Why can it take so long between identifying a need and having surgery? It feels hard-hearted to talk about money when it comes to people’s healthcare, but commercial reality is a very real factor in determining how soon a patient receives the care they need. Nowhere is this more the case than when discussing elective surgery. It is a process that can be fraught with delays and cancellation, which can be extremely expensive – it’s estimated that a surgery delay of 12 minutes (at a delay cost of $30 per minute) accounts for $129,600 of costs annually, or an even larger $216,000 cost if surgery is cancelled.

These sums ought to make all health providers sit up and take notice. But what about the impact of delays and cancellations on the patient? It will have taken a long period of time to even get to the operating theatre, as patients can wait up to four months before their first appointment with a specialist, and then another four months before the elective surgery takes place. The diagram below shows the timelines for a typical elective surgery process.

 

Improving the elective surgery process is the core output that Dr Mirza Baig1 and his colleagues are setting out to achieve in their research A patient’s journey for an elective surgery – an automated approach towards prioritisation and preoperative assessment.

In the initial phase of this project, the team have identified the key factors that make up the elective surgery journey, with a view to automating the right parts of the process, creating a more efficient and fair system to ensure patients have fast and equitable access to elective surgery.

An important aspect of this research is improving preoperative assessment by designing a mobile application for patients. The app would ensure patients are fully informed and prepared for elective surgery so that costly delays and cancellations can be avoided. It includes reminders, alerts, notifications and even media such as a virtual tour of the operating theatres to help patients overcome preoperative anxiety. Ongoing patient communication via the app will mean that care teams can deal earlier with any conditions that arise which may delay or cancel elective surgery. Following surgery, the app can be used to help ensure a better recovery, reducing the chances of readmission.

Finally, an exciting aspect of this research is that it is taking place inside New Zealand hospitals, clinics and general practices. This means that the information gathered for this research will come directly from actual cases - contributing hugely to the real-life transformation of the elective surgery experience.

1 Dr Baig was assisted in this research by Dr Farhaan Mirza, IT & Software Engineering Lecturer, Auckland University of Technology and Dr Ehsan Ullah, Clinical Effectiveness Advisor, Auckland District Health Board.