IOWA CITY, Iowa -- In the era of managed health care, controlling costs has become crucial. Some health care economists have suggested that achieving financial savings in the operating room could mean patients in the future will have to wait longer for elective surgery -- as much as a year in some cases, which most Americans would be unwilling to do.
However, a University of Iowa Health Care researcher has found a better way to satisfy both insurance companies and patients. It is all about using information technologies to increase operating room staff productivity, said Franklin Dexter, M.D., Ph.D., UI associate professor of anesthesia. Articles about Dexter's approach to controlling operating room costs for elective surgeries appear in the July issues of Anesthesiology, and Anesthesia and Analgesia. An accompanying editorial in Anesthesia and Analgesia calls Dexter's research a "landmark study."
"There has been no evidence of any increase in productivity of the operating room perioperative workforce over the years," Dexter said. "The only way you can substantively increase operating room productivity is to ensure that you never have down time. The problem is there is a lot of down time -- on the order of 35 percent."
The solution in other fields to increase productivity without increasing costs has been to use information technology, Dexter said. In addition to coming up with this idea for health care, Dexter and his colleagues from the UI, Stanford University and Duke University have developed software that hospital operating room managers can use with their existing information systems to identify how much down time the staff is experiencing and why.
"What the software will do is let you know what the source of the problems is and how much it is costing the operating room," Dexter said. "Hospitals, anesthesiologists and surgeons can then decide, based on data, what changes should be made."