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Medical Staff Schedulers Are Mathematicians

In a recent statement, Donald Trump said, “Nobody knew health care could be so complicated.” This highlights how complexity in health systems is often overlooked.

Furthermore, authorities within health systems can sometimes underestimate the complexity that the staff working on lower level has to deal with. One of these operations includes physician scheduling.

According to a recent scheduling study on this topic, there are about an average of 200 different scheduling requirements (rules) and requests that need to be taken into account when scheduling the staff.

This reminds me of the movie, Good Will Hunting, where Will Hunting (Matt Damon) is secretly solving extremely difficult equations. I picture a medical staff working away in the basement trying to solve a scheduling problem with 200 variables.

Unfortunately, there isn’t a Will at each hospital. Oftentimes, schedulers use an educated guess, a rule of thumb, an intuitive judgment, or common sense to fill in the schedule.

Even basic scheduling softwares fall under this category as well. Their primary goal is to deliver a solution to the problem in a relatively short time which means taking shortcuts and breaking down the schedule into smaller calendar periods. Schedulers must make manual adjustments to resolve scheduling conflicts.

Breaking a problem into smaller pieces makes finishing the job easier but fixing one area can often negatively impact another area.

The answer is not to make the problem easier but to improve systems-level transformation by including all possible constraints. Constraints include managerial insights along with physician preferences which can be computed using exact algorithms. Exact solution techniques can integrate all related scheduling process to help uncover previously unrecognized resources. This can help the healthcare system to save a considerable amount of time as well as money in the long run.

Solving healthcare complexity cannot be done with software alone. Bernard Tyson from Kaiser said, “Success stems from frontline staff and patients to improve processes that demonstrate respect for people.” To solve complex problems, it takes innovation from both frontline staff and technology.