In the wee hours of a rather relaxing weekend, Sergio Marino, a lead medical supritendent and an expert in infectious diseases at Casacordia Hospital in Rome, received a distress call. Being a doctor, receiving emergency calls was nothing unusual for him. However, this call was different. He was well aware about the ongoing pandemic across the globe pertaining to the COVID-19 outbreak. There were a handful of cases spread across the country but none that belonged to his hospital.
For Marino, this call was about to send him and his colleagues in a storm of unprecedented circumstances. Considering that the virus had not hit their country, a handful of staff members were on paid leave while the others had their shifts scheduled later into the day. Little did anyone know that the day was going to be very long.
Real World Scenario
What happens when one lethal virus brings the entire human population at a standstill for a period of time? We are facing a never before seen crisis today. It is this virus versus the entire globe today. And we are fighting it with all our might. Each one of us is in this together, standing strong on the shoulders of leading medical researchers, teams of doctors, nurses, and medical practitioners. They are leading us in this fight, the real superheroes this world needs at this time who have been given the responsibility of taking us all through the end of this dark tunnel.
Globally, hospitals are crowded with patients falling sick; some of them needing high-priority medical assistance, others needing intensive care, medical attention, diagnosis, medicines and everything possible to save lives and stand strong against this global pandemic. Crisis will be an understatement when describing their current situation where there is acute shortage of medical equipment as well as medical staff. With the sudden increase in demand for patient care and medical assistance, an unprecedented avalanche of challenges like staff scheduling, availability of doctors and nurses etc came down on the healthcare institutions across the globe.
Both, the people who are infected and the ones who are healthy are finding ways to stay healthy and fight against the pathogen and stay safe from the rapidly spreading virus respectively. Their real challenge lies in getting immediate medical assistance before it is too late.
When you step into the shoes of doctors, their area of concern is broader and much more complex if not handled wisely. along with providing dedicated catering to each and every affected patient with utmost care and sincerity, they also have to ensure that their workforce’s time is optimised meticulously. With the rising number of cases being admitted in the hospitals, the frontline healthcare workers are posed with another major challenge of workforce optimization. Having an organized workforce and intricately managed staff is directly proportional to timely and attentive care of the ones who are infected.
Staffing Appropriately at the Time of Pandemic
When a pandemic of this scale hits, it can send even the largest organizations into a tizzy. A situation may arise where there are a number of sick employees, employees who are caring for sick family members and employees who do not come to work out of fear of becoming ill. On top of that, there may be a significant need for social distancing in order to limit the number of persons concentrated in the workplace.
A scenario like that requires special handling of staffing and attendance and leave issues. Hospitals have to come up with a Continuation of Operations Plan (COOP) / Business Continuity Plan (BCP). The need to identify mission-essential functions and employees who will be responsible for carrying out these functions becomes vital.
In order to carry out the aforementioned activities in the most seamless way possible, we need to put technology to work. Doctors can significantly benefit from automated software which can help them plan the attendance and staffing of their hospital for the upcoming week. In our scenario, imagine how seamlessly Dr. Sergio would have communicated the urgent need to be present at the hospital to each and every employee if he had a workforce optimization software in place.
This is where computer softwares and systems backed by artificial intelligence come in for the rescue. The biggest advantage of these workforce optimization systems is that they save immense amount of time which is spent on communicating with each and every employee; be it calling them in for emergencies, communicating shift in/out times, approving or rejecting leave requests, or checking the total working hours an employee has clocked in during the tough times.
An intelligent system has the ability to manage hospital schedules at multiple levels. It gives managers the power to send and broadcast messages to each and every staff member at once; ensuring correct information is passed on to every staff member at the same time.
As observed in major hospitals across the globe during the outbreak of COVID-19, the demand for hospital staff rose significantly overnight due to the exponential growth of cases worldwide. An intelligent scheduling software provides hospitals with the ability to automatically assign and notify staff members about their rest day, a day off or to show up for an urgent shift. And how does it do that? Managers have to simply update the current demands in the system and a near-optimal shift plan is automatically calculated.
5 Ways a Scheduling Software can Save Lives During Crisis
According to a leading study conducted to understand hospital staffing during pandemics, rural/regional hospitals demonstrated higher levels of clinical and non-clinical, (~86%) than metropolitan hospitals (~40%).
Even leading hospitals sometimes failed to carry out pandemic plans in exercises or drills, consequently undermining their effectiveness to take care of their patients. One-third of metropolitan hospitals and no rural/regional hospitals report not being able to meet patient needs with high levels of staff absenteeism and many of them still find it difficult to manage the staff attendance and schedule during the crisis period.
1. Rescinding and Rearranging approved Leaves
If an employee’s absence would disrupt the hospital’s operations during a pandemic period, There may be situations where a hospital needs to revoke an employees’ previously granted annual leave.
- The management can almost immediately rescind those leaves from the workforce management software and automatically send push notifications to the concerned employees. The mobile first (native app) and responsive designs of the WFO software allow for access from any device; making it possible to reach out to the employees wherever they are. It is not common for management to make such decisions; most of the time the routine goes as planned and scheduled. But during bold times, one has to make bold decisions and that too proficiently. An AI- based scheduling software has all the data that it needs to match the right skillset with the right staff. The system is sentient enough to understand which roles are meant for which employees and it can help managers take the right decision at the right time.
2. Flexible Scheduling
During the time of a pandemic, hospitals have to review their normal business hours and employee’s work schedules in order to determine if they can be modified in a manner that best promotes social distancing, business continuity or other pandemic response goals. They also need to identify mission-critical functions that may be staffed with personnel on flexible work schedules. It includes, for instance, the staff performing administrative functions like payroll, benefits, accounting or purchasing etc..
- Flexible work schedules can be requested, communicated, assigned and/or processed with immediate effect directly from the workforce optimization software and approved schedules do not need any manual documentation. If an employee makes a request for a flexible work schedule, the request can be denied or approved directly from the mobile app or web client.Flexible scheduling not only gives flexibility to the managers but also provides the ease and facility to the employees to be an integral part of that schedule.Staff members can bid for their most preferred shifts directly from the software using a unique points bidding system. They can choose to bid for their preferred shifts by allocating points to their requests which indicates how desired the requested shift change is. This unique bidding system allocates the rosters fairly, promoting a content and adept workforce at the most necessary of times. Employees can see fairness and transparency in the system which further boosts their mettle and increases the likelihood of them adhering to their planned schedule.Lastly, managers do not have to regulate or assign shifts manually into the system. This removes the headache of manual scheduling from their daily routine and allows them to focus on more strategic initiatives such as dedicating more time for sick patients; naturally boosting patient care by creating specialized COVID-19 units and deploying them with immediate effect. Splitting the teams based on their speciality and experience can be done directly from the WFO software.Leading workforce optimization softwares contain pre-designed templates where managers simply have to add the team members in the respective buckets according to their skillset. Rest assured that your schedules are optimized by the underlying AI Engine that ensures that you are neither understaffed or overstaffed.
3. Leave and Attendance Issues
Even during such pandemics, hospitals have to make sure that the process of documenting and recording attendance and leaves is done intricately so that overpayments and unpaid leave can be accounted for in a timely manner.
- Global hospitals have been struggling to maintain a clear track of attendance and shift times after the onset of coronavirus. This is a type of pandemic not everyone is prepared for. Imagine a hospital which keeps a manual track of working hours, calculates overtime done by employees on a separate note, and then at the time of payroll, the accounts department has to coalesce those aspects to ensure fair pay.A resourceful software automates everything from top to bottom. From shift timings, overtime calculation to overtime payment, allowances and claims, everything is taken care of by the system. This puts more time in the hands of staff members to attend sick patients.The same is the case with leaves claim and staff availability.Times of emergency may require maximum staff availability unless the employees are sick or not available due to dire situations.A scheduling software closely monitors the leave system and generated schedules in accordance with the demand.On a larger playground, automation and machine intelligence on this level can precisely contribute to the greater good and help save numerous lives.Supervisors, with access to real-time visibility in working hours, various staff attributes, employee skill sets, and with detailed insights granted by the software shift-patterns and balancing, can easily balance between included and excluded employees so that attendance and leave for staff who are out sick or quarantined can be recorded on a regular basis. Majorly, a scheduling software can readily provide detailed sample analytics reports on time and attendance. With graphical insight and magnified judgement, managers can discern the loopholes and close them on time.
4. Demand Forecasting
The AI-powered software learns from ample amounts of data fed into it over time. With complex mathematical calculations and neural engines running under the hood, the WFO software can run predictive diagnostics on its own. This helps in predicting the future labour demands while balancing the well being of each and every employee.
- A workforce optimization software in place can minimize a hospital’s overtime costs and prevent costly overstaffing practices during the period of a global pandemic. Not forecasting and predicting the staffing needs can prove costly both in terms of labour costs as well as in terms of patient care. Having more than the required number of employees present in the hospital increases the chance of virus spreading at a faster rate. This defeats the purpose of social distancing.On the other hand, understaffing can be ghastly during these sensitive times.It is an indispensable aspect for hospitals to have adequate staff to manage their nurse-to- patient ratio and attend to those who are in critical need of care. With clever software, the organization can make sure they have an ideal number of staff members present to attend each and every patient, making sure they don’t have to wait and curing them before it is too late.The hospital management may also need to make strategic decisions during a pandemic. Workforce Optimization software can provide iInteractive analytics which allows decision makers to gain meaningful insights from their data in real time.Looking at the bigger picture, a proper demand forecasting tool helps a hospital to construct and introduce work policies quickly. Each and every member of the hospital has to be initiated with new policies and make sure they are abreast with the effectiveness and adherence of them.In order to understand it better, let’s take a real-world example:A well-reputed hospital in Singapore decided to reschedule its staff shifts into two daily shifts of 12 hours each. Half of their employees worked from 6AM to 6PM and the other half worked from 6PM to 6AMthe next morning until the other shift reports back to work.This wasn’t always the case with them; their shifts were spread across the entire day before the COVID-19 emergency broke out. In order to rapidly implement this policy and divide the shifts between employees, they used a scheduling software to get things done in a way that is most yielding, both in terms of productivity and time savings. The software helped them execute the policy promptly, sending necessary notifications to each of its healthcare professionals. This notification included a link to the new policy where they can read all the mentioned guidelines with the applicable claim codes.
5. Real-time Team Communication and Messaging
In the state of emergency and crisis, it becomes imperative for each and every member of a hospital to communicate effectively and to stay up-to-date about the latest events. A situation like this brings with it innumerable incidents which change quickly and are unprecedented. Updates and information are is required to reach all the levels of hierarchy with zero downtime and no interruptions.
- With an automated workforce management software in place, hospitals can connect securely with anyone across any shift, duty or department. They can share documents & files across every team member, which may carry potentially life -saving information. With a broadcasting system in place, hospitals can keep their teams up-to-date by sending quick announcements to everyone at the same time.Just like well-ordered communication of the most recent updates and vital instructions is necessary between the employees, in the same manner it becomes equally important for the management to neatly communicate new work policies and codes.This is where a scheduling system comes as a blessing in disguise. Once managers implement effective contracts into the system, the intelligent software automatically communicates the policy change with all the employees. Not only that, the software then auto-schedules the working hours for the concerned employees in a matter of a few minutes. The software also gauges the claims and settlement automatically based on the predefined policies, simplifying the work significantly. This provides transparency to the employees about the policies and communicates protocols in a crystal-clear manner.
As the saying goes – ‘A stitch in time, saves nine.’ – the world is currently facing a situation where time is everything. Every patient counts, every employee counts, and every breath counts. Time is of utmost importance when it comes to such critical situations and life-threatening diseases. Hospitals and medical organizations can succeed in this war against pandemics with the help from advanced technological features and software which can help them cut down on costs and time required elsewhere; which they could more importantly dedicate to patient care and crisis control.
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