Why hospitals need chief surgical officers: Viewpoint

The operating room is a complex environment that requires seamless communication between healthcare providers and coordination across departments. Given surgical care accounts for a critical portion of overall healthcare delivery, hospitals should consider appointing chief surgical officers to serve as key leaders, overseeing decisions that affect OR operations, David Etzioni, MD, proposed in a May 8 article published by the American College of Surgeons. 

Chief surgical officers would serve to enhance the efficiency of the OR and foster advancements in patient outcomes by cultivating a patient-focused culture, according to Dr. Etzioni, chair of the department of surgery and chief surgical officer at Mayo Clinic in Arizona, based in Phoenix. 

"The OR is a limited resource with significant associated costs, and therefore, access (allocated starts) needs to be managed wisely, including block allocations and managing flexibility for emergency cases," he wrote. 

In addition to managing costs and access, chief surgical officers would play a role in strategy. For instance, if there are plans to expand OR capacity, these leaders would coordinate with central sterile processing, preoperative/recovery spaces and other areas to determine what accompanying adjustments need to be made. Their core leadership would also be critical when there are shocks to normal operations, such as the COVID-19 pandemic, Dr. Etzioni wrote. 

"It should be noted that a chief surgical officer does not need to be a surgeon," he said. "The main requisite for the role is that the individual be a respected leader within the community of physicians and allied health staff who work within the OR." 

While some of these responsibilities might already be overseen by personnel such as the chief medical officer, no title entirely fits the purpose of a proposed chief surgical officer. This role requires expertise that pertains specifically to complex clinical considerations involved in surgical care and operations, Dr. Etzioni wrote.

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