Four Provider Scheduling Strategies  for Coronavirus Response

The COVID-19 pandemic is one of the biggest crises providers and healthcare organizations have faced since the Spanish flu in 1918. The novel strain of coronavirus has organizations like the American Hospital Association and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention worried the US healthcare system could run out of critical supplies and resources, like ventilators and hospital beds. A less discussed but critical supply concern—healthcare providers. How will COVID-19 impact an already overwhelmed clinical workforce and their shift schedules?

The concept behind the movement to #flattenthecurve is fairly simple. If we follow preventative measures, like limiting social contact with others and washing our hands, we will limit the spread of the virus and reduce the chance of further overwhelming healthcare resources. Current projections show we still aren’t doing enough. So, what effect will this have on providers and their shift schedules?

Chart displaying how a lack of preventative measures will overwhelm healthcare system capacity.

How COVID-19 Will Impact Providers

Image shows a Facebook post sharing the image of a nurse fallen asleep at her computer after a long shift.If we fail to “flatten the curve,” we could be facing a healthcare shortage and crisis similar to the one in Italy. Doctors, nurses, and other healthcare providers across Italy and particularly in northern Italy are working around the clock to care for the tide of critically ill patients. Recently a photo of one nurse, Elena Pagliarini, went viral and was shared around the world as a symbol of Italy’s overwhelmed healthcare system and providers. A colleague at the hospital captured the photo of Elena falling asleep at her computer after 10 straight hours of work.

In light of overwhelming need in Italy, primary care physicians, dermatologists, and surgeons are finding themselves triaging and caring for patients in the midst of canceled surgeries, makeshift ICUs, and dwindling supplies. Physicians of all specialties are being asked to jump in and help deliver care.

In the US, healthcare workers are already sharing stories of how COVID-19 is impacting their practices. Shortages of N95 masks, sleeping in hospitals to care for more patients and protect their families from contracting the virus, as well as rationing personal protective equipment, are just a few changes beginning to occur in response to COVID-19. If early signs are any indication of what’s to come in the fight against COVID-19, providers can expect to see great disruptions in healthcare delivery. Many will likely be called on to work around the clock to care for infected patients.

Four Scheduling Strategies for COVID-19

With providers working overtime to meet meteoric rises in patient demand, healthcare organizations will need to make a number of adjustments to clinical schedules to ensure they are meeting patient demand and keeping practice schedules as safe as possible for providers. Here are just a few of the schedule changes practices will need to quickly enact to help providers better combat COVID-19:

  • 1. Making additional providers available to schedule as needed.

As patient demand grows, so will the need for more providers. Healthcare organizations planning to enlist the help of providers across specialties will need to be able to incorporate new providers into their schedules quickly. For organizations leveraging scheduling software, new assignments and backup assignments will need to be created within these tools. 

  • 2. Removing at-risk providers and other groups from schedules.

Unfortunately, not all providers will be in a position to help deliver care during the COVID-19 outbreak. There may be providers that decide for safety reasons not to deliver care or choose to see patients primarily via telehealth. Providers with conditions like asthma and other upper respiratory conditions are at greater risk if they contract the virus, and therefore may decide to limit contact with patients. 

Additionally, many medical schools have made the decision to pull medical students from their clinical rotations due to coronavirus. While medical students can sometimes be silent observers, it is common for them to jump in and attempt to share the heavy workload. This is precisely what occurred in Italy as patient demand surged. Medical students in their final year of schooling were given training specific to the virus and asked to help care for patients. Scheduling adjustments will need to be made in hospitals and other organizations that will depend on the assistance of medical students.

  • 3. Limiting location switching among providers.

It’s common for providers across specialties to deliver care at a number of locations, from the hospital to urgent care and other clinics. However, particularly during the early stages of COVID-19, it will be important to try to limit the number of locations doctors practice in, dedicating providers to a single or limited number of locations. Especially in the face of limited or rationed protective equipment, it’s incredibly important for organizations to limit how providers spread the virus.

  • 4. Allow adequate breaks and consider shorter shift blocks if possible.

Nearly half of physicians report experiencing burnout. Advanced practice providers, nurses, and other healthcare professionals are experiencing high levels of burnout as well. There’s no doubt that burnout will likely continue to increase in the coming months as clinical teams face unprecedented patient demand, dwindling care supplies, and lack of treatment options for COVID-19. The sense that burnout extends beyond workplace exhaustion and into a form of moral injury may begin to gain more traction among providers.

A small step that organizations can take to help alleviate burnout during coronavirus response is to ensure staff have the ability to step away from patient care for breaks when needed. Even taking a break for a minute or two during a difficult shift can be helpful. More widespread measures include shorter shift blocks, which many practices are implementing to prepare for medical staff who could contract the virus and need sick leave. Organizations that keep longer, seven-day shift blocks in place might result in some providers working up to two weeks in an effort to cover shifts for sick colleagues. Prolonged shifts will only add unnecessary pressures on already strained clinical workforces.

How PerfectServe is Helping

In recent weeks, PerfectServe’s Lightning Bolt application consultants have been assisting clients with many of these types of scheduling adjustments to help them quickly respond to COVID-19. As part of the PerfectServe family of products, Lightning Bolt also pledges that any of our current clients in need of assistance adjusting their schedules in response to COVID-19.

Lightning Bolt Director of Client Services, Laura Yee, discussed the recent influx in schedule changes related to COVID-19: “We’ve seen a recent increase in the number of clients reaching out to our team to assist in adjusting their Lightning Bolt configuration to adapt to the immediate needs of their organization,” says Yee, “We are honored to have the opportunity to work with health care professionals who are at the front lines of this crisis. We want our clients to know we are here to assist in whatever ways we can.”

If you need support adjusting your existing clinical schedule(s), please reach out to your application consultant and let them know it’s part of your COVID-19 response. If you are uncertain who to contact, reach out to us at support@lightning-bolt.com and we’ll get you connected to a scheduling expert who can help.