What used to take hours now takes minutes; what was once reactive is now proactive.

Saskatoon Health Region’s Scheduling Department looks after the staffing of 7,000 employees (roughly half the employees of the Region) in both urban and rural facilities. There are about 60 schedulers in the Staff Scheduling department working in Saskatoon and Humboldt.

The work schedulers do has drastically changed over the past three years. Through a large number of Rapid Process Improvement Workshops (RPIWs) and a 3P (Production Preparation and Process) the process changes are beginning to streamline scheduling into a more efficient process, and make the schedulers’ work more rewarding.

Prior to all these changes, scheduling was an arduous procedure. Schedulers would make one phone call after another, attempting to fill shifts. The slow process meant that they had trouble scheduling past a few days in the future.

Thanks to the contribution of the RPIWs, including one that focused exclusively on developing an online system for scheduling, the process of putting the qualified person at the right place at the appropriate time has been vastly improved.

A scheduler works on the new computerized system.

Colette Holynski, a senior scheduler, works with the new online scheduling system for Saskatoon Health Region.

In just three years, Saskatoon Health Region has become the only health organization in Saskatchewan with online scheduling, and one of the first in Western Canada. And they have done it in a short period of time, within their operating budget, and without cutting staff, reported Scheduling Department manager Kweku Johnson.

The online system offers available shifts to every employee on a specified list simultaneously. The employees have a set amount of time to bid on the shift, depending on whether it is today, tomorrow or further into the future. Once the bidding closes, shifts are awarded based on the Collective Bargaining Unit Agreement.

Two-thousand employees can now be reached in 15 minutes instead of the six days it took by phone. The online system will only notify employees if they are eligible for a shift based on their preferences and shifts that they are already working.   Employees can change their preferences whenever they like, and their information is instantly updated in the system.

The online system has dramatically increased the number of shifts that the scheduling department can handle. They went from filling about 7,500 shifts per week to 15,000 during high vacation periods like summer and the December holiday season. Shifts for those busy periods were filled far in advance, as the new system allows them to fill vacant shifts more quickly, and the result is fewer shifts are being filled by staff working overtime.

The new system gives employees more opportunity to take control of when they work. They do not have to wait for a phone call; rather, they can simply go online and bid on the shifts they want. The system allows them to be proactive and have more of a work-life balance. Employees have said that they like the flexibility of choosing their own shifts, and the accessibility is at their fingertips.

Some employees were concerned about the online system as they have expressed they do not feel as comfortable with technology as much as the younger generation. Staff Scheduling has been providing support, education and assistance, and will bid on shifts for those who call in. Thus far, the department has made strides in reducing the concerns regarding older employees and technology.

The technology has also allowed the Scheduling Department to create senior scheduler positions.  These schedulers visit the facilities up to three days a week. “So they really understand the unit that they are scheduling for,” Johnson said. “And so the staff on each ward know the scheduler they are dealing with.”

Senior scheduler Colette Holynski’s job has changed a lot in the past three years. “Things are done more efficiently, and the right people are doing the right job,” she said, “The people we schedule for can prioritize their lives, organize their workplace and provide the best care. As a scheduler, it’s not only about filling the shifts, it’s also knowing that there is someone there to provide care.”

Thanks to online tools, schedulers, staff and managers can tell exactly how many shifts need to be filled instantly.  It also allows everyone in the region to see which department may be struggling so that Scheduling can problem-solve with the managers ahead of time.

“It’s definitely a whole new world. And it’s absolutely fabulous,” Holynski said. “I love it. I think it’s an absolutely amazing concept, and it needed to happen.”

Schedulers are not as rushed in their tasks, their workplace is much quieter, job satisfaction levels are on the rise, and there is a far lower turnover rate in the department.

The reaction on the wards to the improvements made to the scheduling system has also been positive. That’s evident in the following video.

As data has shown that centralized scheduling is more efficient than having separate schedulers on each ward, soon, the Scheduling Department will take on the scheduling of the entire health region, with the goal of having one, consistent online scheduling process.

“This is a Lean success story,” said Johnson, “Saskatoon Health Region would have switched to online scheduling eventually, but if it was not for the Saskatchewan Health Care Management System, they would not be doing it now. Lean gave us the process to get this done.”

They have not finished improving their department just yet.  The Scheduling Department is completing another RPIW – No. 100 for the Saskatoon Health Region – in order to eliminate errors when entering timesheets, which is still a manual process.

By the numbers:

  • On average, 300 people call in sick or absent every day in Saskatoon Health Region.
  • The Scheduling Department receives about 700 requests for leave a week.
  • Over 2,000 employees can be reached in 15 minutes using the online system
  • The Scheduling Department is able to fill 1.5 shifts a minute per scheduler with the new system.

An RPIW brings together a team of patients, family members, employees and physicians for a week to examine a problem, propose solutions, and implement sustainable changes; the team checks to see if the change is still working after 30, 60, and 90 days. RPIWs are just one improvement tool in our lean-based Saskatchewan Health Care Management System. Saskatoon Health Region has undertaken about 100 RPIWs.