Surgical Scheduling and Inventory

athenahealth | 2015-2016

Objective: Create a way for surgeries to be scheduled and surgical inventory to be picked at hospitals that works within the existing athenanet product.

The project started with the goal to allow surgical schedulers and inventory managers to complete their needed tasks. Our first step was research - we had a lot to learn. At first we visited a couple clients for on-site visits and interviewed conducted one-off interviews. It took a while to have a steady, diverse group of clients from which to collect feedback. After our initial foundational research we started to get into the groove of designing, testing, and building.


This is the office of a surgical inventory manager we observed one morning on a hospital site visit.

Throughout the project our team visited 7 hospitals across America to observe their surgical scheduling and inventory processes. I was lucky enough to visit 5 of them myself. We observed and spoke with a wide array of the surgical workforce from schedulers and pre-op nurses to surgical IT staff and inventory managers. I was even able to observe a surgery taking place to watch how inventory was recorded (bucket list item - check!) The visits took place over many months and each time we visited we had new questions on which to probe.

Here are some of my notes from our site visits.

Research Synthesis

After conducting some of our research, I created this swim lane diagram to document the process of a patient's surgery. It proved very useful for getting the whole team on the same page.

The path of administrative activities to get a patient into surgery is long and complicated. Many parties, located in different facilities, need to coordinate in order for the surgery to happen safely and smoothly.


  • UX and Engineering advocating together to start fresh - At the time, the athenahealth scheduling tool was messy from both a back-end code and a front-end design perspective. We pushed to start with a fresh front end so we could build a truly excellent experience. Eventually the product management agreed it would be worth the extra time and effort despite our aggressive timeline.
  • The team’s user focus - All members of the team (UX, Engineering, Product) went on at least 1 site visit, attended remote user sessions, and participated in UX workshops about user needs and priorities. Everyone on the team knew the big problems we were trying to solve and why they were important.


  • Recruiting research participants - It was difficult to find research participants at first because we had very few hospital clients. We had to find other ways to answer our questions like reading through nurse forums and other online resources. At times we had to take our best guess and refine or change the design later one we had more information.

Want to see more?

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