Improving Provider Scheduling Operations with Automation
Lightning Bolt Scheduling
AnMed Pediatric Hospitalists is a group of 10 physicians and advanced practice providers (APPs) based in Anderson, South Carolina, who provide 24/7/365 care across multiple locations. The group also has job sharers, additional moonlighters and locums, and a variety of other FTEs, which adds complexity to schedule building.
The job of building schedules for AnMed Pediatric Hospitalists was the responsibility of one of their physicians—Dr. Sara Clark. Before she was able to use Lightning Bolt’s advanced scheduling technology, Dr. Clark had to build her group’s schedule using two other well-known solutions on the market.
The other scheduling solutions presented a number of challenges. For starters, before she took over scheduling duties, Dr. Clark recalled a year when one of their physicians had been scheduled so far over the yearly shift target that they were removed from an entire month’s schedule. The other physicians had to fill in the gaps. AnMed schedules using AM/PM shifts—rather than a seven on, seven off model—making it that much more difficult to manually track shifts worked. Dr. Clark vowed to never let this happen again, but accurately tracking shifts demanded a lot of her time.
According to Dr. Clark, much of this inherent scheduling difficulty was due to inferior automation provided by the other solutions, which hindered their ability to manage AnMed’s unique and puzzling schedule. She had to manually schedule nine physicians and one pediatric nurse provider with three job sharers across multiple sites. The requests were just too challenging, and the previous software had limited flexibility in building out schedules for providers who worked at multiple locations.
The result? It often took Dr. Clark up to 12 hours across multiple sessions to create a block schedule, which could cover anywhere from one to three months of time. This involved a lot of back and forth with providers to make adjustments, and importantly, it also took up time outside of the office. Dr. Clark is married and has five children, but she often found herself trying to balance the schedule after hours, which interrupted family time and other leisure activities that fill her wellness cup.
Upon discovering Lightning Bolt, Dr. Clark was immediately interested in the solution’s autoscheduling capabilities, but somewhat skeptical of its ability to handle the complexity of her group’s scheduling requirements. She worried that an automated solution might not be able to accommodate the unique preferences of AnMed’s providers.
“I sounded like a ‘Debbie Downer’ at first, but my group is notoriously hard to recruit for, and people were quite happy with the schedules I made. I didn’t want to mess that up,” said Dr. Clark. “I also wanted to make sure that an automated solution could ingest requests on the fly without creating wonky schedules or failing to give people a sufficient number of shifts.”
Dr. Clark met with a Lightning Bolt Technical Consultant to begin sharing the goals and specific needs of her staff, including:
Easy Online Schedule Visibility
By shifting to Lightning Bolt, she reaped the immediate benefit of building, managing, and distributing schedules digitally. This allowed for total schedule visibility across providers and care sites.
Ability to Automate Distinct Practice Rules and Requirements
Dr. Clark worked with her Lightning Bolt Technical Consultant to create unique rules for her group that generated accurate and balanced schedules while accounting for each provider’s respective FTE requirements.
Self-Service Features and Tailored Support
Throughout the process, Dr. Clark received customized support materials and live training to prepare her to make updates and do some troubleshooting on her own, with the understanding that she could always reach out to the Lightning Bolt team for assistance.
Reporting and Performance Management
Dr. Clark also learned how to utilize tallies and reporting features to audit the number of hours worked per provider, per shift. This allowed her to better track each provider’s hours to ensure no one was over- or under-scheduled.
Rounding out the deployment process, the Lightning Bolt team made sure comprehensive end-user training was available for AnMed’s providers so they could easily access their schedules, as well as make swaps and requests to streamline communications.
After successfully optimizing AnMed’s schedule with Lightning Bolt in the run up to go-live, Dr. Clark wanted to do a live demo of the solution’s capabilities for her administration. She started by showing them a schedule for a specific month that she admitted she couldn’t optimize on her own. Before Lightning Bolt, it was challenging to equalize shifts, hit tally targets, and minimize coverage gaps all at once.
Having worked closely with the Lightning Bolt team to prepare rules that matched the group’s requirements, she then “trusted the process and clicked the auto-generate button.” Lightning Bolt was able to drastically reduce the time required to build a schedule—from as many as 12 hours to just 5 minutes.
Building the Case to Address Staffing Needs
Because two providers had recently left the group, this demonstration also shined a light on the capacity issues her team would face. Dr. Clark used the Lightning Bolt-generated schedule to drive home the case for replacing the departed providers, ensuring a balanced schedule with adequate coverage. Without Lightning Bolt, it would have taken her hours to quantify and effectively demonstrate the impact.
“I was able to auto-generate the schedule to show [our administration] the holes [that existed] and where we had problems with staffing,” said Dr. Clark. “It only took me five minutes, and I’d call it something like a life-saving exercise.”
In addition to giving Dr. Clark hours of her time back and helping her to highlight staffing needs, the group has seen numerous other benefits:
No Errors Brings Balance, Peace of Mind
Dr. Clark stressed that AnMed’s physicians are happy as long as they’ve got scheduling rules in place that cater to their preferences and the specific needs of their group. But before Lightning Bolt, it was up to one person to manually apply all of the rules and requests that went into building a schedule. That’s a hefty burden and leaves too much room for error.
“Despite my best efforts and the best efforts of my co-director,
we always had to contend with scheduling errors.”
– Dr. Sara Clark
That’s no longer the case. Now, the group can definitively say there’s a system in place that automatically keeps track of rules and creates balanced schedules, and errors have become a thing of the past. Taking the uncertainty out of scheduling brings peace of mind for everyone, but most of all for AnMed’s physicians.
Tailored Implementation Boosts Physician Satisfaction
As noted previously, Dr. Clark initially worried that Lightning Bolt would be another one-size-fits-all solution. She wasn’t sure the vendor would work with her to address the specific needs of her group.
On the contrary, Dr. Clark found that the Lightning Bolt team took a consistent customer first approach, and they were adamant about designing a solution that accounted for as much complexity as she could throw at them. This left room for AnMed’s providers to indicate scheduling preferences that best accommodated their lifestyles, which Dr. Clark noted is key to overall job satisfaction: “If people are happy with their schedules and their work-life balance, it makes the other things affecting their day less stressful.”
Streamlined, Self-Service Swap Process
Before Lightning Bolt, shift swaps always had to go through administrators for approval. Now, the group has the flexibility to determine which swaps need administrative signoff and which can be handled by the providers themselves. This level of customization reduces delays, lowers the administrative burden, and still leaves room for safeguards in more sensitive situations.
Shareable, Up-to-Date Schedules
Another built-in Lightning Bolt feature is the ability to share links publicly to the latest schedules. In day-to-day practice, this makes it easy to give all staff access to AnMed’s most current schedule since updates are reflected in real time. Before Lightning Bolt, it was not uncommon for shared schedules to be dated shortly after being published.
Dr. Clark also noted another source of utility with the public schedule links: “I’ve heard from so many of my colleagues how nice it is to be able to share a schedule with anyone who needs it— spouses, other family members, maybe even a daycare provider. This means anyone with a link can always see the correct schedule, and we don’t have to worry about communicating every little update. It’s just always accurate!”
“…This means anyone with a link can always see the correct schedule, and we don’t have to worry about communicating every little update. It’s just always accurate!“
– Dr. Sara Clark
Integrated Clinical Communication
Through its partnership with Prisma Health, AnMed has access to a range of PerfectServe technology, including both Lightning Bolt and the Telmediq clinical communication solution. Both solutions are tightly integrated throughout the Prisma Health network, which means users can readily communicate with their colleagues at a moment’s notice.
In the past, visibility into AnMed’s pediatric bed availability was a challenge for others in the Prisma Health network. With the Lightning Bolt and Telmediq integration, any Prisma team member can quickly look up AnMed—or any other location—and get connected to the right provider, which has made care coordination that much easier.
Stellar Vendor Support
Beyond the technology itself, Dr. Clark also stressed the importance of a collaborative relationship with the Lightning Bolt team. Vendors are only as good as the ongoing support they provide, and Dr. Clark has been especially pleased by the customized, responsive, and thorough approach Lightning Bolt has taken as her group’s use of the product has evolved.
“I feel so blessed. I’m so thankful we went with Lightning Bolt. At first, you’re like, we’re switching to something new and we’re going to have to learn it. And now, especially with all the different pieces layered in, I don’t know how we could have made it happen and not just really suffered so much more without it,” Dr. Clark shared. “The support system was just completely nonexistent in the other [solutions].”
“I feel so blessed. I’m so thankful Prisma went with Lightning Bolt…”
– Dr. Sara Clark
Lightning Bolt Embraces Complexity
Though it seems a bit contradictory, it’s long been the case that the healthcare industry as a whole doesn’t adopt technology as quickly as other industries. In many cases, the story of “why” sounds a lot like what AnMed Pediatric Hospitalists—and their former scheduling administrator, Dr. Sara Clark—experienced: Fear of change. They had a less-than-ideal process in place, but it ultimately got the job done, and they worried that making significant changes would lead to dissatisfaction among providers.
Despite these concerns, the combination of Dr. Clark’s sticktoitiveness and the Lightning Bolt team’s insistence on being close collaborators yielded a tailored solution that transformed AnMed’s scheduling practices for the better. This approach is the foundation of Lightning Bolt’s service model: Rather than shying away from the intricacies of scheduling, Lightning Bolt aims to be a true partner by jumping in to solve the most complex problems and ensuring that every group’s unique vision is realized.
For Dr. Sara Clark and AnMed, scheduling was once a time consuming, frustrating process, but it’s become a powerful tool that can be used to drive workflow efficiencies and enhance wellness for all of the group’s dedicated providers. That’s a critical improvement, because schedules have an outsized impact on providers, especially where 24/7/365 coverage is required.
As the Lightning Bolt team knows well, it’s not just about creating a work schedule—it’s about scheduling peoples’ lives. By taking provider preferences into account and using rules that factor in “life,” it’s possible to build optimized schedules that facilitate a better work-life balance.