In a previous post I wrote about turning a skunk into a rose. The skunk being the duties associated with creating, maintaining and communicating the on-call and work schedule for a group of physicians. The post was meant to be a little tongue-in-cheek, while maintaining a level of truth regarding one of the toughest and most unpleasant jobs within a clinic or medical group.
Over the past several months I have been thinking about what it means to “schedule happy” in the context of creating on-call and work schedules for physicians. I was able to narrow my long list down to 6 very key items that must be present to achieve scheduling happiness.
- People who are able to “schedule happy” have the proper tools to do their job. This is the foundation upon which happiness is built. I can assure you that most people who are responsible for the physician scheduling process, who only possess manual, tools, such as paper, a pencil, a calculator, dry erase board and perhaps Excel are not scheduling happy. They are frustrated with the manual process, the amount of time it takes to complete, the inability to run scenarios, and not having any flexibility when it comes to last minute changes. Having the right tools are paramount in being able to “schedule happy”.
- People who are trying to achieve scheduling happiness also need to have access to accurate information. This information includes past tally reports, past and current day-off request’s and holiday information. Much of this information is used in the beginning of the “create a new schedule” process. Without this information you are forced to make an unreasonable amount of changes to accommodate people’s requests. Each time you make a change to a schedule, it effects other things on the schedule. It is like a waterfall, what starts out small, can have a large impact in the end. Accurate information when you need it is a key to scheduling happiness.
- In order for a “scheduler” to be happier there needs to be a common understanding of what tools are available and what their limitations are. For example, if you go out today and buy a brand new SUV and bring it home to your partner and the first thing they ask you is if it can fly, the wind will be out of your sails immediately. Of course it can’t fly, there are no flying cars. This is similar to the physician on-call schedule creation process, people need to understand what the tools were designed to do and what their limitations are so that you can get the most out of your investment. We often hear stories of HR, practice administrators or doctors making promises to new physicians coming in to the practice about their schedule. They are told, you decide how and when you want to work, and we will accommodate it. This type of comment is not reasonable without understanding the effect of that making that promise. Everything has limitations. The closer you are to those border limits the more money you will need to invest in order to make your need a reality. Adjust your expectations and find common ground so that everyone’s needs can be reasonably accommodated.
- Another aspect of “scheduling happy” which is similar to “common understanding” is reasonableness. Tools such as Call Scheduler are not going to solve your provider shortage problems. Although we can help you predict when your problems will become apparent, you cannot magically schedule the work of 10 doctors with only 6 doctors, and keep it fair. Consider an example of installing only 3 tires on your car. No matter how hard you try, your car will not drive or operate very well with only 3 tires. Not even if you put them on differently or in a new order. You need to have 4 tires in order for your car to operate correctly. Tools to help you “schedule happy” do not contain magic, they require adequate resources in order to get the right doctor in the right place at the right time.
- The fifth aspect of “scheduling happy” is “Buy-in”. Similar to installing a new EMR or CPOE system, everyone needs to be onboard with the new change. Clinic leadership needs to do a good job of explaining to everyone why projects such as a new physician scheduling system are important to the achieving the mission of the organization. Everyone needs to buy-into the why. If you have buy-in, people will be understanding of the new process and the changes. This buy-in is probably one of the most important steps to achieving happiness. Without the buy-in you will most likely be trying to maintain two systems, the old one and now a new one. That is the worst case scenario. In addition to buy-in you also need a “white knight” who will come to your rescue when you have someone who is not buying in and needs some convincing.
- The sixth aspect of “scheduling happy” is time. It takes time to create a happy environment. It takes time to learn a new system. It takes time to transition from a paper system when most of the knowledge in someone’s head. It takes time to run different scenarios to see which results you like better. I know you want to save time by just making the purchase, but unfortunately it’s just not that easy. It takes time to save time in the end. Anything worth having is worth taking a little time to set-up and configure.
Key takeaway: We want you to schedule happy. We also want you to know what’s involved in that process. Think of happiness like trying to lose weight, most overweight people want to lose weight, but they don’t want to put in the work to make that happen. Very similar to scheduling, if you desire happiness, take into consideration the six steps above and be willing to put in the work to make it happen. Happiness starts with you!
Image courtesy of Brawny at www.freedigitalphotos.net