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Five strategies to improve the emergency physician schedule

Posted on 9/19/2018 by Elizabeth in category: scheduling software articles

Emergency medicine is a unique practice with a set of unique challenges that many in other fields of healthcare will never grasp. There is day in and day out, hour by hour, and even minute by minute changes in workload and priorities.

Perhaps one of the most significant challenges in this area of medicine is shift work. Often, emergency physicians work constantly rotating shifts throughout their career. Such frequent changes in the emergency physician schedule can lead to:

- Sleep deprivation
- Mental fatigue
- Stress 
- And as commonly known by most in the medical profession — burnout.

This can result in poor quality of care or worst case scenario a physician leaving the discipline altogether.

Improving the shift schedule can be beneficial to emergency physicians and set the tone for the quality of care that is administered in the emergency department. Check out these five strategies for creating better physician schedules.

1) Waterfall Method

Most emergency department doctors work three to five shifts a week. Five days shifts are necessary during exceptionally busy weeks. Every physician is required to work a night shift, some preferred to work them all together. However, the waterfall method allows a physician to work a night shift as a one-off event that way they’ll have time to rest and reset their clocks. For instance, one scheduled shift will start at 6 am, the next day start time will be 3 am, the following 3 pm and so forth.

2) Staff More Physicians Than Necessary

Always expect a high volume of patients in the emergency department as this makes efficiency necessary. Therefore, as the ER scheduler, you don’t want to staff just enough doctors for a shift. Instead, scheduling at least one or two more emergency medicine physicians on a shift will help ensure that you meet patient demand.

3) Casino Scheduling Strategy

Casino shifts are based around the physician having an anchor period. While these aren’t twelve-hour shifts, In this scheduling methods, shift changes follow the pattern of the sun and usually occur at about 4 am. This allows doctors who have been working all night to make it home to bed before the sun rises, and incoming physicians are well rested from a night’s sleep.

4) Fast Forward Rotating Shift Scheduling

In this system, physician scheduling consists of twelve-hour shifts. However, the transition occurs at around 6 pm or 6 am followed by a full twenty-four hours off. This time window will help decrease physician burnout because doctors will have adequate time away from the hospital setting to rejuvenate themselves.

5) Scheduled Breaks

Scheduled periods for breaks and light exercise is important should be worked into the emergency physician schedule. Small breaks help prevent fatigue and mental exhaustion. Even short breaks can help recharge someone’s batteries to help them think more clearly.

Regardless of which strategy or strategies you employ, the most important thing is the health of your emergency room staff and your patients — and that’s where emergency medicine scheduling software shines.

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