The number of providers at large medical practices means requests for time off are no small matter to organize. Accurate staffing data and, ideally, real-time scheduling software, make a world of difference in processing requests, ensuring fair distribution of holiday assignments, and tracking accrued personal time.
Cameron* manages the schedule for a large perioperative department. Each morning, Cameron arrives to find another dozen requests waiting in his email, as well as in a pile of post-it notes in the middle of his desk.
While not all requests are approved in a “first come, first served” manner, many of them do go to the first in line. If that person changes their mind, there is no way to know who was next in line, since only the email, and not the post-it notes, are time stamped.
On top of that, even when there is only one person requesting the day off, Cameron still has to check to ensure that the change will not negatively affect quotas or clinical requirements.
Come the holiday schedule, Cameron is forced to dig up data from the past several years to see who worked when. Plus, he is constantly interrupted with providers wanting to know how much personal time they have left.
As Cameron prepares to spend another morning emailing people back and forth about requests, he looks at the rest of the work on his desk and wonders when he will ever have time to get to it.
Queues are a simple tool to help organize requests made for changes in the schedule. If the original requester changes their mind, the queue tracks the next person in line, speeding up the approval process while ensuring transparency.
To create a queue, you only need to track the order in which requests come in. If you do not have access to scheduling software, requiring providers to make requests only by email will allow the requests to be ordered by time-stamp. Rules for prioritizing multiple requests for the same shift or day off must also be determined.
In order to use queues in the request approval process, your practice will need to assemble the following information:
• Staffing quotas for all assignments
• Supervisory rules
• Clinical rules
• Facility and union policies
• Provider certifications
A real-time list of certified providers at each facility can be of great use when processing requests. In Cameron’s case, a real-time list would have made it easier for him to know exactly who was available to work which assignments, and what impact a request would have on coverage.
Holiday Assignment Distribution
As Cameron knows only too well, few people are happy working on holidays – and even fewer are willing to work them on consecutive years.
To avoid unfair holiday assignments, all that is needed are accurate historical data regarding number of holidays worked by each provider, as well as forecasted data regarding holiday assignments in the upcoming schedule.
Once these data are assembled, it is easy to see who has worked several holidays and who has not.
Personal Time Off and Vacation Accrual
While emphasis naturally centers on the impact of days off on clinical coverage, that is not the only issue to be addressed when processing requests. Schedulers must also take into account how much time off each provider has and when during the year it has been accrued.
For overall efficiency, it is recommended that accrual data be made easily accessible to each provider. Scheduling software that gives providers online access to their accrual data can be of particular use to large practices.
*Names, situations, and example data presented throughout this post are meant to serve as fictional examples only. They have been created as composites representing common situations, but do not reflect specific individuals or organizations.
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