Are There Too Many Variables in the Patient Schedule for a Computer to Handle?

Remember, my purpose in writing for this blog is to share what we’ve learned over the past 30 years in dialysis. Lots of grand ideas come and go. Buzzwords that promise a lot of improvement, but are not sustainable. Instead, the goal here is to share with you the ideas and methods that stick. And hopefully, after reading some of our words, you may begin to think differently about your approach to your business. Whether you act on that new understanding is totally your choice!

So today, let’s tackle one of the sentiments that I hear come up frequently as a knock against scheduling software… that there are too many variables in the patient schedule for the computer to handle.

As an engineer, this is just striking to me. Our human brains are magnificent and capable of amazing feats. But we are also humans succumbing to emotions, persuasion and forgetfulness. Here are some examples:

  • A staff request to be off next week
  • One of your physicians wants all of her patients on the same shift, but the transportation company can’t manage moving one of those patients from their schedule.
  • Two patients like to sit next to each other because they are buddies
  • Another patient, a very cantankerous man, doesn’t want to sit underneath the air-conditioning vent.

While you may be able to remember these small-ish issues, in two weeks with twenty other changes, and the stresses of a day-to-day dialysis clinic, will you be able to remember all the details? And if you pass it off your scheduling duties to your Charge Nurse, or Social Worker, or Admin Assistant… will they be aware of all of these details? And if so, are they trained to keep all of those issues in mind when managing changes to the patient schedule? And how will they effectively communicate that back to you?

This is why computers are so much more adept at handling the mounting variables of managing a patient schedule. The computer won’t forget the details, so long as you enter them in. Futhermore, the computer can be programmed to assist you with decision making along a set of rules that you give it. And it can be programmed to take into account constraints around patient treatment times, or physician rounding, and anything else that may impact the schedule.

What’s nice about this is that after you set up these guidelines, and the computer can warn you when your schedule is out of bounds, meaning it does not comply with all of the parameters or constraints that you set up.

All this will just make life easier. Yes, you still have to manage your schedule. Yes, you still have to enter patients and schedule into a system. You are doing those things now anyway. But something new might be to start entering in constraints and rules-based logic into your schedule. This is something where computers shine and really aid us in our everyday work. This is, of course, assuming the scheduling app you use is designed for that purpose. Most do not. That is another discussion.

But getting back to the central argument, that a computer can’t handle all of the variables of patient schedule just, to turn a phrase, does not compute!

Am I being controversial here? I don’t think so. Just reasonable. After all, I’m not saying that there aren’t people who can manage a patient schedule brilliantly. I’m only saying that a computer has a much greater capacity to keep track of all the necessary variables of patient scheduling, day after day, week after week, and given the right program, the capability to aid in your managerial decisions related to your patient (and even staff) schedules.

If I’ve made my case above, surely on that we can all agree. Still not convinced? Let us know. Get those thoughts out in the open by writing a comment below!

Mark Sessoms

Mark Sessoms

I'm supposedly a helluva industrial engineer since my alma mater is Georgia Tech. But what I really seem to be good at and really enjoy is in continuous process improvement. I've been tackling scheduling practices in dialysis since 2003, and after meeting with Gary, we thought we could do something better. Five years later, the stars aligned and ScheduleWise was born... where these days, I mostly oversee software development.

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