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Taking into account circadian rhythms when creating the emergency physician schedule

Posted on 7/29/2015 by Elizabeth in category: scheduling software articles
There’s no denying that physician scheduling is difficult enough in its own right. You are responsible for keeping up with private practice hours, shift preferences, days’ off requests, and even keeping up with the number of attending and residents on shift at any given time. It can feel more like a high-rise tightrope balancing act than emergency medicine scheduling at times. But there’s another factor that impacts, or needs to impact, the emergency physician schedule: circadian rhythms.

What are Circadian Rhythms?

The long and short of it is that circadian rhythms represent the natural mental and behavioral changes people experience in a 24-hour cycle. They are generally driven by the environment (light and darkness in the environment) though they can be influenced by other things. In general, people sleep better at night, when it’s dark outside and are more alert during the day when the sun is out shedding light on the world around them.

Since hospital emergency rooms are operational 24 hours a day, it is necessary for those in charge of shift scheduling to take the natural circadian rhythms of their doctors into account and plan shifts that at least ease them into the adjustment whenever possible.

How to Accommodate Circadian Rhythms in Physician Scheduling?

When scheduling physicians, it’s important to either isolate the nights they are called upon to work or schedule night work in longer sequences – for the sake of consistency. Also, consider the importance of limiting shifts to 12 or fewer hours in a single shift and consider a full day off between longer shifts if possible. When changing hours, rotate shifts clockwise, morning to swing shift, to night shifts. This is necessary even when there are days off between the shift changes.

Why Is It So Important to Accommodate Circadian Rhythms when Scheduling Shifts?

There are actually several compelling reasons to take circadian rhythms into account when creating and adjusting schedules for physicians. The first and foremost among them is mental clarity.

Physicians make life and death decisions constantly in their work as doctors. They need a clear head to think fast on their feet and come up with the best possible decision throughout their shifts.

But there are plenty more reasons to keep circadian rhythms in mind, including all of these:
  • Avoid physician burnout.
  • Increase job satisfaction among physicians.
  • Provide better work/life balance for physicians.
  • Improve physician retention rates for the facility.
  • Smooth relationships between physicians and other hospital staffers (sleep deprived people are often quite grumpy to work around).

The more steps you take now to create a more physician friendly schedule that accounts for important things like circadian rhythms, the smoother your facility is likely to operate from the start. The best news is that you don’t have to go it alone. The right scheduling software will do all the heavy lifting for you so that you can go back to doing the things that are part of your daily job and leave the pain of scheduling behind you.

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