Physician On-Call Scheduling and On-Call Management Blog
by Justin Wampach

How On-Call Scheduling Was Done in the Old Days

Posted by Justin Wampach on Thu, May 02, 2019 @ 03:23 PM

Dr. Zook 1994

Aah, the good-old days.  I don't know if I have ever shared this story of how and why I got started in physician scheduling software.  It's kinda funny actually, not funny ha ha, but more funny peculiar.  Back in 1999 my family practice doctor called me up at home (I think) and told me that he heard I was doing something with the Internet and he had something that he wanted to run by me.  I recall him coming over to my office, which at the time was located about 1 block away from our location today (oh how far we've come, lol).  Dr. Patrick Zook, MD proceeded to explain to me about how doctors were scheduled.  He kept reminding me that this wasn't about patients, but what happened when a patient ended up in our local emergency room and a doctor was called for a consult and in those days to admit the patient.  I had really never given it much thought, I mean who would have.  At that time I was a 27 year old entrepreneur who was leading a small company that was building networks and websites.  Who cared about what happened in the hospital at 3:00 am.

Dr. Zook continued to explain that scheduling doctors wasn't as easy as it would be to schedule a restaurant employee or a retail worked.  He reminded me over and over that these people were physicians and therefore the schedule was like art, it was subjective.  It had to meet a ton of criteria and there were rules that had to be taken into consideration that each physician had in order to make the schedule not only fair and balanced, but reasonable enough that all of his partners wouldn't complain endlessly about his work.

Dr. Zook told me stories of him sitting at home a few entire weekends per year with little tiny pieces of paper and a long list of vacation and day-off requests that he needed to consider when putting a schedule together for the next 3 months.  He reminded me, "you can't schedule someone when they want a day off, or want vacation.  You can't schedule someone back-to-back or too close together or have all of their call days on a Monday or a Thursday".  There were also some days that were worse to be on-call than others,  for example Fridays, and Mondays we're horrible because there was more work on those days.  Remember this was before hospital based physicians existed.  Dr. Zook told me that he would spend hours putting together the perfect schedule on a dry-erase calendar and manually prepare a "tally report" counting all of the days that each physician was on duty and share that with this partners to show them that the schedule was fair.  He said it would take him 20-30 hours every 3 months, and it was unpaid time.  Not only was he not compensated, but it was a very thankless job.  Check out this former post How to Give Away A Skunk to learn more about just how popular it is to schedule doctors for on-call.

Many times when there was a discrepancy or a hole in the schedule that would mess up the tally fairness, he would just give that assignment to himself.  Dr. Zook was just that kink of guy.  He was always willing to take the worst or leftover shifts himself if it meant that there would be less conflict in his group.

Dr. Zook was certain that there had to be a computer program that could not only do this job faster but do it in a way that would promote transparency and fairness.  He looked all around in the mid 90's and found nothing.  So what does a busy physician do when he doesn't find a solution to his problem?  He engineers one himself.  In 1995 Medic-Ware was formed to solve this problem.  Their first product was a DOS version of Call Scheduler.  Dr. Zook would spend his recurring day-off each week traveling Minnesota showing off his new computer software.  

In 1999 Dr. Zook came to me to update the software so that it was Y2K compliant.  In 1999 we decided to jump from DOS directly to a web-based platform mainly because that's what my programmers knew at the time.  We didn't have any Windows people in our company we were all web developers.  About 9 months later we released the first version of Call Scheduler that was 100% web based and did not require anything to be installed.  All you needed was a web browser and an connection to the Internet.

You might not believe it if I told you today, 19 years later that I still talk to physicians every day who create schedules the "old way".  Paper has been replaced by Excel, but the wretched manual process is always the same.  They spend a ton of time, mostly on the weekends, while their partners are golfing or out on the lake (we live in MN, there are 10,000+) manually putting physicians in slots and counting up the assignments to try and make it fair.  It's absolutely crazy to me.  As you can probably tell, there is a much better solution, its relatively inexpensive and simple to use and saves 90% of your time. 

Today we have smart phone apps and a ton of features that Dr. Zook could have never imagined back in 1995 when he began engineering Call Scheduler.  I'm so honored that he choose me to call that day.  I am almost as passionate about fairly and accurately scheduling doctors as he is.

Dr. Zook retired in November 2019 after 40 years of practice as a Family Physician.  He is still actively involved in the company and is one of our biggest cheerleaders.  The best ideas come from smart people in desperate situations looking for solutions that don't yet exist.  

If you're still scheduling like Dr. Zook did in 1994, get with the program.  The program is Call Scheduler.  You'll never look back!

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