How Complicated is it to Plan a Physician Group Schedule?

Within physician groups, whether by department or other, someone is always given the task of planning and managing the schedule.

The thing is, physicians aren’t paid to take on the extra task, adding on to their administrative burden and taking time away from their work and personal lives.

For most of the group, the only inconvenience in the matter is needing to send non-availabilities and ensuring they are respected. For the schedule planner, however, the time and effort needed to manually plan a 3-month schedule period is extremely long and can be complex for larger groups with many shifts and tasks.

Managing Physician Absences

Handing in absences as an individual is easy enough as you know your personal schedule. For a schedule planner, however, compiling a number of absences and planning a schedule accordingly requires hours of planning, especially for long periods. Without the proper tools, managing absences and planning a schedule manually while taking them into consideration can be spread out over several days.

For Nancy Schroeder, the Medical Affairs Coordinator at the Pembroke Regional Hospital in Ontario, the addition of physicians to the group added too much complexity to their schedules. The process was simply unfit for manual transcriptions and planning.

“Scheduling was using too much of my time, it was constant emails, and calls and trading shifts” says Nancy.

There is much more to regrouping, planning and respecting non-availabilities in a schedule than meets the eye. When all of these are taken into consideration, the actual shifts themselves need to be assigned fairly with reasonable staff for each.

So what efforts actually go into planning a group schedule?

Elements of a Physician Schedule

For a schedule planner, there are many elements to consider and respect when planning a schedule. These include:

  • Shift types
  • Various time slots
  • Managing absences
  • Ensuring equity
  • Respecting certain constraints
  • Publishing the schedule to the group
  • Taking calls and emails for shift transfers and exchanges
  • Updating schedules
  • Communicating changes to the group
  • Sending the on-call schedule to the hospital switchboard
  • Sending updated schedules to the switchboard

Excel can only lay out certain elements in a more concise form, but it won’t do the work for you. It takes excessive amounts of time to manually plan a schedule. It involves laying out all the information, starting to plan, and then constantly needing to change and tweak the schedule when you see a constraint has not been respected, often creating a domino effect on other shifts and physician non-availabilities as well.

The clear solution to eliminate manually planning a schedule is an automated scheduling solution. It allows physician planners to avoid all this and regain the time they need to spend with their patients and gain a better work-life balance.

What Automated Scheduling Tools do for Physician Groups

Planning schedules manually in today’s technological world is not only unnecessary, but is now highly unproductive. Being able to click a few buttons to generate a complex schedule in minutes based on your needs, constraints, rules and equity is now available thanks to automated scheduling tools.

Take an emergency department schedule planner at a large Canadian hospital for example. He appreciates the ease of working with an automated scheduling tool that still allows him to manually make changes as he pleases. Providing his group with an easy way to exchange their tasks, with or without his consent, also answers his needs.

As the planner, he estimated that with PetalMD’s scheduling solution, he spent 15 hours building his quarterly schedule, thus reducing the time spent on schedule creation by 62% and eliminating most of the tedious work. A time reduction from 40 hours in a 3-month period to 15 hours in the same period translates to 100 hours saved per year. - Emergency Department Case Study.

The time he saved from switching to manual, paper based methods to an automated tool has allowed him and his team to not only increase their productivity, but has allowed him to gain a better work-life balance. His team also no longer needs to run after him to submit their non-availabilities or to constantly request shift exchanges. They can do so themselves on their smartphones or through the Web portal, all in a few simple clicks. The cloud-based software enabled them to quickly adopt the solution without needing to install anything. Nobody will mind taking the task of planning the schedule in your group now.

Read the Emergency Group Case Study to see how other Canadian emergency departments switched to automated scheduling tools to save time and improve physician satisfaction.