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Why is the healthcare industry still scheduling staff like it’s 1980?

We need to talk about the growing problem of labour shortages in the healthcare industry. 

This may be a bit of a tough conversation, but there’s a light at the end of the tunnel so stay with us, because this starts out kind of rough.

Let’s start with the facts: The World Economic Forum estimates that by 2030 the world will be short 10 million healthcare workers. Here in Canada, we have approximately 30,000 nursing jobs that need to be filled

These labour shortfalls predate the pandemic, but COVID has made the problem worse. Now medical professionals are leaving the industry in droves, retiring early or looking for new jobs.

Given the structural challenges in healthcare, you’d think that the powers that be would want to remove any and every obstacle that gets in the way of healthcare workers. That might be true in lots of areas in healthcare, but with simple tasks like scheduling nurses it’s based on a process that is straight out of the 1990s. Actually that’s being too kind — in lots of places the process was designed and implemented back when hair metal bands and fluorescent pants were popular.

While the healthcare industry has a host of challenges, some of the problems that are piling up have technology solutions.

There just needs to be will and action to implement it.

Here’s how the nightmare that is scheduling works in some healthcare regions

Let’s look at Manitoba. Not because we’re picking on one province, but as an example of a systemic problem that is getting bigger, like a snowball rolling downhill.

Here’s how it works:

  • Nurses are scheduled for individual hospitals. 
  • Each unit in a hospital has a bunch of external agencies they work with – middlemen that coordinate the scheduling of nurses. 
  • The hospitals email their available shifts to the agencies.
  • Then the agencies email those shifts to the available nurses.
  • The nurses respond to the agencies.
  • Then the agencies respond to the hospitals.
  • Then the hospitals plan their coverage.

This scheduling process means healthcare scheduling runs at a speed and efficiency only slightly better than sending carrier pigeons.

Oh, but it gets worse.

The process is built on emails, spreadsheets with manual data entry (read: opportunity for error), and handwritten documents.

The results? Hospital administrators can’t easily schedule their units. Healthcare workers can’t easily manage their schedules. And if someone cancels a shift at the last second, the long and winding process starts all over to find a replacement. When it’s too slow to find someone who is available, an on-shift nurse has to work a double (these shifts are 12 hours long). 

With this process, healthcare workers lose, administrators lose, hospitals and medical clinics lose, and, most importantly, patients lose. 

It doesn’t need to be this way.

Digitized scheduling can end this madness, forever

It’s worth noting at this point that none of these problems are the fault of healthcare workers whose jobs are to help us get well. It’s also not the fault of the administrators who recognize the challenges and frustrations. The entire healthcare system is under enormous pressure.

But the truth remains: digitized scheduling would have a profound impact on healthcare. 

Let’s run this scenario as an alternative:

Imagine you run a cardiology, cancer, or emergency unit and you’re in charge of making sure you have enough staff to take care of patients. You’re also obviously motivated to keep your team productive, and make sure they don’t burn out.

Using both custom-built software and a mobile app, your staff has access to a calendaring tool where they can book vacation time, take sick days, and schedule appointments electronically. No emails. No spreadsheets. And definitely no writing down scheduling on paper.

When someone calls in sick, the app automatically launches an automated process to find a replacement. Person 1 gets an SMS alert they can respond to from their phone with a finger tap. If they can fill in the shift time, they take the spot. If they can’t, the app sequences automagically to the next person until someone is found. And if there’s a complication, you’re notified.

And that’s just the beginning.

You can also access updated staff records and get a real-time overview of your entire labour force. With the right agreements in place you can even access staff records from neighbouring regions for resource-sharing in case of an emergency or labour shortage. When ambulances are overwhelmed in one region, a neighbouring region that has bandwidth to help can jump in, for example.

Digitized scheduling has a profound impact on healthcare systems. 

It helps reduce — if not eradicate — manual labour associated with scheduling hospital shifts. And also leads to a reduction in unnecessary double shifts for nurses, and much less stress for hospital administrators.

And if the goal is to encourage healthcare workers to stay in the industry (which has a positive downstream effect for patients as well), reducing their labour and stress is a great place to start. 

Over the long term, digitization also reduces cost because expensive agency middlemen aren’t necessary to schedule shift workers. 

There’s an app for that. Just ask us.

Making the switch to digitized scheduling doesn’t have to be painful

Hospital administrators in Manitoba and other provinces know there’s a problem with how they schedule healthcare workers. They’re also aware of the spiralling, downstream effects the scheduling process has on patients and staff alike. 

And we understand that even though every industry under the sun seems to be on the path to digital transformation, simple solutions such as digitizing a manual process can seem daunting. That’s why healthcare systems and their boards need technology support and viewpoints at the table.

If you work in the healthcare industry and want technology support, here’s everything you need to do to plan for success, and your staff want digital communication tools as much as your patients. And once hospitals start down the path of digitalization, data will launch a golden age of innovation in healthcare.

What if all this helped healthcare systems retain staff and deliver better outcomes for patients? 

What if the question isn’t what if?

What if the question is why not now?

In all the work we’ve done in healthcare, fintech, energy, logistics and more, we know that healthcare scheduling is a solvable problem. Not tomorrow. Today.

All it takes is the will to change.

Have questions? Looking to get started on your digital product? Get in touch: