Swapping Shifts in Healthcare is Complicated

Every healthcare organization works hard to create a staff schedule that provides high-quality coverage for their patients, yet also suits the needs of their providers.

It’s not easy.

Clinicians have full lives and need to rearrange their work schedule just like anyone in any other line of work. Unfortunately, due to the complexities of caring for patients, it is much more complicated for healthcare providers to swap shifts than it is for people in other fields.

Even requesting a day off, whether for vacation or to attend a conference, can be complicated when you are a medical professional. Quotas, rules and policies need to be met every single day on every single shift and assignment – otherwise the risks to patient care are too high. That is a lot to consider with even just one person changing the schedule – and with shift swaps, you have two.

Two people also means two different sets of credentials and, for the swap to work, each provider has to have the proper credentials to take on the other’s assignment.

When providers offer to cover someone’s shift in exchange for taking a different day off, vacation credits have to be calculated. Swapping shifts also requires two layers of approval – by the person being asked to swap, and by the schedule administrator.

It’s a lot to handle – and most systems fall apart under the challenge.

Where Common Shift Swapping Systems Usually Fall Apart

Most healthcare organizations handle shift swaps manually. So, this is not really a system for trading shifts but, rather, a system for recording trades that have already been made. With manual systems, a provider wanting to swap shifts needs to have an idea of whom to ask. Then they work out the details between them and submit the swap to the administrator for approval.

There is no easy way to know who might want to switch – you just have to ask someone and hope. Even when a request is tacked up on a bulletin board, there is still a need for a lot of dialogue to work out the details.

Even then, there is the risk of breaking rules or negatively impacting quotas. So, on top of the need for the providers to talk and work out the details with each other, the schedule administrator also has to review all sides of the swap that might affect coverage.

Even when a practice uses an automated scheduling system, they may not be getting the shift swapping system they are hoping for. Surprisingly, many scheduling systems do not automatically check for broken rules and policies, or even for quotas that might not be met.

In these cases, the software acts much like a manual system; they simply record what someone typed in but do not do any verification beyond that. This realization can come as a shock to a medical practice that expects their system to check for scheduling errors.

Some automated scheduling systems may check rules in the original schedule but not on the swaps; this can lead to schedulers finding out the hard way that their swaps were not handled appropriately.

Shift Swaps Done Right

OpenTempo has led the pack on improving the way shift swaps are handled in healthcare organizations. By launching the “Swaps Marketplace,” OpenTempo introduced a game-changer into scheduling systems for medical professionals.

This new approach to swapping shifts has several distinct differences from traditional methods. Building on an ecommerce concept, the Swaps Marketplace makes it possible to shop for the swaps you want (there is, literally, a “swapping cart”!).

Rather than providers having to talk to each of their colleagues individually, they can now place an announcement on the team schedule that indicates what they wish to swap. Even better, they can look to see what swaps other people are looking to make. This immediately broadens the possibilities of who can swap with whom while simultaneously saving everyone involved a lot of time. There is even a space to type in notes – both to the potential swap partner and to the schedule administrator.

The Swaps Marketplace approach exploits the full capabilities of OpenTempo’s scheduling system by presenting associated assignments (such as pre-call or post-call) as options on any appropriate swaps. This gives providers the option to cover call for someone but not pre-call, yet it also ensures that these associated assignments are not forgotten.

Of utmost importance is that the Swaps Marketplace automatically checks every aspect of the swap against all staffing quotas, rules and policies. This brings great peace of mind to the entire swapping process.

Administrators also have the power to choose which swaps can be approved automatically and which they wish to review personally.

Shift Swapping in Healthcare Requires Careful Consideration

There are more possibilities than ever before to help healthcare organizations handle even the most complicated trades and swaps. The key is to do your due diligence. Make sure whatever system you choose is capable of enforcing your quotas, rules and policies not just on the overall schedule, but on every aspect of a swap. Check to see that associated assignments are presented along with the swap to ensure coverage is not compromised. Most of all, make sure the system is easy to use for both your administrators and your providers.

Keep your goal in focus: you want an automated system that will ensure appropriate patient coverage while easing the burden on your medical professionals when they seek to swap shifts and trade assignments.