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The challenges of shift scheduling and conquering them

Posted on 1/28/2015 by Elizabeth in category: scheduling software articles
Shift scheduling for a scheduling manager is an art. Assembling the right mix is a bit like trying to play three-dimensional chess. The number of pieces are astounding:
  • Patient needs
  • Hospital staffing requirements
  • Specialty staffing requirements
  • Doctor schedules outside the healthcare facility
  • Vacations
  • Holidays
  • Requests for time off
  • Time off due to illness
  • Shift preferences
  • Seniority
  • New staff coming in
  • Old staff leaving

When one pieces moves on one board, pieces need to shift on all the multi-levels of play.

These factors basically fit into three categories: patient and department needs, personal worker needs and overall staff requirements.

A Look at Patient Needs

Each department requires physicians, assistants and nurses with specific training in order to meet the needs of the patients. Managing to fill each spot when juggling vacations, time off, illness and preferences is arduous. But it has to be done to keep the healthcare facility safe and productive.

With optimal physician scheduling, the right mix is assigned to each shift. Patients get the type of care they need, delivered by the proper quota of skilled, rested healthcare workers.

A Look at Personal Needs

Doctors, assistants and nurses all have private lives. Finding a work/life balance keeps each of them functioning at his highest capacity. When life of any healthcare worker is out of equilibrium, low morale is the result, leading to absenteeism and moving to a new places of work.

The shifts need to take into consideration the need for adequate rest and relaxation if the worker is going to function well in the hectic, demanding environment of a hospital. That is what makes emergency medicine scheduling so tension-filled.

Taking skill sets, seniority and shift preferences into account when scheduling gives healthcare workers more control over their lives and greater job satisfaction. The result is happier, more productive staff and better job retention.

A Look at Overall Facility Needs

Old staff leave and new come in. The shift scheduling needs to take into account overlap and time for training new people. Requirements change in departments with new technology. Hospital rules change that impact scheduling.

With each change that affects the workload, the schedule needs to adjust. The changes must be done quickly and thoroughly to ensure that the right mix and number of people are in each department.

A Look at the Shift Scheduler

The best shift scheduler has patience, a thick skin, expert knowledge of the specific needs of the facility and of the staff, a strong understanding of medical requirements over a range of specialties and persistence.

When the work was done with pen and pencil, it could be a full time job. With each change, a new schedule had to be produced. The introduction of computers and spreadsheets revolutionized the task, but it still took days.

Shift Scheduling Software

Currently many shift schedulers rely on advanced web-based software. It allows the scheduler to customize the rules for shift preferences, specialty needs, time off and many other factors. It automates the entire process of scheduling and takes minutes instead of hours or days. When a last minute change happens, as it will, it can quickly refigure the most optimal combination of staffing talent.

Every staffer has access to the schedule via the web, which cuts down on calls to the scheduler, saving the scheduler time and frustration. The software has extensive reporting abilities, which improves future scheduling.

The scheduler benefits, as do the physicians, nurses and other medical staff. Work/life balance is improved for everyone, the needs of the patients are met with the right type and number of staff, and the quality of care delivered is at its highest.

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