May 18, 2017
It’s hard to overstate the importance of trust and confidence in the operating room when so much is on the line. The surgeon needs to know that every member of the OR team is experienced and reliable. This is especially true of the surgical assistant, who serves as an extension of the physician before, during, and after the procedure. In addition to providing exceptional clinical skills, a valuable surgical assistant (SA) understands the surgeon’s preferences and enables a rhythm and a shorthand that promote successful patient outcomes and surgeon satisfaction.
But SA staffing can be a real challenge for OR directors. It’s imperative that qualified surgical assistants are available at all times, with the skills and experience to support multiple surgeons in a variety of cases—from general surgery and obstetrics to cardiothoracic and spine surgery. Unnecessary downtime jeopardizes an OR’s productivity and can put patients at risk. To address these challenges and enhance surgeon satisfaction, many OR directors are moving toward an outsourced SA model to provide more flexibility and breadth of coverage.
Not all surgical assist providers are the same, however. Some SA partners will cherry-pick cases, favoring those that offer higher reimbursements instead of making patient care the top priority. This can leave gaps in coverage that the SA partner was meant to fill and become a source of frustration for OR directors as they scramble to ensure efficiency and productivity along with high-quality patient outcomes.
Providing coverage for a wide variety of cases and surgeons in high-volume environments increases the overall expertise of surgical assistants, making them well suited to support routine procedures as well as cases that are uncommon and complex. It also strengthens relationships between the SAs, surgeons, and the rest of the surgical staff—creating a finely tuned, integrated team. Developing camaraderie and gaining familiarity with individual styles and preferences enables clear communication throughout the process, and especially during activities that require close and delicate coordination.
We know that surgical expertise improves with hands-on experience, but ongoing training and education also play a vital role in boosting performance. The most highly qualified surgical assistants are part of a culture that values advanced certification and emphasizes learning and continuous improvement. For SpecialtyCare SAs, this means regular didactic training, mentoring, and robust peer-to-peer interactions in addition to rigorous annual evaluation of communication skills, infection control, and patient prep and assessment.
A well-trained, deeply experienced, and always-available SA team can help minimize many of the challenges that OR directors are faced with today. Our new guide, How to Improve Surgeon Satisfaction and Patient Outcomes by Aligning Surgical Assistants, takes a closer look at this vital OR function, which can heighten surgeons’ sense of trust and confidence and help improve overall quality and efficiency. OR directors and others who understand that the health of a hospital often depends on the success of the surgical department will appreciate the value created by the immediate and downstream benefits that a strong surgical assist team can provide.