Your Complete Guide to Provider Scheduling

Your Complete Guide to Provider Scheduling

Many healthcare organizations believe that their scheduling software does only that – generate schedules. However, technology has advanced, and the best scheduling software can do so much more. It has the ability to save your organization and providers time, impact the work-life balance of your providers, and improve the efficiency and productivity of your employees.

Intelligent scheduling software also has the ability to generate schedules automatically, manage staffing ratios and gaps, and match patient demand to provider productivity. These are elements of scheduling which are often time-consuming to staff and difficult to manage.

Additional ways scheduling software can effectively serve your organization is to integrate payroll, centralize scheduling requests, and allow providers more control of their schedules.

Generate schedules automatically

Advanced scheduling software can create schedules automatically based on pre-populated scheduling rules. In addition to rules, providers can submit their own specific requests for time off, specific shifts or just state when they are available to work, and you can set par levels in advance to ensure staffing needs are met. Once all providers input their choices, you simply have to approve the schedule. To make things even easier, you only need to input areas that have rotating schedules one time, and you can apply this template to all future schedules, with only a few tweaks if needed. As a result, this greatly reduces the time you spend on scheduling.

Cut scheduling time in half

Gone are the days of passing around paper calendars that get so marked up with pencils and eraser marks that they become illegible. You no longer have to scroll through endless emails and texts to determine who wants what days/shifts off either. With intelligent scheduling software, all of this is done online or through a mobile app, with scheduling rules and staffing needs built into the software. The goal is to handle diverse department needs and complex schedule creation effortlessly, including call schedules and cross-credential schedules, even across multiple departments, units and sites. Additionally, since scheduling rules are built in, it makes final approval happen much faster.

A hospital in Southampton, New York was experiencing constant struggles with nurse scheduling. With over 200 nurses and multiple units to staff, along with union rules that had to be followed, nurse managers were spending an average of 40 hours a month building and editing schedules. The staff was frustrated due to scheduling conflicts and errors. After switching to Intrigma Scheduler Nursing Edition, the organization saved $300,000 a year due to nurse manager time savings, staff retention and reduced overtime usage. Additionally, allowing the nurses more control over their own schedule creation reduced staffing conflicts and errors, thus increasing job satisfaction among the nurses. This, in turn, led to a major increase in the facility’s Press Ganey scores, from 80% to the high 90% benchmark.

The value of automated scheduling is seen in other industries as well as healthcare. For example, a Midwest manufacturing company calculated its annual man-hours spent on schedule creation and resolving grievances related to the schedule at nearly 20,000, or the equivalent of nine and a half FTEs annually. After implementing automated scheduling, not only did the organization save time and nearly $5 million, but it also reduced the number of worker grievances due to errors in scheduling and policy processes.

Create schedules that are fair to all providers

Scheduling software with built-in scheduling logic has the ability to evaluate each provider’s assignments. This allows the software to provide fair schedules by:

  • Avoiding assigning providers too many hours in total across multiple sites or units.
  • Ensuring that a provider is not scheduled for a day shift immediately following a night assignment.
  • Taking into account the provider’s preferences when automating the schedule.
  • Making sure holidays and weekends are fairly distributed among staff.
  • And more!

Harvard Business Review reveals some of the risks of uneven distribution of workloads among staff. The most common scenario is that the highest performing members of a team become overworked, disillusioned and resentful because they feel they are doing the lion’s share of the work. Meanwhile, the lower performers tend to lose motivation because they feel they aren’t being challenged or are being overlooked for assignments and promotions. Scheduling software that addresses workforce analytics and workload distribution can help managers avoid these pitfalls.

Advanced scheduling software utilizes analytics to track provider workloads, rotate the busiest days amongst providers, and ensure even distribution of shift requirements, like weekends and holidays. This is accomplished while respecting staffing needs and considering provider preferences. Disputes can also be easily tracked and resolved with software-generated reports.

Despite success stories like the one above, many people are surprised to learn that automated scheduling improves staff retention. In addition, the Society for Human Resource Management states that a lack of schedule flexibility is the reason a third of workers have left a job. In fact, 80% of employees state they would be more loyal to their employer if there was more flexibility, and 25% say they would rather trade a portion of their salary in exchange for a schedule that is less rigid. Additionally, the number one reason employees seek out jobs with flexible scheduling is work-life balance. A full 75% of employees feel that a flexible schedule allows them to live a healthier life and experience less stress in their daily life.

Ensure quotas/FTEs are met

It is crucial for your organization to meet staffing needs while encouraging the productivity of physicians and advanced practitioners. To make this easier, you can build quotas into the staffing rules to help ensure productivity while meeting patient needs.

Different units have different staffing mixes, FTEs and quotas. No matter your specialty area, whether it be telemedicine, urgent care, emergency departments or others, you can utilize the customizable software to benefit your organization. Utilizing a modular-based technology, a base schedule is built and any changes can easily be added to the platform to transform the system into a unique tool built specifically to help you and your providers meet quotas. The dashboard updates in real time, so if you need to make staff changes, you can see a side-by-side comparison between the actual calendar and the quota/FTE tallies. This allows you to maintain a running count of quotas/FTEs.

Manage staffing ratios and gaps

Advanced scheduling software can help your organization avoid costly overstaffing and frustrating understaffing.

A recent HIMSS article noted that workforce management digital health tools, such as automated scheduling software, are helping to alleviate nursing burnout by identifying gaps in shift work and generating schedules automatically. This type of software can help managers easily make required adjustments to the schedule to fill gaps in real time, based on complex scheduling factors such as daily staffing levels, staff quotas, surges in patient census, time off requests and staff availability.

For example, using Intrigma’s Health System Tracker feature, an entire health system in Oregon, Legacy Health, was able to effectively manage a difficult schedule during the recent COVID-19 outbreak. Intrigma helped the health system track gaps in newly added surge shifts while monitoring providers’ overtime worked. Intrigma’s Tracker feature updates in real time, so you can adjust the schedule while tracking how it affects overtime, weekends worked, COVID-19 shifts worked and more. You can also view the Tracker feature side by side with the actual schedule to see the updates as you make them.

The scheduling system also alerts administrators about empty shifts to streamline filling gaps in the schedule. This was especially helpful during COVID-19 when there were increased patient volumes and additional shifts being added to the schedule. Staff can also see the availability of open shifts and assign themselves with Intrigma’s Open Shifts feature. When there is this type of schedule transparency, there tends to be fewer staffing conflicts. Providers can see the needs of their department and determine where they can help. Additionally, with mobile app and home access, staff can communicate with family prior to taking on extra assignments.

Another effect of the COVID-19 pandemic was the rapid expansion of telemedicine. Organizations need flexible scheduling software that can evolve and keep up with practice changes now more than ever. For example, many providers were shifted to virtual visits and work-from-home assignments, and without scheduling flexibility, this could potentially cause a scheduling nightmare and staff frustrations. Intelligent scheduling software can help close the gap between telemedicine and in-person care while still monitoring and preventing staff stress and burnout.

Match patient demand to provider productivity

Staffing shortages can create provider frustration and patient dissatisfaction. Essentially, providers get frustrated because they have to work harder and faster when understaffed and thus feel as if they don’t have the time to provide quality healthcare to their patients. Patients get frustrated because of crowded waiting rooms, long wait times and then feeling rushed through an appointment they waited a long time for.

Staffing overages can also be a source of stress for providers because they are underutilized and not fulfilled in their daily work life. This is not only stressful for the providers, but also for the institutions which are paying for the salaries of the providers.

Increase patient satisfaction by decreasing long wait times

Patient wait times are a major driver in patient satisfaction. The Vitals study report in 2018 revealed that 30% of patients have left a provider’s office prior to being seen due to an extended wait period. About 20% of the time, a patient will go as far as to get a new provider due to wait times. The offices that consistently rank the highest in patient satisfaction scores have wait times of 15 minutes or less.

Decrease triggers for physician burnout

On the provider side, the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality cites chaotic work environments, time pressure and lack of work-life balance as the top triggers for physician burnout. AHRQ has also identified some of the most promising interventions for decreasing physician burnout, and they include flexible scheduling, more attention to work-life balance and allowing more time on the schedule for complex patient appointments.

Integrate payroll within scheduling platforms

Precise payroll tracking is critical to your organization and your employees. It is a matter of ethics to ensure that employees are appropriately compensated for the time they spend working. It also helps your organization withhold, pay and track taxes as well as create profit and loss statements.

Intrigma’s Efficient PayManager can automatically calculate payroll and keep track of overtime, night differential calculations, holiday pay and multiple pay rates. The software also has a PTO tracking tool, which will ensure that the time off is properly accounted for, and it provides payroll transparency for providers with an easy-to-understand itemization of compensation. This simplification of payroll eliminates the need to create Excel spreadsheets and reduces the risk of human error.

What about unplanned overtime? It can wreak havoc on budgets. However, when emergency surges require employees to work extra, it won’t come as a surprise with intelligent scheduling software – overtime alerts can flag when a schedule will include unplanned overtime. This gives you time to either adjust the schedule to avoid the overtime or justify the extra cost if it is unavoidable.

Other benefits of an integrated payroll system include:

  • Compare actual hours worked with anticipated schedules, which can help administrators plan future schedules to maximize productivity.
  • Reduced paperwork that makes working remotely more efficient for the administrative staff.
  • Less time spent on payroll, which leaves more time for other business.

Centralize scheduling requests

You no longer have to keep track of multiple avenues for staff requests. Scheduling software often has online portals and mobile apps to allow providers to input all their time-off requests and shift preferences. This allows for one central location to funnel all requests, thereby reducing human error because there are no slips of paper, post-it notes, texts, emails or instant messages to sort through to organize scheduling requests.

Communication lines are always open between schedulers and staff with Intrigma’s Efficient Communications. Post important announcements on the schedule, send secure texts or pages to your staff and send shift reminders to maximize communication with the organization. Staff can also access the scheduling platform from any location or device, enhancing communication and closing any information gaps.

Give providers more control over their schedules

A study published in theJournal for Nurses in Professional Development found that nurses self-reported an increase in autonomy and professional development assessment scores, and two of four hospitals surveyed reported a decrease in nurse turnover rates following implementation of self-scheduling software. Reducing nurse turnover rates can translate into huge savings for hospitals. According to the 2020 NSI Nursing Solutions National Healthcare Retention and RN Staffing Report, the cost of replacing a single RN is estimated at an average of $44,000 and just a 1% decrease in the rate of nursing turnover can save an average hospital over $300,000 per year.

Thus, a key to provider satisfaction is freedom. With Intrigma’s solution, providers can trade shifts without scheduler approval or adjust their schedule with short notice – and it can all be done from home or a mobile device. This autonomy leads to increased feelings of value among providers, which lessens burnout and staff turnover. As an indirect result, organizations then avoid the high cost of hiring, onboarding and training new employees.

Secure your data

Data security in healthcare is imperative. While scheduling systems do not generally have a large amount of private information, basic demographic data is considered personally identifiable information (PII). This includes data such as:

  • Name.
  • Phone number.
  • Address.
  • Date of birth.
  • Sex.
  • Ethnicity.
  • Social Security number.
  • Emergency contact information.

A breach of such information is considered a Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) violation. These breaches can be costly – even a basic demographic data breach can cost an organization millions of dollars. In fact, in 2014, Community Health Systems settled a $5 million multi-state action due to the security breach of PHI of over 6 million individuals. According to the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission, a Chinese group hacked into the organization’s system, installed malware and stole patient data.

In addition to the monetary penalties that such a data breach entails, there are typically other corrective actions that must be implemented and followed for years after the initial breach. These measures can be costly and time-consuming to implement. Being proactive in the data security realm, instead of reactive, is the best plan. Intrigma provides 24/7 monitoring, transaction log backups every ten minutes and full data backups every six hours to ensure data security and disaster recovery. Additionally, multiple database servers secured on the Microsoft Azure cloud platform ensure that your organization’s information is secure.

In summary

Scheduling software has evolved vastly in recent years. Your organization needs a system that has a multitude of functions, offers built-in flexibility and gives your employees what they deserve. Scheduling software should be working for you to make scheduling faster and easier to improve the efficiency of your clinical operations. Intrigma was founded in 2004 with these goals in mind, and today we serve hundreds of organizations across the world with complex scheduling needs. To learn more about how Intrigma can help you implement efficient scheduling solutions, contact us today.

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