When managing your infusion center scheduling, do you feel like you’re trapped in a never-ending game of Tetris? You’re not alone. After surveying the leadership teams of 500+ infusion centers over five years, we found facilities all over the country shared similar concerns when trying to cobble together daily schedules for their infusion chairs. Following five simple steps, however, will go a long way to addressing your scheduling problems using a mathematically-driven solution.
1. Build an optimal template to guide schedulers
The current practices of “first come, first scheduled” or offering slots based on a calendar don’t work. Neither do approaches that attempt to “schedule to a chair” for each patient based on their appointment time or “schedule to a nurse” by assigning each patient to a specific nurse.
Instead, it’s possible to build an optimal template based on the specifics of each facility’s operations. This can be engineered to guide schedulers to intelligently sequence the start times of various appointments, based on their respective durations.
The template tells schedulers how many appointments of each duration should ideally be started at each time slot throughout each day of the week. The objective is to create a smooth ramp-up to attain full utilization of the chairs by mid-morning, keep the chair occupancy flat, and then smoothly ramp down at the end of the day.
2. Make data-driven decisions for today’s reality
Regardless of how accurate the optimized templates may be, each day presents a new reality—the volume of patients may be different from the predicted volume, the actual mix of treatment durations may not perfectly match the expected mix, or a scheduler may have been forced to squeeze in an urgent case outside the slots recommended by the template.
To provide up-to-date guidance, a profile of the way today is likely to unfold can be automatically generated at the start of each day. This profile can point out times when the chair capacity may be tight as well as windows of time where add-on patients would best be scheduled. It also gives the nursing leadership insight into whether the day will run smoothly and end on time.
3. Groom the schedule for the upcoming days and weeks
While numerous “day of” decisions are important to get right, only so much optimizing can be done at that last minute. It’s crucial to be able to look ahead several days or weeks and “groom the schedule” by making small adjustments that are easy to make now but will be harder to implement later. Examples include rescheduling a small number of patients, modifying a nurse’s shift schedule, or restricting additional appointments being made within a specific time window.
Similarly, a “huddle calendar” can be generated to show alert flags on specific days, and give guidance on the highest-leverage grooming actions that can be taken days in advance.
4. Solve upstream issues to the extent possible
In cases where specific providers may be inadvertently creating bottlenecks by sending too many patients to the infusion center in too short a time, it may be helpful to capture data demonstrating this and share it with the provider. This may persuade the provider to consider “de-clustering” their routine follow-up appointments with infusion patients so that all of those patients don’t come in for infusions at the same time of day.
5. Build a learning loop
Infusion centers are not static; their operational realities change frequently. A template that is optimal today may not be optimal six months later.
It’s essential to track the operational changes that matter and to have a systematic, continuous method of mining your data to compare actual performance to predicted performance. This way you can identify discrepancies between the two and accurately classify them as either one-off variations or systemic issues resulting from a change in the underlying operational facts.
Infusion centers all over the country are discovering the power of sophisticated mathematics, supported by data science algorithms and cloud-based software products, to streamline their operations and vastly improve the patient experience.
A mathematically-driven solution makes it possible to beat the infusion center scheduling game. iQueue for Infusion Centers, working with top cancer centers throughout the country, have developed and perfected the use of AI to facilitate scheduling, reduce average waiting times, drive higher patient volumes, lower overtime pay and increase nursing satisfaction and patient experience scores.
Want to learn more? Check out our ebook on winning the game of infusion scheduling Tetris.