delay length was found to be significantly different between the time periods, but the magnitude of increase in minutes was immaterial (mean [SD] minutes, 6 [18] vs 10 [21] vs 8 [20], respectively; P = .004). The adjusted average delay length and proportion of cases delayed beyond the 15-minute threshold were not significantly different. The proportion of cases that started early, as well as significantly early past a 15-minute threshold, have not been impacted. There was no significant change in turnover time during peak restrictions relative to the pre-COVID-19 period (88 [100] minutes vs 85 [95] minutes), and turnover time has since remained unchanged (83 [87] minutes).

Conclusion: Our center was able to maintain OR efficiency before, during, and after peak restrictions even while instituting advanced infection-control strategies. While there were significant changes, delays were relatively small in magnitude.

Keywords: operating room timing, hospital efficiency, socioeconomics, pandemic.

The COVID-19 pandemic has led to major changes in patient care both from a surgical perspective and in regard to inpatient hospital course. Safety protocols nationwide have been implemented to protect both patients and providers. Some elements of surgical care have drastically changed, including operating room (OR) staffing, personal protective equipment (PPE) utilization, and increased sterilization measures. Furloughs, layoffs, and reassignments due to the focus on nonelective and COVID-19–related cases challenged OR staffing and efficiency. Operating room staff with COVID-19 exposures or COVID-19 infections also caused last-minute changes in staffing. All of these scenarios can cause issues due to actual understaffing or due to staff members being pushed into highly specialized areas, such as neurosurgery, in which they have very little experience. A further obstacle to OR efficiency included policy changes involving PPE utilization, sterilization measures, and supply chain shortages of necessary resources such as PPE.

Neurosurgery in particular has been susceptible to COVID-19–related system-wide changes given operator proximity to the patient’s respiratory passages, frequency of emergent cases, and varying anesthetic needs, as well as the high level of specialization needed to perform neurosurgical care. Previous studies have shown a change in the makeup of neurosurgical patients seeking care, as well as in the acuity of neurological consult of these patients.1 A study in orthopedic surgery by Andreata et al demonstrated worsened OR efficiency, with significantly increased first-start and turnover times.2 In the COVID-19 era, OR quality and safety are crucially important to both patients and providers. Providing this safe and effective care in an efficient manner is important for optimal neurosurgical management in the long term.3 Moreover, the financial burden of implementing new protocols and standards can be compounded by additional financial losses due to reduced OR efficiency.


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