Hospitals today face rising patient demand but are struggling to increase productivity. They need to find ways to maximize efficiency while still encouraging the recent decrease in physician burnout. But how?
Optimized physician scheduling may be part of the answer, according to a recent report from McKinsey & Company. With manual processes and subpar scheduling software saturating the industry, there’s a huge opportunity for productivity gains.
So, what scheduling challenges do hospitalists face unique to their specialty? What strategies have others implemented to lighten the scheduling load? And most importantly, how can you emulate these industry leaders?
Physician scheduling challenges in hospital medicine
1. Hospitalist schedules are among the most complex in all medicine.
With 24/7/365 scheduling needs, hospitalist scheduling involves countless variables. Top hospitalist teams use an average of 89 set scheduling rules and flexibly accommodate an average of 213 shift change requests each month, according to the 2016 Lightning Bolt report Physician Scheduling by Complexity.
2. Manual systems draw out the scheduling process.
Putting hospitalist schedules together manually—that is, by hand, spreadsheet, or Excel sheet—is complicated and time-consuming. The process often requires multiple staff and hours to put just one schedule together, before having to adjust it again due to unpredictable changes.
3. Basic software can’t account for nuance and complexity.
Many vendors today tout simple automation as the solution to physician scheduling woes, but auto-scheduling simply chooses the first available option for a schedule, not the best available option. This results in schedules that don’t maximize existing resources effectively as well as gaps in shift coverage.
4. Suboptimal schedules contribute to physician burnout.
Physician schedules that don’t incorporate physician preference or work-life balance, such as the rigid 7-on/7-off schedule common among hospitalists, contribute to dangerous fatigue and burnout. Burnout, it turns out, is also expensive, costing Stanford Medicine at least $7.75 million a year.
These challenges might appear insurmountable at first, but industry leaders are meeting them and achieving wild success.
Hospitalist scheduling at UK HealthCare
The hospitalist division at University of Kentucky HealthCare didn’t have any physician scheduling challenges at first—or so they thought. As they grew, they realized that they needed a more robust solution.
1. Manual shift scheduling process ate into time and resources.
The process required two physician schedulers to assemble a year’s worth of shifts at a time and took a significant amount of time.
2. Swapping shifts was a tangled mess.
Swap requests required both hospitalists to sign a paper request form and pass it through administrative support to the directors for approval. Even after approval, the team required administrative support to disseminate it to the rest of the enterprise.
3. System couldn’t adapt to change.
As UK HealthCare’s hospitalist division grew, their physician scheduling system became unmanageable. The team was investing 920 physician hours a year in creating schedules, plus another 520 hours just to manage shift swap requests.
UK HealthCare’s scheduling process was so broken by 2014 that they formed a special task force of six physicians to try to work out a treatment plan. After researching available options, the division transitioned to AI-optimized physician scheduling software, with the following results:
- Faster scheduling process
UK HealthCare’s scheduling process dropped from a high of 1,480 hours per year to just 260 to 520 hours per year.
- More time-off requests approved
The hospital hit an approval rate of 99.7 percent for time-off requests including 100 percent approval for major holiday requests.
- Shifts distributed fairly
The schedule now fairly distributes jeopardy shifts according to physicians’ clinical FTEs and across weekends as well as equalized weekends working night or swing shifts.
After UK HealthCare implemented significant changes, they witnessed incredible results and closed gaps that they didn’t even notice when they first began.
Taking it home with you
The possibilities when it comes to shift scheduling for hospital medicine are endless—literally, because there are more possible shift schedules in medicine than there are atoms in the universe.
But with optimized scheduling, you have the opportunity to choose the best one, every time.
Lightning Bolt’s AI-optimized software excels in specialties with notoriously complex scheduling requirements, like hospital medicine. Learn how it works for hospitalists with this quick overview.