Barrett Coakley | 01.30.19

2018 saw continued merger and acquisition activity in the home healthcare and related markets as firms moved to build out their services footprint, offerings and build economies of scale. And 2019 appears to be trending in the same direction. However, it is quite possible that many providers that have a mobile team delivering care in the field fail to understand the complexity that comes with size and multiple service offerings, especially as it relates to scheduling ever growing teams in the field.

Many organizations do not understand that as teams grow and the number of appointments increase, the scheduling complexity does not increase linearly. In fact, it is not even close! The reason complexity does not increase in a linear manner is due to the fact that each scheduling decision has a factorial growth. For example, here are the number of scheduling possibilities for various jobs:

  • There are 6 possible schedules for 3 jobs and 3 nurses
  • There are 720 possible schedules for 6 jobs and 6 nurses
  • There are 3,682,800 possible schedules for 10 jobs and 10 nurses

This is why it is important that healthcare providers utilize scheduling software that can handle such complexities. Scheduling optimization technology, frequently incorporated in Field Service Management software, enables organizations to create detailed schedules that can handle the complex scenarios detailed above.

Optimizing the schedule for an organization with 100's or 1000's of nurses is far beyond the capability of simplistic scheduling products (not to mention manual approaches). This complexity is due to the number of events that must be taken into account when developing a schedule such as travel distance, travel time, overtime costs, labor costs, employee availability and skills, customer availability and preferences, contractor availability, regulations and a myriad of other inputs. With schedule optimization, an organization can create an optimal schedule that meets unique business rules such as:

  • Minimizes travel time, overtime, cost, and no-shows
  • Assign the person with the correct skill set for the visit

An emerging trend in the home healthcare space is with providers offering new services that deliver specialized, hospital-level care. One program, Huntsman at Home, is a 7 day a week offering that offers a 2-hour response to a patient call. While the benefits to the patient are great, the potential strain on scheduling these appointments could prove to be difficult. The organization will need to estimate capacity, understand who can make the appointment (taking into account travel time and other business objectives) and who has the correct skill set to deliver care. These variables highlight the need for schedule optimization to calculate all of these variables to help deliver cost effective and safe care.

Schedule optimization provides real, tangible business results for organizations. The approach organizations take to schedule optimization and appointment booking often depends on their individual business policy and goals. Some healthcare organizations might prioritize on time arrivals or decreasing overtime, while others might prioritize a reduction in travel time. With schedule optimization software, organizations can define business goals and quality metrics, then tune the scheduling policy to comply with this definition.

For example, let’s look at an organization that prioritizes on-time arrivals. You have two customers who live on opposite ends of town and there’s only one nurse available in the area that is certified to do the job. How can this organization meet the patients need while maintaining business policy? If that nurse runs into unexpected traffic, or the previous appointment runs over, he might arrive late. With schedule optimization, the scheduler can recognize the possible conflict and assign the appointments with enough buffer to ensure an on-time arrival, meeting that business objective and satisfying a patient need.

Schedule optimization provides real, tangible business results for organizations. For example, here are some actual results from our customers from utilizing schedule optimization:

  • 40% productivity improvement
  • 16% decrease in travel time
  • On time arrivals increased by 20%
  • Appointment waiting time reduced by 45%
  • Emergency SLA conformity increased by 97%
  • Overtime reduced by 22%

Field Service Management (FSM) software provides advanced schedule optimization functionality that enable a healthcare provider to schedule and manage 100’s to 1,000’s of patient appointments. Not only does this help control costs with better routing and a reduction in overtime, it also helps to deliver a better experience for both the patient and the employee. For example, extended travel times can also increase turnover among caregivers. In fact, healthcare firm Honor found that for every 15-mile increment that a care pro must travel to a client, that care pro becomes two times likelier to turn over. In an industry that is struggling to find and keep talent, improving travel time can be a great employee retention tool.

As healthcare organizations continue to scale, they need to invest in the technologies that will help enable this growth in order to cost effectively improve operations and, most importantly, ensure that patient care does not suffer.

If you want to read more on this topic, below are some cases studies and blog posts that provide additional information on the benefits of schedule optimization.