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May 10, 2021 Readers Write No Comments

Provider Scheduling Matters
By Mary Piepenbrink, RN

Mary Piepenbrink, RN, MBA is SVP/GM of PerfectServe Provider Scheduling powered by Lightning Bolt.


It’s time to vanquish dated provider scheduling methods. This subject is near and dear to my heart, but I think we have finally reached critical mass. The market for provider scheduling technology has matured, and real-world results prove it is safe—and wise—to make the leap.

The scheduling market started from a desire to improve physician scheduling at practices, so it was outpatient centric. Using technology to generate equalized, fair schedules in group practices was the original market opportunity. We didn’t call the central problem “burnout” then, but it was there, and it has gotten progressively worse.

Scheduling solutions still solve for those practice and burnout problems, but they have also moved beyond the outpatient office setting, scaling into broader areas to create better workflows and more efficiencies across health systems.  The easiest way for me to demonstrate value—real return on investment—is to create four buckets:

  • Value to health system. There are many, but the best scheduling solutions generate real-time, integrated, dynamically updated information for multi-faceted uses across the health system, all leveraged to improve both business and clinical operations.
  • Value to care team staff. Simple—speed to care. Scheduling systems must power other applications in the health system so the care team staff can locate and connect with providers in a frictionless way. I was a nurse back in the day, and when I needed an order for my patient, I would check a paper on-call list, hope the needed specialist listed was accurate, hope the pager number hadn’t changed, hope the provider would actually get the page after I dialed it on a landline, then really hope for a fast return call so I could just go deliver care. I also hoped I wouldn’t get pulled away or distracted while waiting only to miss the callback and have to start the whole process over. Today’s clinicians have mobile devices and digital on-call technology, but without accurate, integrated scheduling information, the care team still experiences much of what I used to go through. And there are still lots of pagers! So, scheduling technology helps organizations improve speed to care by facilitating seamless location of (through scheduling information) and connection (via secure communications) with the right provider.
  • Value to group practices. Scheduling systems integrated with payroll systems means accuracy in provider pay. The use of advanced technology to auto-generate optimal, fair schedules means greater provider satisfaction. Scheduling issues are the top factor leading to burnout, which is costly for practices. Using scheduling technology that supports capacity / resource management also helps improve patient access, provider utilization, and patient and staff satisfaction. Less burnout means less provider turnover and a better patient experience.
  • Value to end user provider. The ability to reduce friction associated with schedule management: accurate pay, ability to easily request time off, ability to easily swap shifts if needed, ability to include preferences that will actually be considered in even the most complex practice, and knowledge that the schedule produced is the most balanced possible and based on proven technology versus the chance of human error. Many providers also actively involve themselves in scheduling, which robs time from patient care.

One of my biggest frustrations is when I see innovative health systems buy the latest technology without articulating what they’re solving for—technology for technology’s sake or “it’s an IT project” instead of realizing the technology’s true value for patients and/or staff and how the other existing IT investments can be exploited (which also makes those systems more valuable). That’s why my healthcare brain and my nurse’s heart were equally joyful when KLAS zeroed in on ROI and found that enterprise scheduling solutions generate tangible outcomes and positive impact. As it turns out, there’s real value to be had if you do this right!

I’ll close with a story . I was chatting with a radiologist who had tried scheduling solutions before but always reverted to manual scheduling. I asked how long it took him to produce his practice’s schedule by hand. “About 20 hours a week,” he said. I replied, “Why on earth don’t you just hire someone, even full-time, to do that for you so you can spend those 20 hours reading films?” His answer was simple: “Because my life matters that much to me, and my partners’ lives matter that much. Unless we can find something as good as me, I’ll keep making the schedules.” In that moment, it became very clear that we need to make what we do in the scheduling world as near-perfect as possible, because it absolutely matters.

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