Why Healthcare Providers Need to Know About Schedule Optimization

Apr 08, 2019 • FeaturesManagementPaul WhitelamClickSoftwarehealthcarescheduling

Paul Whitelam, ClickSoftware takes a deep dive into the healthcare sector, putting forward the case that it is high time healthcare providers embrace schedule optimisation to help cost-effectively improve operations and ensure patient care does not suffer. 

2018 saw continued merger and acquisition activity in the home healthcare and related markets as firms moved to build out their services footprint, offerings and build economies of scale.

And 2019 appears to be trending in the same direction. However, it is quite possible that many providers that have a mobile team delivering care in the field fail to understand the complexity that comes with size and multiple service offerings, especially as it relates to scheduling ever growing teams in the field.

Many organizations do not understand that as the number of appointments increase, the scheduling complexity does not increase linearly. In fact, it is not even close! The reason complexity does not increase in a linear manner is due to the fact that each scheduling decision has a factorial growth. For example, here are the number of scheduling possibilities for various jobs:

• There are 6 possible schedules for 3 jobs and 3 nurses; 
• There are 720 possible schedules for 6 jobs and 6 nurses;
• There are 3,682,800 possible schedules for 10 jobs and 10 nurses. 

This is why it is important that healthcare providers utilize scheduling software that can handle such complexities. Scheduling optimization technology, found in Field Service Management (FSM) software, enables organizations to create detailed schedules that can handle the complex scenarios detailed above.

Optimizing the schedule for an organization with hundreds to thousands of nurses and care providers is far beyond the capability of simplistic scheduling products (not to mention manual approaches). The complexity is due to the number of events that must be taken into account when developing a schedule such as travel distance, travel time, overtime costs, labor costs, employee availability and skills, patient or member availability and preferences, contractor availability, regulations and a myriad of other inputs. With FSM schedule optimization, an organization can create an optimal schedule that meets unique business rules that can:

• Minimize associated costs related to care delivery such as travel time, overtime and missed appointments;
• Meet patient and regulatory requirements by assigning only the person with the correct skill set for the visit.

An emerging trend in the home healthcare space is providers offering new services that deliver specialized, hospital-level care. For example, one program provides a 7 day a week offering that promises a 2-hour response to a patient call. While the benefits to the patient are great, the potential strain on the organization that has to schedule these appointments could prove to be difficult.

"As healthcare organizations scale, they need to invest in technologies like FSM software..."

The organization will need to estimate capacity, understand who can make the appointment (taking into account travel time and other business objectives) and who has the correct skill set to deliver care. These variables highlight the need for schedule optimization (and capacity planning) to calculate all of these variables to help deliver cost effective and safe care while delivering on their promise.

Schedule optimization provides real, tangible business results for organizations. The approach organizations take to optimize scheduling and appointment booking often depends on unique business policy and goals. Some healthcare organizations might prioritize on time arrivals or decreasing overtime, while others might prioritize a reduction in travel time. With schedule optimization software, organizations can define business goals and quality metrics, then tune the scheduling policy to comply with these variables. For example, let’s look at an organization that prioritizes on-time arrivals as a key business KPI. You have two customers who live on opposite ends of town and there’s only one nurse available in the area that is certified to deliver care. How can this organization meet the patient and regulatory requirements while maintaining business policy?

If that nurse runs into unexpected traffic, or the previous appointment runs over, he might arrive late to the next visit. With schedule optimization, the scheduler can recognize the possible conflict and assign the appointments with enough buffer to ensure an on-time arrival, meeting that business objective and satisfying a patient need.

FSM software provides advanced schedule optimization that enable a healthcare provider to schedule and manage hundreds to thousands of patient appointments. Not only does this help control costs with better routing and a reduction in overtime, it also helps to deliver a better experience for both the patient and the employee. For example, extended travel times can increase turnover among caregivers. In fact, a study that found that for every 15-mile increment that an employee must travel to a client, that provider becomes two times more likely to leave the organization. In an industry that is struggling to find and keep talent, improving travel time can be a great employee retention tool.

As healthcare organizations scale, they need to invest in technologies like FSM software that will help enable this growth in order to cost effectively improve operations and, most importantly, ensure that patient care does not suffer.

Paul Whitelam is VP Product Marketing at ClickSoftware.