Effective physician planning and scheduling in healthcare organizations are crucial in ensuring an optimal collaborative ecosystem, workforce satisfaction and patient care. However, healthcare planners, be they physicians, coordinators or assistants, often encounter challenges: 1) balancing workload and fairness, 2) absence, last-minute changes and shift swaps, 3) administrative burden, 4) communication errors, and 5) physician autonomy.
Healthcare planners must consider multiple factors: physician availability, shift length and rotations, workload balancing, respective expertise, patient demand (and waiting list), and fairness and equity within the team, among others. Each element adds complexity to the planning and scheduling process, making it time-consuming and tiring for planners and heads of departments. These challenges can lead to scheduling conflicts, strained staff satisfaction, and compromised patient care.
The thought of automating some tasks may seem daunting, but it does hold the promise of streamlining operations, enhancing efficiency, and improving the overall well-being of physicians. Fortunately, solutions exist to optimize the planning and scheduling process.
Challenge 1: Balancing workload and fairness
Traditional manual planning and scheduling processes often need more insight to allocate shifts equitably, relying on subjective judgments. Uneven workloads can lead to physician burnout and compromise patient care. According to the MGMA, “80% of healthcare leads report their level of stress or burnout increased in 2022”. The increasing intensity of physician workload in healthcare organizations has become a significant issue, impacting individual performance, absenteeism, turnover, and organizational performance. Healthcare professionals, including physicians, were subjected to an increased workload during the COVID-19 crisis, exposing them to significant physical and psychological distress (Alrawashdeh H.M. et al. BMC Public Health 21, 811, 2021). Physicians experiencing high workloads face burnout, stress, and frustration, which reduces their ability to interact effectively with patients. Additionally, despite the increasing significance of primary care, there is a notable decline in the number of general practitioners (GPs) and widespread discontentment among them in various countries.
To address this challenge, healthcare organizations are turning to innovative solutions like equity counters. The equity counter ensures schedules are balanced and fair across the team; they are measured against the “weight” of each task or shift to highlight potential issues and equity breaks. By leveraging data-driven insights, the equity counter considers factors such as patient demand, physician availability, and skill sets to recommend optimized schedules that distribute workloads evenly among doctors.
Balancing workload and scheduling fairness is essential for staff satisfaction and patient care outcomes. Fairly distributed workloads for night shifts, weekends and on-call duties lead to a better physician experience and job satisfaction, increasing engagement and retention. Fairness promotes a harmonious work environment, fostering positive relationships among staff members. Physicians are more committed to their jobs when schedules are fair and the workload equitably distributed.
By adopting advanced solutions prioritizing equity and fairness, healthcare organizations can optimize their scheduling processes, create a supportive work environment, and ultimately deliver better healthcare outcomes for physicians and patients.
Challenge 2: Absence, last-minute changes and shift swaps
Last-minute changes and shift swaps in physician schedules can cause significant disruptions within care facilities. When physicians cannot fulfill their scheduled shifts due to unforeseen events or holidays, it can create a domino effect, impacting the continuity of care and overall operational efficiency. The difficulty lies in finding suitable replacements quickly and ensuring patient appointments and procedures are maintained.
This process is typically very time-consuming, requiring physicians to manually contact the department manager or the planner to coordinate the changes. It can be challenging to manage, especially in large healthcare organizations with many departments and specialties across multiple sites. Those networks consisting of many different and interconnected parts add an extra layer of complexity, delay the decision-making process, and increase the chances of miscommunication.
Physician scheduling solutions are software designed to simplify the process of creating and managing schedules for healthcare providers. By leveraging a software solution, these systems provide a user-friendly interface for physicians to manage their schedules and communicate their availability directly. Physician scheduling solutions empower physicians to take control of their agenda, eliminating the constant back-and-forth communication with planners. Physician scheduling solutions improve efficiency and allow for better care, as the system can promptly identify and assign suitable replacements, ensuring that patients receive the care they need without disruptions.
Just like managing your finances through a banking app and speeding up your transactions, medical scheduling solutions offer a similar experience, allowing physicians to manage their schedules and facilitate seamless operations effectively.
Challenge 3: Administrative burden
The dramatic rise in physician burnout rates relies on paperwork burden and administrative demands (Medical Economics Journal, 98, 01, January 2021), among others. Administrative duties in physician scheduling can significantly affect healthcare organizations' efficiency. The need to consider multiple factors, including physician availability, shift rotations, internal rules, physician preferences, and patient care needs, often requires manual adjustments and coordination to create an optimized schedule. The planners must also navigate the complexities of balancing physician availability, ensuring appropriate shift coverage, and accommodating patient care demands. When administrators struggle to accommodate complex scheduling requirements, it can result in planning conflicts and inefficiencies that impact the team.
Fortunately, there are potential solutions to reduce the administrative burden and strengthen organizational efficiency. Planners can implement various strategies to streamline the scheduling process, automate repetitive tasks, and utilize data-driven solutions. Automated planning tools can maximize scheduling, simplify the process and reduce the risk of errors. These tools can include templates and adaptable, flexible rules that make scheduling-related tasks easier and minimize the time and effort required to create and manage schedules. For example, standardized scheduling templates incorporate specific requirements such as preferred shift lengths, maximum consecutive work hours, or particular skills and expertise needed for specific shifts. Those templates are adaptable to meet your unique needs.
A physician scheduling solution considers various constraints to generate an optimized schedule. By leveraging AI technology, the solution analyzes past schedules and identifies allocation trends specific to each healthcare department or organization. This data-driven approach streamlines the scheduling process, reducing the time and effort required compared to manual methods.
According to Health IT Analytics and the American Society of Anesthesiologists (ASA), implementing an AI-based scheduling tool reduced the time needed significantly to create new schedules, with an average time of 14 hours compared to the 60 to 75 hours required for manual scheduling. Utilizing advanced scheduling solutions in healthcare organizations improves workflow efficiency and saves time.
By boosting organizational efficiency, planners can optimize the allocation of physician resources, ensure a smooth workflow, and ultimately improve the overall effectiveness of healthcare organizations.
Challenge 4: Communication errors
Communication plays a crucial role in effective physician scheduling. Communication gaps or manual retranscription errors following a call between an assistant and a physician can slow down the process. The consequences of such miscommunication can be significant, leading to double bookings, overlooked shift requests, or incorrect duty assignments, negatively impacting scheduling accuracy and staff satisfaction. These issues can lead to misunderstandings, interpersonal irritants and scheduling inaccuracies.
To address these issues, integrated communication systems within doctors scheduling software play a vital role. This integrated communication approach within physician scheduling solutions minimizes conflicts arising from miscommunication or transcription errors, fostering a more harmonious, productive, and efficient scheduling environment for administrators and physicians. By providing real-time access to up-to-date information, these solutions keep all involved staff members informed about schedule changes, shift swaps, and updates.
Strengthening communication efficiency through a streamlined communication tool integrated into an automated planning solution further enhances scheduling data accuracy and staff satisfaction.
Challenge 5: Physician autonomy
Supporting physician autonomy in scheduling is another crucial challenge healthcare organizations face today. Granting physicians independence and freedom simplifies the scheduling process and gives them greater control over their work organization. This autonomy empowers doctors to have a say in determining their schedule preferences, such as availability and shift preferences, allowing them to align their work-life balance and optimize their productivity. Then, physicians can better manage their time by giving them more control over their schedules, reducing stress, and enhancing their overall job satisfaction.
With collaborative physician scheduling software, physicians become active contributors, improving collaboration and information accuracy and reducing conflicts. They can easily update their availability, request shift swaps, or communicate any scheduling preferences or conflicts directly within the solution. They can view their schedules in real-time, receive notifications for any changes or updates, and share openly with the planners or other group members. This level of involvement empowers physicians to have greater control over their work arrangements.
Implementing physician scheduling software, automation and data-driven insights helps balance workload, streamline processes regarding shift changes, reduce administrative burden, eliminate communication and manual errors, and enhance physician autonomy. Empowering doctors with schedule control and promoting collaboration ultimately contribute to a harmonious work environment.
Effective physician planning and scheduling plays an essential role in ensuring optimal collaborative ecosystem, staff and physician satisfaction and patient care. The challenges faced by healthcare planners can be overcome by adopting healthcare technology solutions that address each specific problem. By embracing an advanced technology and automated physician scheduling solution, healthcare organizations can enhance the perception of fairness and equity, streamline scheduling processes, improve efficiency, reduce unnecessary intermediate steps, and empower physicians to take control of their schedules.
If you’re looking for an efficient solution at the cutting edge of technological advances to plan and manage physician group schedules, the Petal Physician Scheduling solution is a great way to start. Petal’s Physician Scheduling solution enables administrators, planners and physicians to manage schedules seamlessly, saving valuable planning time, reducing the administrative burden, and balancing clinical workload efficiently. Whether it's handling shift rotations, managing last-minute changes, or ensuring equitable workload distribution, Petal's Physician Scheduling solution provides a comprehensive solution that aligns with the unique needs of healthcare organizations, ultimately aiming to improve workforce well-being and enhance patient access to care.