3 solutions to physician summer break schedule mayhem

Summer is here. The kids are out of school. Summer vacations are calling. Is your medical department schedule ready to accommodate a surge of physician time-off requests?

Physician vacation time has a major positive benefit for reducing burnout with your staff. A Medscape survey found that 70% of doctors who reported not being burned out also happened to take two weeks of vacation in the previous year. However, it can also be a nightmare for schedulers to balance summer vacation schedules and last-minute time-off requests. When there is no planning or incentives to coordinate patient demand with physician supply, there are three possible outcomes:

1. Longer wait times for patients and reduced quality of care

2. Burnout for the physicians who are not on vacation (which then encourages those doctors who stayed at work to not stay at work next summer vacation season)

3. A lot of firefighting for the physicians when they come back from their vacations. We all experience this — you feel like you need another vacation after just a day of catching up on emails.

Thankfully, with a little preparation, I’ve seen medical departments implement scheduling policies that deliver balance for physicians and much-needed breaks for everyone. Here are three tactics to consider:

1. Look at the data. Use last year’s records to forecast demand so you know when the peak times are for patient volumes. Is it possible to schedule physician vacations at times when patient demand is already likely to be light? When does high patient demand occur at the same time as high vacation time off?

2. Sweeten the deal. Provide extra incentives for physicians to stay during those peak patient demand times. Some medical departments offer physicians extra compensation for working on weekends or holidays. The same could be applied to peak vacation times. Even a small incentive can help reduce frustration significantly.

3. Coordinate physician time-off early. Reduce disappointment by coordinating physician summer vacation schedules well in advance and with transparency. For example, if a physician plans to be off during the summer, she may have some flexibility to leave in late June or early July if you remind her about it in March. If she can review an online calendar showing many of her colleagues already have reserved time off in early July, that would encourage her to plan the trip in late June.

If you’re using scheduling software, you can let the technology be the bad guy. My company’s software will automatically say “no” based on scheduling rules you set up, for example: when a physician is the last one to request vacation on the same days that others have already blocked off.

As a department scheduler, your goal is to get everyone their ideal summer vacation time off. It can seem like a lot to juggle, especially if you’re creating the schedule manually. AI-driven scheduling software can find solutions that you might not have considered. It can also create a fair and transparent system for time-off requests. The earlier you help your physicians balance their summer vacation schedules, the sooner you can take off on your own summer getaway!

Suvas Vajracharya, Ph.D., is the founder and CEO of Lightning Bolt Solutions, the optimization leader in physician shift scheduling for hospitals and health systems. The company manages over 3 million physician hours each month and is ranked No. 1 in KLAS as the 2017 Category Leader in the Scheduling: Physician market segment.

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