Guide to Switch from Manually Scheduling Physicians

A Best Practice Guide to Switch From Manually Scheduling Physicians to Using Software

DISCLAIMER:

Viewing this guide is a great first step in your journey to switch from a manual or excel physician schedule creation process to using software like TigerSchedule. We applaud you in your interest and commend you for doing some research on how others have successfully accomplished this task. There are a few warnings we need to state in this article.

    • If you are easily offended easily, especially by smarty-type comments, you should probably stop here. You will not find this amusing or helpful as intended.
    • If you’re here to be convinced that you need a better way than your current paper process, look elsewhere. We are a software company that schedules doctors so we’re baffled by the fact that anyone would want to still create or manage a physician schedule without the use of the software. We’re not here to sell you. We’re here to help guide you through the process of making the change.
    • This guide is based on 15+ years of experience in guiding thousands of prospective customers through the buying and change process. Most of them were either physicians or practice administrators. We’ve tried to outline a best practice process and let you know where we have seen others fail.
    • We use the terms physician, doctor, and provider interchangeably. These terms are also meant to include advanced practice providers aka mid-levels.

We are going to walk you through an eight-step process. This guide is in no way intended to sell you on the need or reason to move from a manual physician scheduling process to software like TigerSchedule. This guide is designed to give you some tips to make the journey easier. We have seen it done in many ways. Some groups look like pros while others, not so much. We want everyone who has a legitimate need to succeed in their journey of transitioning from a manual process to software.

Take from this guide what makes sense and leave the rest. You won’t hurt our feelings a bit.

STEP 1: GET BUY-IN

Most people think the most important step in making the transition from a manual process to software is going to be the vendor selection process. While that is a step in the process, most of the quality software companies in this space offer 99% of the same services and features. We may all create schedules using different algorithms or call our features something different, but we’re a lot more the same than we are different. Marketing is what makes us look different.

The first step in this process is getting others to agree that there is a problem and that there are solutions that exist to solve them. You can choose any of us in the industry and without buy-in, you will begin to have problems on the first day of your implementation.

Gaining buy-in is straightforward. First, you need to get your providers to agree that there is a problem that is causing pain. Sounds familiar, doesn’t it? It’s the same reason people come to your office to visit you. They have a problem or symptoms of a problem and it is causing them pain and it’s most likely getting worse.

Here are the most common pain points:

    1. The physician schedule creation process has become too complex to do manually within a reasonable amount of time.
    2. Proving fairness is difficult and takes too much time.
    3. The past few schedules haven’t been fair.
    4. It’s too hard or too much of a hassle to submit, manage, and process all of those vacations and day-off requests.
    5. The wrong doctor is getting called when they are not on the schedule.
    6. People forget that they are on assignment.
    7. If the person who creates the schedule left or got hit by a bus, the practice would be in a difficult position because there is no back-up.
    8. No one wants to take over the job as a scheduler. It would be easier to give away a skunk.
    9. It’s too time-consuming.
    10. The process is not transparent and some of us are getting the short end of the stick.

You may also hear some of these (I would ignore them). We call these BS reasons people don’t want to change because it’s not affecting them. AKA: It’s someone else’s problem.

    1. It’s not so bad, seems fine.
    2. We’ve always done it this way and it’s fine.
    3. It’s not costing us anything today.
    4. We’re not going to spend money on one more thing.
    5. If you want it so bad you can pay for it yourself.
    6. The doctors will never use it.
    7. The doctors can’t learn one more thing.
    8. The doctors won’t change.

Once you have buy-in and have identified the pain that you are going to try and alleviate with software from a majority of your team, you are cleared to move on to the next step.

If you can’t get past this step, unfortunately, the project isn’t going to go anywhere. You cannot force someone to change if they are not willing or refuse to acknowledge the pain that exists for them or others that are close to them. As a physician, you know this better than anyone. If you can’t get past this, and you are the one doing the manual work, on your own time, one thing that you may consider is to stop doing the work. Give it back. Continuing to do this project manually, and conceding to the team even though it sucks, would be a form of enable-meant. You’re too professional for that. That enable-meant will not help the problem, be good for the practice, or is a good business decision. Sometimes drastic times call for drastic measures.

STEP 2: IDENTIFY THE TOP 3 THINGS YOU WANT TO ACCOMPLISH

We know that identifying only 3 things seems like a very small number of things. But if you try to tackle more, it’s very likely that your project will fail. If you pick fewer people will not think the project has enough value. There is magic in the number 3. In our experience when you begin to give the group the impression that this one project, which is going to cost a few thousand dollars a year is going to do all of this stuff, you are going to struggle to find a system that can meet your needs and budget. People are going to get frustrated. Your costs are going to be significantly higher and often, people that ignore this will never make a decision.

KISS (keep it simple silly). Remember this acronym. These top three are the most important things that you want to accomplish FIRST. That does not mean that you can’t pick up three more after you have accomplished your first batch. Completing a project like this is all about focus. This is the same reason you don’t want patients to bring a bucket list of problems to you if you’re a specialist. You tackle one thing at a time, examine, verify, and treat. This problem is no different.

For many first-timers, the top three things will be

    1. Get the schedule in electronic form and in people’s phones
    2. Use rules to begin to automate the schedule creation process
    3. Implement an electronic day-off and vacation request process

We guarantee you that any of us vendors can get these three things done with our eyes closed. Most of us in about 5-30 days (2-5 hours) The biggest issue will be you getting your partners to comply and use it. That will mean change and change is hard.

Pick three reasonable things. You may make a large list on a whiteboard. Give each person three dot-stickers and let them put the dots next to what they think is most important. The top three with the most dots wins. Democracy at its finest.

If you skip this step, you may as well not even read further. You instead should prepare yourself for a bunch of busywork, time investment, frustration and a goose egg in the accomplishment’s column. Again, trust us, this is an important step. Just pick 3. You will thank us later.

STEP 3: GET A PARTNER TO ASSIST IN SOME PRODUCT DEMOS

This is a great time to find a partner, it might be the practice administrator, it might be an IT person, it might be an admin assistant. I would find someone. A team of two is the perfect number to see a few demos and ask questions and make a recommendation back to the group for approval.

Things to look for in this person:

    1. Open-minded.
    2. No preconceived notions.
    3. No conflict of interest.
    4. A back-up scheduler candidate.
    5. Someone who DOES NOT have a software background.
    6. Someone who DOES NOT have an engineering background.
    7. Someone who is NOT Mr./Ms. KNOW-IT-ALL.
    8. Someone who is personable, friendly, and reasonable.

STEP 4: DO A LITTLE RESEARCH, CHAT WITH A FEW SALESPEOPLE, DO A FEW DEMOS

Taking part in a sales process is going to give you a lot of insight into how a company works. How easy is their website to navigate? How quickly do they respond to your inquiry? How persistent are they to have a conversation? How much do they listen as opposed to try and sell you? How well do they understand your problems and pain? How much do they care about if you’re the right fit for their solution? This is all part of the sales process.

During a demo pick the three things that you are going to do first and ask specifically to see how they work. How quickly can you get them implemented? What is their training and onboarding process like? How much do they understand you as a doctor?

Note we have not spoken about the price yet. During the demo or sometime shortly thereafter ask how much of an investment you will make to work with them, in both money and time. Don’t have this be the first question out of your mouth. It makes you sound silly; come on, you’re a doctor, you make 50-100 times the person on the other end of the phone. Also, don’t ask for a deal. Unless your calling from the Mayo Clinic or some other 2,000 + provider clinic, no you don’t get a discount. Discounts are based on volume and terms.

When talking about the price you should be really comparing it to the other companies that you are looking at and trying to see is it in line with others and if not why.

STEP 5: DON’T GET FOOLED BY FEATURES. AKA BUYING MORE THAN YOU NEED

Each company in this industry has a target market, beyond clinics or doctors. When you understand and have documented the problem you are trying to solve you can make an informed decision regarding what features you need to make that happen. The more you are trying to exactly replicate your current manual process, the more money you will spend. The more open you are to make some compromises, the more you will save. I would also advise you to not focus too much of your time on features that you did not identify in the beginning.

Here’s an example, have you ever purchased a vehicle with a sunroof? If so, you like most others rarely open it, and in many cases have a shade pulled over it. It’s a great $2500 add-on for the manufacture. It’s also one of those things that everyone will think is cool to have, until you have one. Then it often goes unused.

The software you buy to transition from a manual physician scheduling process will not be your last physician scheduling software purchase you make. It’s not a once-in-a-lifetime purchase. It’s a tool that you are going to use to solve your needs today. If you find that you need more advanced tools in the future, great, then you can switch. But I would advise you that it’s better to buy less, spend thriftily, accomplish your goals. Don’t get sold into buying a bunch of stuff you don’t need.

STEP 6: GET THE PRECONCEIVED NOTIONS ABOUT WHAT THE SOFTWARE SHOULD DO AND HOW IT SHOULD DO IT OUT OF YOUR HEAD

Seriously, this is important. There is nothing worse than someone who thinks that everything should work or operate a certain way. When your watching demos or learning about new tools, that’s the way they work. If you don’t like it, fine, don’t buy it. But one of the things that make my eyes literally roll back in my head is someone telling me how it should work as opposed to how it does. Insinuating that we put little to no thoughts into it and this person who has no experience knows how to do it better.

Don’t try to replicate your current paper process. If you are trying to use software to replicate the method you schedule today manually, you will continue to be disappointed. You will never be happy with the results and will most likely revert back to the old way. Remember there is a famous quote (somewhat dubiously) attributed to Henry Ford: “If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses.” Customers can easily describe a problem they’re having — in this case, wanting to get somewhere faster — but not the best solution.

Instead, be open-minded to new things, new ways of solving the problem. Again, you don’t have to buy it if it’s not a good fit. Just don’t come off as the expert, in this case, you’re the patient and the salesperson is actually the doctor or expert. Let them. Be open to a new process if it meets your goals and eliminates your pain.

STEP 7: NARROW DOWN YOUR CHOICES

Take some time with your partner to narrow down the three that you looked at to one. This should be based on many criteria. As a common courtesy be sure to notify the others that they did not win the top spot. It only takes a second to email someone and communicates with them in a professional business manner. This way you will also not get a ton of emails asking for a status update.

Present your findings to the group asking for approval and support to move forward.

STEP 8: MAKE A DECISION. AND DON’T ALLOW IT TO BE ABOUT MONEY

Very rarely are things about money. Especially when we’re talking about a few thousand dollars per year for a successful medical practice. When you calculate the time and energy spent today to manually create, make changes to and communicate the physician schedule you are probably spending twice the amount of money that software costs. Too expensive is a cop-out. There are many good reasons not to move forward. Too many top priorities, Other more important projects, Not seen as a problem, Not cared about, Someone else’s problem. If the process has been fair, then you have to accept what is decided. Just make sure that you get a yes or no.

This again is a point where you will be reaching out to the nice salesperson who is patiently waiting to know what you decided to do. Just send them a quick yes or no. Not hearing anything is a lot more painful and frustrating as a salesperson than an honest no.

FINAL THOUGHTS

You would be amazed how many people don’t go through these simple steps. They fail almost every time. There is another category of people who create a process that is akin to a month-long colonoscopy procedure. If you were making a multi-million-dollar purchase like a new EHR or making a commitment for 10 years I would certainly recommend this type of process. But you’re not. This is for a few thousand dollars and you’re doing it manually today. Put it into perspective.

Ask yourself these 3 questions:

    1. Will it help me achieve my 3 initially identified goals?
    2. Is it better than what I have or how I am doing it today?
    3. Is it safe? (Will anyone get hurt by my decision?)

Good luck!

 

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