Operating room efficiency in a low resource setting: a pilot study from a large tertiary referral center in Ethiopia

Patient Saf Surg. 2022 Jan 7;16(1):3. doi: 10.1186/s13037-021-00314-5.


Background: The operating room (OR) is one of the most expensive areas of a hospital, requiring large capital and recurring investments, and necessitating efficient throughput to reduce costs per patient encounter. On top of increasing costs, inefficient utilization of operating rooms results in prolonged waiting lists, high rate of cancellation, frustration of OR personnel as well as increased anxiety that negatively impacts the health of patients. This problem is magnified in developing countries, where there is a high unmet surgical need. However, no system currently exists to assess operating room utilization in Ethiopia.

Methodology: A prospective study was conducted over a period of 3 months (May 1 to July 31, 2019) in a tertiary hospital. Surgical case start time, end time, room turnover time, cancellations and reason for cancellation were observed to evaluate the efficiency of eight operating rooms.

Results: A total of 933 elective procedures were observed during the study period. Of these, 246 were cancelled, yielding a cancellation rate of 35.8%. The most common reasons for cancellation were related to lack of OR time and patient preparation (8.7% and 7.7% respectively). Shortage of facilities (instrument, blood, ICU bed) were causes of cancelation in 7.7%. Start time was delayed in 93.4% (mean 8:56 am ± 52 min) of cases. Last case completion time was early in 47.9% and delayed in 20.6% (mean 2:54 pm ± 156 min). Turnover time was prolonged in 34.5% (mean 25 min ± 49 min). Total operating room utilization ranged from 10.5% to 174%. Operating rooms were underutilized in 42.7% while overutilization was found in 14.6%.

Conclusion: We found a high cancellation rate, most attributable to late start times leading to delays for the remainder of cases, and lack of preoperative patient preparation. In a setting with a high unmet burden of surgical disease, OR efficiency must be maximized with improved patient evaluation workflows, adequate OR staffing and commitment to punctual start times. We recommend future quality improvement projects focusing on these areas to increase OR efficiency.

Keywords: Cancellation rate; Efficiency; Operating room; Start time delay; Turnover time; Utilization.