Amy's blog about training

Do you need a Master On Call Scheduler?

Posted by Amy Engebretson on Mon, Dec 24, 2012 @ 11:36 AM

puzzle2The frequency of On Call duties is one of the first things Providers consider when evaluating whether or not to join your Group, and whether they stay.

What can you do to ensure your On Call Schedule is on the plus-side of the "package?"

It's no secret that the on call schedule has a huge impact on the quality of Physician family and office life. Because time is scarce and there are so many demands on their time, the on call schedule can “make or break” their personal satisfaction and happiness. Have you considered assigning a Master Scheduler for this important task?

Why you need a dedicated Master Scheduler (Avoid too many cooks!)

If each provider is allowed to “do their own thing”, or if there are more than a Primary and Backup scheduler… things can get confused. Who gives the definitive “yes” or “no” answer to pressing requests when needed? Who answers the “why am I scheduled here” questions?

Every Group needs to have only one or two persons to be in charge of scheduling. If you want a fair, equitable, accountable On Call schedule, it cannot be done by committee or by different schedulers every 6 months, or by the Providers themselves. The person who is responsible for creating the on-call schedule may “wear other hats” in addition that of a scheduler. However, if you have a complex schedule with a lot of variables, this may be a full time position. In any event, only one person should be the final responsible party. The other scheduler should be a backup to the Primary scheduler, so the process and rules are not residing in only one person’s head.


You can never know too much (Discovering skeletons in the closet)

The Scheduler needs to not only get the schedule out on time, but also adhere to the rules determined by the Group and be well versed in the soft skills of the “politics” involved. Items beyond the basics may be:

  • Which assignment is more important, or harder to do?

  • How will it impact the Physicians if assigned that way?

  • What are rules vs a particular Physician’s preferences outside of the agreed-upon rules?

  • Who needs a little more “justification” to feel the schedule is fair?

This is not about favoritism; it is about good-will and teamwork. These finer, political skills are gained only by someone who interacts with the scheduling and the affected Physicians on a daily basis. Others may have good intentions, but they don’t “live the schedule” the way a dedicated Scheduler does.

Once information is uncovered, a Master Scheduler will document, document, document!


Pro-Active Scheduling (Scheduling without your back to the wall)

Even when you have a dedicated scheduler, it may not be enough! Turning out schedules while “on deadline” is a recipe for making mistakes. Pro-Active scheduling allows Providers to follow a predictable process and allows the Master Scheduler time to the review nuances of the schedule prior to release.

Your Master Scheduler must be able to draw the important day-off information from your Providers, well before the deadline of crunching numbers. Of course, the scheduler will need to be empowered to go ahead with the on call schedule if “laggards” do not give the information required. Successful scheduler/provider teams respect one another and mutually enforce such accountability.


Process is King (vs The Artist Scheduler)

Can’t anyone just use the process and get the same results? If they can’t, you don’t have a Master Scheduler with a complete, documented process who is using on call scheduling software; you have an Artist Scheduler! A reliable, documented Scheduling Process includes rules, deadlines, sequences and consequences that are repeatable. The Artist Scheduler may use “gut check” variable scheduling. This results in favors to be paid back, limited reproducibility, and responding to the pressures of this round of scheduling, while hoping to straighten things out next time.


Who has your back? (How will colleagues be held accountable?)

The value of a strong Scheduler Advocate cannot be under estimated, even If you are a Master Scheduler who is a Physician. The political pressures can be rough; the team must support the Scheduler to reinforce the internal agreements made. If the Master Scheduler is not a Physician, this Advocate’s support is even more critical since Primary scheduler may not be seen as an equal team member by the Physicians being scheduled.

Key takeaway: Having a Master Scheduler can save valuable physician time, improve moral regarding the perceived “fairness” of the schedule and provide a single point of accountability and contact for all things regarding  physicians’ on call schedule.

Topics: call schedule improvement, on call schedule fairness, on call scheduling implementation