When to Schedule Surgery

When to schedule operative procedure, surgery, outpatient, ambulatory

When is the best time to have surgery?

A lot of times, you don’t have much choice as to when your procedure is scheduled, but what if you do? If you can pick you time, or influence it, when is the best time to have surgery?

Time of year:


This is “I paid my deductible” season. People who have met their insurance deductible come out of the woodwork to have things done. If your knee is bothering you, but not enough to spend out-of-pocket to have it fixed, once your insurance will pay for it, it sounds like a more reasonable idea. This happens, A LOT.

If you’re in this boat, schedule early. As early as the middle of November some surgeons / ORs are booked for the rest of the year.

If you’re not in this boat, think about having your procedure just after the new year, when things are much slower. When surgery volumes pick up in November and December, most facilities don’t add staff, they just function at maximum capacity. If anything goes wrong or things move slower than expected, wait times can be long (in pre-op for example).  Staff are bordering on, if not just plain over-worked. If you don’t’ have to be there, don’t be there.


At teaching institutions, new residents start in July. There are multiple layers of personnel that should keep brand new doctors from making mistakes, but the wheels may turn slower with green residents. Be a patient patient.

Time of week:

There are pluses and minuses to everything. Having surgery on Monday means you have access to the entire team at your surgeon’s office all week, but maybe you, and your caregiver(s), have to take more time off work. For Friday surgery, the reverse is true. You have the weekend to recover but the staff coverage is thinner, and if you need to be seen, often the only option is the Emergency Room.

Time of day:

First of all, the only case that starts on time is the first one. After the day gets started, anything can happen. So, try to go with the flow and arrive on-time or a little early for your procedure so if you can go earlier than scheduled, you’re ready.

Otherwise, time of day is really patient preference. If you schedule at 7:30, you’ll have to arrive at the facility at 6:00am or earlier but you’ll probably be home early afternoon (depending on the procedure of course). Surgeries scheduled later in the day might allow you to arrive at a more civilized time but the ordeal will take up most of your day. Finally, scheduling late in the day means if you get home and have an urgent issue, again, your only option may be the ER.

Other thoughts:

The most important thing to know when scheduling your surgery is your surgeon’s call schedule. If you schedule on their call day, there’s a higher chance they’ll be juggling emergencies at the same time they’re working with you. If you schedule on their post-call day, there’s a higher chance they won’t be well rested.  You would hope that there would be some internal policing of this stuff but not always.

So, now you know the ins and outs of scheduling surgery. Adding some control back into a situation that seems completely out-of-control can ease your nerves and demystify the experience.  Be well.

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