Australian Health Review Australian Health Review Society
Journal of the Australian Healthcare & Hospitals Association
RESEARCH ARTICLE

Beyond clinical priority: what matters when making operational decisions about emergency surgical queues?

Anneke Fitzgerald A B and Yong Wu A

A Department of International Business and Asian Studies, Griffith University, Gold Coast Campus, Qld 4222, Australia. Email: yong.wu@griffith.edu.au

B Corresponding author. Email: anneke.fitzgerald@griffith.edu.au

Australian Health Review - http://dx.doi.org/10.1071/AH16009
Submitted: 22 December 2015  Accepted: 29 June 2016   Published online: 29 August 2016

Abstract

Objective This paper describes the perceptions of operating theatre staff in Australia and The Netherlands regarding the influence of logistical or operational reasons that may affect the scheduling of unplanned surgical cases. It is proposed that logistical or operational issues can influence the priority determination of queue position of surgical cases on the emergency waiting list.

Methods A questionnaire was developed and conducted in 15 hospitals across The Netherlands and Australia, targeting anaesthetists, managers, nurses and surgeons. Statistical analyses revolved around these four professional groups. Six hypotheses were then developed and tested based on the responses collected from the participants.

Results There were significant differences in perceptions of logistics delay factors across different professional groups when patients were waiting for unplanned surgery. There were also significant differences among different groups when setting logistical priority factors for planning and scheduling unplanned cases. The hypotheses tests confirm these differences, and the findings concur with the paradigmatic differences mentioned in the literature. These paradigmatic differences among the four professional groups may explain some of the tensions encountered when making decisions about scheduling emergency surgical queues, and therefore should be taken into consideration for management of operating theatres.

Conclusions Queue positions of patients waiting for unplanned surgery, or emergency surgery, are determined by medical clinicians according to clinicians’ indication of clinical priority. However, operating theatre managers are important in facilitating smooth operations when planning for emergency surgeries. It is necessary for surgeons to understand the logistical challenges faced by managers when requesting logistical priorities for their operations.

What is known about the topic? Tensions exist about the efficient use of operating theatres and negotiating individual surgeon’s demands, especially between surgeons and managers, because in many countries surgeons only work in the hospital and not for the hospital.

What does this paper add? The present study examined the logistical effects on functionality and purports the notion that, while recognising the importance of clinical precedence, logistical factors influence queue order to ensure efficient use of operating theatre resources.

What are the implications for practitioners? The results indicate that there are differences in the perceptions of healthcare professionals regarding the sequencing of emergency patients. These differences may lead to conflicts in the decision making process about triaging emergency or unplanned surgical cases. A clear understanding of the different perceptions of different functional groups may help address the conflicts that often arise in practice.


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