Surgery Schedulers – Worth Their Weight in Gold

If you’re a surgeon and you have a good scheduler, consider yourself fortunate.  Many think that surgery scheduling is a “desk job” that just about anyone can be trained to do.  Well think again.

Just as the opportunity costs of un-booked slots on a physician schedule has ramifications on overall practice revenue, the most significant barrier to real cost reduction in the operating room is inefficient use of surgical time.  While it is the responsibility of Surgery Center Administration to establish and monitor its own efficiency metrics, it’s up to your office scheduler to have all pending cases communicated to the OR Scheduling department well in advance. It’s imperative that your scheduler maintains an up-to-date wait-list of surgery-ready patients able to backfill openings that occur at a moment’s notice. 

This sounds simple, but it can be a daunting task. Schedulers who do this well are considered key staff, supporting important revenue for both the practice and theSurgeryCenter.  Those who do it poorly, left unchecked, can wreak financial havoc beyond the physician practice itself. 

Similar to a good air traffic controller, a good surgery scheduler must know where all prospective cases are at all times.  Are they still at curbside check-in (deciding whether to have the procedure), at the gate (scheduled for preadmission testing), ready to board (preadmission testing and insurance pre-certification/predetermination completed), lined up on the runway (formally booked and on the O.R. schedule/awaiting assignment of arrival times), back at the gate (surgery completed/charges ready to code and bill), or in a holding pattern (on the wait-list).

Ineffective surgery schedulers, like suspicious neoplasms, should be excised quickly.  Continuing to keep ineffective schedulers (whether it be for practice loyalty or other political reasons) is a costly business decision, as they are in a position to waste a lot of other people’s money in O.R. inefficiency each and every day that they remain ineffective. 

So what makes a great Surgery Scheduler? Should physicians hire only RNs or those with advanced education or clinical certifications?  Not necessarily.  Much depends on the type and complexity of surgeries being performed, and the expectations and delegation given to the scheduler by the physician.  Having a clinical background inherently adds a patient teaching component that lends itself well to addressing questions about procedures, what to expect before, during, and after the surgery, medications to discontinue, and the like.  This is especially useful when dealing with elderly populations with comorbidities and possible comprehension deficits. That said, many stellar schedulers come from general business or backgrounds in industries unrelated to medicine and do equally well.  The key to success is finding someone with the right attributes, abilities, and intellect. 

Consider the following when evaluating an applicant’s suitability for the position:

  • What is the candidate’s overall intelligence level?
  • Are they articulate?  Can they convey what may be complex information in a manner that can be easily understood without the use of special jargon or terminology?
  • Are they truly patient centered?  Do they display genuine care and concern, viewing multi-tasking, constant interruptions, and patient questions as welcome and normal components of their day? 
  • Are they demonstrably organized?  Do they use their time (even down time) efficiently?
  • Do they utilize systems and processes that are efficient, effective, and intuitive to others?  Could a casual observer be placed in their work area and pick up where they left off?
  • Do they understand and appreciate the time value of money?  Does the prospect of keeping surgery schedules fully booked and patients happy motivate them?
  • Do they have the interpersonal skills and emotional intelligence to forge productive working relationships with other practice schedulers, hospital departments, and insurance company representatives external to your practice?
  • Do they have a desire to comprehend, research, and follow up?  If they don’t know something, are they comfortable clarifying or picking up the phone (without prompting) and making the necessary calls to find the answers?
  • Do they have an adequate understanding of the Revenue Cycle and the intricacies involved?  Are they comfortable communicating with patients about money? 
  • Do they relate well to everyone in billing?  Can they quickly learn concepts relating to fee schedules, procedure codes, diagnosis codes, and modifiers?
  • Are they inner directed enough to take action and update everyone involved whenever changes occur?

If you can answer yes to all of the above questions, congratulations!  You have, or are well on your way to having, a Surgery Scheduler worth their weight in gold. 


Paula Taylor is Founder and Principal Practice Analyst for Better Performing Practices, an Atlantabased practice management firm.  For over 25 years Ms. Taylor has assisted physicians across numerous specialties and in a variety of healthcare settings, working collaboratively with hospital networks, accounting firms, and other practice management professionals. She can be contacted through her firm for interim practice management, practice turnarounds, revenue cycle management, and practice management/electronic health record systems installations.


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