Question from the field: “Should I set up my patient schedule with all four-hour slots so that I can easily move my patients from one spot to another? Kind of a one size fits all schedule?”

I dare to say that one size fits all philosophy is not true for clothes and definitely not true for meeting individual patient needs when setting up your patient schedule!

Every dialysis patient has the same needs, correct? They are there because their kidneys are not functioning at a level that can sustain life, so the same set-up and treatment should work for all. If we believe that to be the case, then providing care for them should be the same, right??

I think that we can agree that the belief that every patient is the same and should receive the same treatment is just a foolish thought. All patients with high blood pressure are not treated with the same medication or the same dose, and dialysis prescriptions are no different. Patients are scheduled for treatment durations based upon the current function of their kidneys, body size and other medical parameters. The prescribed treatment time changes based upon lab results, type of vascular access and physician assessment of what the patient needs.

If we stop there, plugging in only the  prescribed treatment time into our patient schedule, we are short-changing both the patients and the caregivers.  What more is there to consider, you may be thinking?  You’ve taken the time to work in ontimes between treatment starts (maybe 15 minutes) and time between an off in one chair and an on in the same chair (maybe 45 minutes). This may appear to  create a smooth schedule, but it will still cause the staff and patients a lot of frustration as one of the most important pieces of quality scheduling is missing — adding in time for patients’ individual needs, or their acuity needs!

Over the years, we have performed many time studies to better understand the workflow of the patient schedule.  We repeated those studies after Medicare’s 2017 ruling of vacating the station before disinfection and setting up for the next patient. Our studies showed that when staff follow their policies, it takes an average of 15 minutes to put a patient on and 15 minutes to take them off. The 15 minutes to initiate the treatment includes 10 minutes before blood hitting the dialyzer and 5 minutes post-treatment initiation. The 15 minutes for taking patients off was all after the alarm signaled that the treatment duration was met.  Let’s take a look at an example that shows a pod of patients that are all allotted 15 minutes to put on and 15 minutes to take off.

Example 1: All patients seen with equal needs
  • Blocks of time (orange line) in which the caregiver (green line) is putting on or taking off patients.
  • If all patients truly take 15 minutes or less for care, this schedule works

The word bolded above, “average”, is key. Patients have different needs, you know this, but you may not have considered it relative to how the patient schedule is set up and that more time may be needed between some patients while no extra time is needed between others. You may be able to meet those needs in that 15-minute span to put a patient on, but that same easy put on is a long bleeder at the end of treatment and needs 25 minutes after treatment before they are ready to vacate the station.  (See Example 2)

Example 2: Impact of acuity
  • As Mickey Mouse requires 25 minutes to be taken off, the caregiver is still busy providing his care when Donald Duck is scheduled off.
  • In these cases, something gives. The caregiver either asks for help (often the RN) or add/cuts time to patients’ prescription durations, which means that treatment may be against a physician’s order.

Thinking about your own patients, you know those who need additional time because they are in a wheelchair, a stretcher, possibly requiring a Hoyer for transfer.  But there could be others who are not so obvious and that’s where your PCT’s and RN’s come in. Ask them!  Engage them in the schedule set up and revising.  Create an environment in your clinic in which the caregivers share which pods are challenging, review each patient’s acuity needs in that pod and make adjustments to your schedule. By taking the time to understand which patients need additional time, and accounting for that time, your smooth appearing schedule becomes a truly smooth, functioning schedule where the staff now have the time to care for each patient based on their individual needs.

Join the conversation! We’d love to hear from you!

  • Have a question you would like us to answer in a future post? Just ask!
  • In your clinics/organization, how do you account for patients that need additional time on your patient schedule?
  • How often do you review your schedule to ensure it is up to date with treatment durations and acuity needs

Mary Kay Hamilton

Mary Kay Hamilton

After staying on the sidelines for the first few years of the company start-up, I joined full time January 2015. Having a thirty-year dialysis career background in multiple roles from staff and charge RN, clinic manager and director of clinic services, I have an understanding of the clinical side, business side and Medicare regulations. I earned my Master’s in Healthcare Innovation from Arizona State University and love to help clinics and organizations find new and sustaining ways to solve challenging issues.

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