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Home > Why Is My Surgery Time Unknown Until the Day Before Surgery?

Why Is My Surgery Time Unknown Until the Day Before Surgery?

Boyd W. Haynes III, MD

Boyd W. Haynes III, MD

Having surgery is a big deal to the average person and takes a lot of planning – you’ve got to take time off work, plan for who will take care of you, cook for the family, feed the cat, keep the house running, mow the lawn, get in the mail, pay the bills – yes – there are many moving parts to think about after you put a surgical date on the calendar.  So why is your surgery time a mystery until the day before your scheduled surgery date?  You need to plan when you are going to have your last meal before surgery, for Pete’s sake!  LOL!  Since I’ve been a surgeon for a long time, let me see if I can shed some light on the reasons for this big unanswered question that hangs over every surgical patient’s head. Walk with me through the process and I think it will make more sense at the end.

My surgical scheduler who is in the office at Orthopaedic and Spine Center, meets with each patient individually to schedule the surgery they need, whether it be an endoscopic carpal tunnel release or a total knee replacement.  As I usually have two standing days a week where I perform surgery on my patients and have allotments of time at the hospital or surgery center for those cases, the patient will be offered dates on those upcoming days, depending on their type of surgery and insurance.

The hospital or surgery center will be sent the order for surgery by my surgical scheduler and this surgery will be put on a master schedule for the facility.  Every surgery center has a person who oversees the allotment of operating rooms and the supply of needed medical equipment and surgical instrumentation for a particular surgery when a surgeon puts in an order for a surgery.  This person has typically been an OR nurse who is intimately familiar with surgery and how operating rooms are managed.  They may be called an OR Manager or OR Coordinator, but they run the operating room show at the surgery center.

Let’s say I am scheduled to be at Coastal Virginia Surgery Center on an upcoming Thursday.  I have the following surgeries: (all names are fictitious)

  1. knee replacement (Smith)
  2. hip replacement (Jones)
  3. hip replacement (Brown)
  4. shoulder arthroscopy (Elder)
  5. knee arthroscopy (Tennant)
  6. endoscopic carpal tunnel release (Lee)
  7. tennis elbow surgery (lateral epicondyle release) (White)

These surgeries will all be put in a specific order (usually based on length of surgery or anticipated surgical difficulty – these will go first in the morning as patients may need longer in recovery) and then all of the x-ray equipment, supplies, medication, implants, special surgical tables, anesthesia, support staff, other physicians, etc. has to be ordered, gathered together (if supplies) and made available for me for that specific surgery.  The implant reps must be contacted to make sure I have the implant prosthetics for my hips and knee cases.  Everything must be perfect, all the items I need for surgery must be in order when you and I are in the operating room. Getting it to that stage involves a lot of work behind the scenes that you never see from many dedicated surgery center staff members.

When all preparations have been completed, I’ll get the thumbs up that things look good to go for Thursday’s surgeries.  Let’s say that happens on the Monday before surgeries are scheduled on Thursday. The next day, Tuesday before surgery, Mr. Jones has a death in the family and has to postpone his surgery.  Later that day, Ms. Elder reports that she’s come down with a sinus infection, can’t breathe, is on antibiotics and needs to reschedule her surgery.  The once “perfect” schedule has now been changed quite a bit and the surgery center operating rooms, personnel and the surgical line-up must be changed as well.

On Wednesday, the day before surgery, when we finally call you, to let you know what time to report for surgery, maybe you’ll understand a little bit more about what goes into putting together the schedule for surgery.  We don’t always have two cancellations, sometimes we have three or four or none.  We don’t withhold information from you to make you wonder when you’ll be able to eat your last meal before surgery or take your last sip of water.  Just understand that our hardworking teams are doing their best to ensure you have a good outcome and surgical experience, no matter what happens behind the scenes.






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