The physician work schedule – these three words alone are enough to change the mood in a meeting, for both schedulers and physicians.
The thing with work schedules is that they affect vacation planning and time for family and personal hobbies --so things have to be done fairly to avoid sticky situations. To make matters more complicated, the schedule affects the coverage to provide proper patient care - so the stakes are high.
Schedule preparation is influenced by what I call the "scheduling dichotomy,” or the fact that scheduling is both mathematically complex and a contentious workplace issue. It's the perfect storm to make a task both daunting and mathy.
Physician scheduling software can save you time by centralizing all of your tasks, and reducing the manual labor you pour into schedule creation each month. It allows you to be proactive in many cases, such as having clear vacation policies limiting how many employees can take time off work on any given day. Plus, physicians who are given a fair schedule that puts their needs first, allows them to get enough rest, and leaves them ample time for patients will have less reason to switch organizations, so you stand to earn better patient safety and improved retention.
Most physician groups experience some degree of challenges with the work schedule, and may have considered getting a scheduling solution, but that’s also a challenge in itself.
For one, it’s going to affect your entire physician team (hey, no pressure!). Additionally, sorting through the countless aspects of scheduling isn’t a trivial task, not to mention the amount of products available boasting their many features.
Have no fear, though: our guide will assist in making your search to identify the right scheduling solution more straightforward and less overwhelming.
1. Define the goals of your search
Before you start calling various vendors to see their lovely new widgets with all the latest bells and whistles, take some time to define your goals.
At Intrigma, we’ve reviewed thousands of schedules and various scenarios, and have concluded that missing this step is the most common reason that groups end up with solutions that are not a good fit. Sadly, often this isn’t discovered until months (or even years) of implementation have already wasted time and resources.
If you have a straightforward schedule with simple requirements, you probably already know your goals. Typical goals include centralizing request collection, having clear request-for-time-off policies, and saving time in preparing schedules, to name a few.
However, if you have a more complex schedule, you may want to get your entire team together and do a formal goals and requirements analysis. This meeting will:
- Start a healthy dialogue with the physicians
- Get you buy-in for key decisions and policies
- Articulate the vision of how the workplace will change and improve
- Receive early commitment to the project from key stakeholders
To help you with this analysis, we’ve designed a sample Scheduler Requirements Checklist:
2. Focus on two key metrics: schedule time and quality
At Intrigma, we work with healthcare providers around the globe, including top-rated, multi-billion dollar health systems, and academic medical centers. We learned that the best medical practices deliver excellent care by making sure that physicians, nurses, and allied health professionals are actually free to focus on those patients.
We realized very quickly that the happier the physicians are with their schedule, the better patient care they’ll provide. It’s that simple.
When picking a physician scheduling solution, you generally have two key concerns to keep in mind:
- Quality: your group’s satisfaction with their schedules
- Time cost: time required to prepare the schedule
Scheduling solutions are sophisticated software systems, and you may quickly be overwhelmed by the features offered. In fact, one physician described it as “drinking from a firehose.”
Here’s the rule of thumb for picking a solution: If you ever see something, but are not actually sure if you need it, just ask yourself - Does this really help satisfy my physicians? Does this really make the scheduler’s job easier or faster?
If the answer is a clear “no” to both, move on.
3. Understand your group’s dynamics
This is one of the most crucial steps in this journey and, unfortunately, the most commonly overlooked.
To pick a solution that will make your colleagues happy, it’s very important to understand not just what the group says they want--like ‘centralized scheduling’ or ‘fair workload distribution’--but also the team dynamics and constraints that limit the group from getting consistent results.
Scheduling physicians can be like herding cats, so you need to know both what the herd needs and what each individual deems acceptable, otherwise they may scratch each other, or even you.
To avoid any injuries on either side, write down your assessment of each individual team member’s degree of flexibility along two categories:
- Personality constraints, including willingness to help when asked to volunteer
- Personal life constraints, including responsibilities such as parenting and academic obligations. Take special note of regular or recurring needs (for example, soccer with the kids every Tuesday, travelling to teach CME every third Wednesday at 3 pm, etc).
The personality and work-life categories align with the scheduling dichotomy.
If Dr. Walnut is married with two children, needs to be off every other Tuesday for family obligations, and doesn’t volunteer to take others’ shifts very often, the ideal solution helps you assess how his situation fits with everyone else’s schedules. It is always helpful to be as transparent and fair as possible when it comes to workload distribution. Do not be afraid to ask for things in return for special consideration, as it will help you identify additional coverage opportunities fairly.
For more on workload tracking, download our free ebook.
If you are new to scheduling or are having a hard time identifying your constraints, try creating hypothetical scenarios of real-world situations with a trusted senior member of the team that will help form a policy to meet your needs.
For example: "How should an assignment be filled during an emergency or a shortage?” By answering this type of question, you are putting to work your sense of fairness while also identifying a quantifiable workplace policy. The result is that you’ll gain insight into both areas.
Your goal is set rules that accommodate the majority of the team, but be careful if you employ group discussion here, because the scheduling dichotomy involves sensitive topics. Different people may want different things and value those differently (what do you dislike more, a night shift or weekend work?) and if they can only see that their needs aren’t being addressed, without understanding both the personal factor and the math behind it all, they may feel both confused and overlooked.
Depending on the work arrangement, such as employed physicians vs contracted physicians, and work environment, such as independent physician group, academic medical center, outpatient clinic, etc., you may find it useful to designate a small physician team to comment on the matter.
This step is often neglected, and it’s truly a shame. At Intrigma, we consider it so important that our scheduling experts offer free scheduling dynamics assessments to each new client we onboard.
4. Go forth and conquer!
So yes, scheduling is complicated, but there’s hope. Use the tips above to help make your journey a more structured one, so you and your practice can continue to deliver excellent care to your patients.
Get started on analyzing your team's needs with our free checklist: