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Ditch the Paper, Go with Online Scheduling

By Nelson Pedro, CCEMTP | Operations Coordinator
LifePACT Critical Care Transport Team | Hasbro Children's Hospital

If you ask any operations level manager what is their most time-consuming and frustrating job, they will tell you: scheduling. Like many of you, I found myself unable to effectively manage our employee schedules. Equal distribution of weekend and holiday shifts was difficult and was often accompanied with petty bickering. Tracking down employees for availability was an ongoing issue and delayed putting the schedule together. Our old system was horrible.

We used the first of the month as the availability submission date thinking this would be easy to remember. Staff would email their availability to the scheduler who then printed them out on paper. Print-outs in hand, the scheduler would stand in front of a magnetic calendar month board and move names around until the schedule was full. This was then copied to a calendar template using Microsoft Word and then emailed to all employees...and we're not done yet! Employees confirmed their schedule and if not, more changes would be made on the board, transferred again to the template and once again emailed out - which was painful. Trades were reviewed on a case by case basis. Employees who wanted to trade a shift called the scheduler and the scheduler would review the "board" to decide if the trade worked for the employees and the service.

The sheer amount of paperwork and time required to get availability, time-off requests and shift trades in order to compile our schedule was overwhelming and a waste of resources. Only several months into my new leadership role in scheduling, I knew we needed to improve this component of our operation.

LifePACT (Pediatric-Adult-Critical-Transport) Critical Care Transport and its team are part of Rhode Island Express Care, Rhode Island Hospital's transfer and access center. Within our hospital system, other departments use an in-house electronic system for scheduling which I opted not to use wanting to explore other options. Before I began researching and trialing different programs, I outlined and prioritized our needs:

I started off by looking into some "free" options: Google Calendar and Yahoo! Calendar. These were both names and sites our employees would recognize and would help put some sort of calendar online for everyone to see. While they were fairly easy to use, they didn't seem to work for group scheduling and certainly didn't provide a means to track any information. The old adage of you get what you pay for would apply here.

I then moved onto several of the established online scheduling systems made specifically for EMS. After looking at various demos and corresponding with their representatives, I decided on Aladtec, which stood out among all the systems reviewed. The multitude of features and the attentive customer service made my decision painless in an otherwise exhausting search.

After I decided on a system, I began planning our roll-out process. I allotted 90 days but didn't want to set a hard timetable for integrating this new system into our operations. For the sake of my sanity, I didn't want to rush anything but I was hoping for sooner rather than later! I knew that the cost of training would be expensive as bringing in staff on their days-off would come with a price tag. I decided to do smaller sessions with on-duty staff and it took approximately one month to train our entire staff. Employees contacted me directly or reviewed the embedded training videos for answers to any further questions.

I decided to keep the old scheduling system running for the first three months of the roll-out. I thought this would help with the change into the new system and we'd have a backup system for any errors that may occur. We quickly realized three months was not necessary. We were completely switched over in 30 days, a third of the time we allowed - personally, I was switched over in less than 24 hours!

While some staff members didn't initially like the idea of a new system, they quickly realized it was a much better way of doing business. On top of being quicker and easier than how we were scheduling before, it also protected everyone from "he said, she said" situations.

It's been six months into scheduling online and I already see the benefits. I have less conflicts with employees, better distribution of shifts and spend less time sifting through emails and making calls tracking down employee availability. Since switching to online employee scheduling, I've experienced a significant return on investment. Personally, I've reduced my hours in scheduling preparation from two days to less than four hours. I am now able to page out a shift in 30 seconds instead of having to call each employee individually. Many shifts are "first come, first serve," so our staff now signs up for shifts online instead of calling me - a welcomed relief! And because the system time-stamps each sign-up request, I know who was there first and can control how shifts are awarded. If time is money then online scheduling will give you an instant return on your investment.

As if having all of our essential needs met in online scheduling wasn't enough, we've found many other great tools we've been using in our service. Accountability has improved through notifications when a member's certification is expiring. Sending group emails or text messages (instead of using the phone) has greatly improved our overall communications. Even using the built-in online forum and file library has proven to be useful for interoffice dialogue and file sharing. One great aspect of going online is being able to access everything from work or home. I even have employees checking the schedule on their iPhones, Android phones, Blackberrys, iPads, etc.

I personally have over 20 years in public 911 service and 16 years in private transport, on both sides of the fence (staff and management), and I have seen many changes in our industry, some good, some bad. Make no mistake, online scheduling is definitely on the good side of changes. I know for many of you there will be hurdles in adopting something like this into your service.

As a bit of background, prior to LifePACT, when a child needed to be transported by specially-trained health-care employees, we would contact a local ambulance service and add our own pediatric nurses to the crew. This was very time-consuming and not ideal. We received a generous donation from the Hasbro toy company to build a specialty care ambulance for the pediatric population and since we already had a specially-trained ambulance for our adult population, it was natural to merge the two and call it LifePACT. We are the first and only pediatric ambulance in Rhode Island and one of only two in New England.

While we do roughly 1,500 calls a year, many of them take several hours due to the complexity of the patient's condition. Having an organized scheduling program allows us to have proper staffing with less down time. Having the ability for our staff to see a schedule from anywhere allows us to fill shifts faster and accurately. All of this means better productivity and, in short, better patient care...which is the real bottom line.

Even as I write this I'm sure I've left out more of the upsides and benefits online employee scheduling has to offer. Making the switch from paper to online scheduling has not only been easy, it has been rewarding. Our company morale has improved because our protocol has become standardized and fair. Time spent collecting information has been returned and we have a unified schedule viewable by anyone from anywhere. Like I said, online scheduling is one of the good changes to have happened in our industry and I'm sure there's even more to come from it!

Nelson Pedro is the Operations Coordinator at the Rhode Island Hospital, the first and only Critical Care Transport team and the largest Level 1 trauma hospital in the state. A lifelong Rhode Islander, and a Northeastern University (Boston, MA) alum, he has been in public 911 service for his entire EMS career, most of which with the Cranston (RI) Fire Dept. and 17 years in the private transport sector. He loves his (three) children and (one) wife with his profession coming in at a close second.

"I've reduced my hours in scheduling preparation from two days to less than four hours."

Nelson Pedro,
CCEMTP | Operations Coordinator

Image of LifePACT Members Using Aladtec Scheduler

LifePACT Critical Care Transport Stats

Population Served
Approximately 980,000 People

Covered
Runs Per Year: Approximately 1,500
Type of Service: Hospital Based Private
Crew: 55 Full Time Employees

About Aladtec for EMS

Aladtec for EMS is an interactive online scheduling system which can be accessed 24/7 by your administrators and employees from anywhere with an internet connection. The system combines an employee database, message board and events calendar with an advanced scheduling system to keep your department better organized and your employees better informed.

For more information, visit: www.aladtec.com