Organizations are taking creative approaches in reducing tasks their employees find overwhelming or burdensome, specifically managing the ever-present email inbox.

Case in point: Beth Israel Deaconess Hospital-Plymouth recently introduced “email-free Fridays” to reduce the burden of excessive emailing on its personnel. Despite the name behind the new initiative, Fridays are not now totally email-free for employees of the hospital but rather a day when external emailing is permitted and internal emailing is discouraged.

According to research released in 2012, the Boston hospital is not alone in feeling overwhelmed by email. Statistics reveal that people spend an average of 28 percent of their workweek attending to their inbox. To add some perspective, 28 percent equates to nearly one and a half days of a five-day workweek.

While creativity is certainly important as today’s organizations seek to remove such burdens on their employees, it’s also important to identify contributing factors and then take steps to improve the workflow surrounding them.

For organizations with employees overwhelmed by email, a first step towards long-term improvement might be identifying answers to this question: What factors are contributing to the number of emails popping up in employees’ inboxes?

Before implementing Lightning Bolt’s physician scheduling software, an answer for one organization would have been email communication surrounding physician time-off requests and changes made to the schedule. This Lightning Bolt client reported exchanging over 2,000 emails per month for a monthly average of 430 time-off requests and shift trades. Simple number crunching reveals that communicating each request or trade required an average of four to five emails.

To improve the process behind this factor contributing to excessive email, the organization sought out a solution that implemented a more efficient process for handling schedule changes.

 

A solution that provides a centralized location for submitting & managing requests

For many organizations, it’s common practice for scheduling physicians and administrators to receive providers’ time-off requests via email and, once those requests are received, transfer them to a master time-off calendar or spreadsheet. This approach is problematic for more than one reason. First, it’s almost guaranteed that time-off request emails are not the only emails showing up in a scheduler’s inbox. Therefore, an overlooked or forgotten request runs a fairly high risk of occurrence. Second, as schedulers transfer requested dates from their inbox to a master calendar, there’s risk for human error in mis-recording a requested date due to many other workplace distractions outside of email. Resolving either issue would inevitably create cause for more emailing.

However, with scheduling software that provides a centralized location for managing requests, the workflow surrounding time-off requests is streamlined. Physician requests are submitted and subsequently approved or denied by logging into one centralized location without the back-and-forth of email or risk of human error.

 

A solution that upholds an organization’s scheduling policies without bias

Once an organization and its employees have defined and agreed to policies surrounding time-off that ensure consistent quality patient care, those policies are upheld through scheduling rules. Can’t have more than a certain number of total providers off at once? Or need to ensure certain subspecialty physicians are accounted for each day? Scheduling rules can be defined to support these and virtually any other scheduling requirement and then implemented in a scheduling database so that, depending on an organization’s policy, requests can be automatically approved or denied by the system.

Automated request responses provide immediate feedback on a request, eliminating the waiting period that is all but guaranteed if requests are submitted via email as personnel wait for a scheduler’s response. And if a request goes for too long without a response due to being overlooked, forgotten, or simply delayed as schedulers attend to other responsibilities, the original request email is likely followed by a secondary follow-up email. Streamlining the workflow with an unbiased automated scheduling system drastically reduces such a need or cause for email communication.

 

A solution that supports a schedule as the one source of truth

Physician schedules reflect real life, and when life happens, original schedules change. Maintaining an always up-to-date schedule when changes occur is challenging and often error-prone, likely resulting in multiple versions of a schedule and, therefore, multiple sources of truth.

Physician scheduling software that provides a centralized location for managing changes and upholds an organization’s scheduling polices without bias is a solution that supports a schedule as the one source of truth. Ultimately, a one-source-of-truth schedule that is accessible by all reduces excessive email communication in managing a schedule because it is the result of an improved physician scheduling workflow.