August 9, 2018

5 Myths About Manual On Call Scheduling

3 min read

Written by: Jennifer Michelle  |  Share:

"On call" schedules are still built manually with spreadsheets in many medical practices. Of course, while this was a high tech solution to call scheduling back in 1997, it is not exactly high tech for today.

Nevertheless, myths about the usefulness of manually building schedules persist.

So, in the interests of bringing call scheduling into the 21st century, it's time to review the top five myths about manual scheduling - and do a little myth busting.

Myth #1: Building call schedules manually is cheaper.

One of the main reasons people build call schedules manually is because they feel it is an inexpensive solution. As Excel (the most common tool used for manual builds) is already installed on their PC, there are no up front costs.

The thing is, not all costs are up front. In fact, when it comes to medical call schedules, the biggest cost is not up front at all - it's hidden.

That's because, with manual builds, a senior-level provider is usually needed to build the schedules, as they are the only ones who know all the clinical rules. As a senior provider, their wage, figured hourly, is considerable - and, because they are doing the build manually - they are going to require several hours to create the schedule. That adds up.

That is why it is not unusual for OpenTempo clients to see a 10-fold reduction in the time they spend building on call schedules. That may not be money up front, but it's an even higher savings on the back end.

Myth #2: Manual call scheduling is easier.

Another common reason for building schedules manually is the perception that it's easier. And, on the surface, this makes sense. After all, people already know how to use Excel, so there's no learning curve when using that software.

But, as with the costs, what you see on the surface is not the whole story. With manual on call scheduling, the difficulty isn't in learning the software - it's in implementing the build.

Simply put, Excel is not designed to build medical call schedules. It can't account for all the work patterns and roles, let alone track certifications and supervisory requirements. That means, whoever builds the call schedules needs to be extremely diligent in tracking all the things their spreadsheet doesn't understand.

So, that easiness at the start becomes a big headache going forward. Rather than spending a small amount of time learning a simple new software, time is spent making an old software do something it simply was not designed to do.

Myth #3: Call scheduling done manually is very effective.

Of course, underlying all these myths is the belief that the final result - the call schedule, itself - is actually solid. Yet, this is rarely the case.

Instead, with manual builds, you can work through a lengthy process to force the software to interpret your rules and policies - but still wind up scrambling to offset short staffing situations. Or, worse, scrambling to correct the occasional error, like a vacationing doctor being assigned call.

With advanced call scheduling software, the system enforces all of your rules and policies automatically, preventing such errors from entering your schedules.

Myth #4: Call schedules built manually are balanced and fair.

While it is true that the intent of the scheduler is to build balanced and fair call schedules, the result is often less balanced than one would hope. Yet, this is to be expected, since spreadsheets are simply not able to track all that is needed to keep a call schedule fair.

For instance, some calls are less desirable than others. So, to make things fair, those calls need to be spread out evenly among all the providers. Doing that, however, requires being able to take into account how much call each person is supposed to work, and what call shifts they have already worked in the previous schedules.

That's a lot of information to keep track of manually, which is why imbalances occur. Sophisticated software is needed to balance the call evenly among all providers, while simultaneously accounting for all clinical rules and policies.

Myth #5: Manual call scheduling can grow along with the organization.

This is the myth most people completely fail to consider - until things are out of control. When your practice grows rapidly, manual call scheduling becomes more and more problematic. And the larger the group you need to track, the more fallible the system becomes.

This sets the stage for increasing complaints about the call schedule, and a higher risk of short- or inappropriate staffing.

Manual scheduling may be perfectly fine for very small practices - but, for any large or growing practice, it will be more trouble than it's worth.

Conclusion: Manual builds are more costly for large practices.

When you figure in the labor, time and overall efficiency costs of scheduling, manual builds are clearly the most expensive choice for any large medical practice.

In fact, the cost of sophisticated call scheduling software is actually far less than the cost of manual builds for any but the smallest medical practices.

Yes, you have Excel - but that doesn't mean your call schedules are the best place to use it.