The Art AND Science of Patient Scheduling

Previously I took us down the philosophical rabbit hole of whether managing the patient schedule is an art OR a science. I wanted to consider a different path line of reasoning this time, shall we? This time that patient scheduling is necessarily both an art AND a science.

In my last post, we discussed the “control” aspect.  But for this post, let’s consider that you are in total control.  No computer is going to do the work for you.  So you have to put your thinking cap on and manage all the changes to the patient schedule this week.

You’ve been doing this patient scheduling thing a long time, so you know the ropes. You’ve learned over time all of the patients’ likes and dislikes, their acuities, and you have jotted down some notes so you do not forget certain things like a transportation issue with one patient, and when a certain doctor may round. All of these things are in your head, and you’ve developed a certain knack over the years that when you have to make changes to put-on times, you know what ontimes work best in what chairs.  When you put your pen to paper, you aren’t even thinking any more. The schedule seemingly just writes itself.

Some call this “the art of scheduling”. And they’d be right. Not many people have the ability, and not many people WANT this ability either! 😉  And when a schedule is done right, everybody is usually happy. They don’t look at the piece of paper with the schedule on it and want to immediately go and frame it, but they do consider the maker — the artist if you will — to have special talents.

But of course, this is the best case scenario. Every clinic has one or more persons in charge of managing the schedule, but not every clinic has an artist-in-residence. Learning these skills can often take years. And it’s a job that is often unwanted to boot!

But what happens when you add science to the equation? That is, if we learn all the techniques and considerations that the artist was able to apply to his or her craft of patient scheduling, and we could program our supercomputer to manage all this work for us, then all we would have to do is enter any new patients or changes to treatments, and with the click of the easy button, voila! Out pops a schedule worthy of admiration.

What’s nice about this last scenario is that ANYONE could manage the schedule. We no longer must depend on the artist. It’s not unlike the great advances we’ve seen with photography. We used to have just a few artists. They were experts with the technology of their day. And yes, they were indeed artists in their framing of their subjects and lighting and all the elements to consider when shooting. But along came the point-and-shoot cameras and the world of photography changed. And once the industry went digital, the costs for development were virtually zero, and thus the barrier to becoming more artistic for the average Joe decreased. And with smarthphones, now everyone has a camera in their pocket. And we have a world flush with photos. Everyone is now a photographer!

But is everyone an artist? Not necessarily. But one could say that there are many more artists than there were previously when the technology was more difficult, and the costs were higher, of course.  So we actually could attribute the rise in artistry and photography was due to the decrease in difficulty of the science of photography. To manage that, they had to hide all the science from the user (inside the camera), and make the interface dead simple. Art AND Science collaborating to make a better world of photography for all!

And so it is with scheduling software (you knew I’d come back to that, didn’t you?). The costs have decreased tremendously. The science has been hidden away in the algorithms underneath the hood so to speak. And the interface is simple so that anyone can manage the schedule.

Well, this will be the eventual congruence for patient scheduling, but as of today, we don’t trust the easy button yet. That gets back to the “control” issues I wrote about previously. Eventually, though, clinicians won’t want to waste any more time doing this task that the computer is better suited for. Instead, we’ll be content to know that we do have control of the inputs, and we’ll accept our eventual the transition to the Easy Button!

Between now and then, we still have some evolving to do. Slowly but surely the technology will get better and easier, and before long, we’ll all be artists!

Mark Sessoms

Mark Sessoms

I'm supposedly a helluva industrial engineer since my alma mater is Georgia Tech. But what I really enjoy is continuous process improvement, in any and everything! I've been tackling scheduling practices in dialysis since 2003. Five years later, the stars aligned and ScheduleWise was born...

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