|A Cleveland software company has received a $750,000 federal grant to develop a product that promises
to ease the complicated and rancorous process of scheduling medical personnel.
Acme Express Inc. said it will use the National Institutes of Health grant in an attempt to redesign its
Doctors On-Call Schedule (DOCS) software for use by hospitals. The software currently is used by about
300 small physician groups.
The grant will finance two years of testing DOCS at University Hospitals of Cleveland, which hopes
to use the program for scheduling its 100 anesthesiologists. Acme Express president Don Scipione said he
will try to enlist other hospitals for testing.
University Hospitals could cut its time devoted to scheduling to 15 hours a month from 50 hours if
DOCS works, said Dr. Howard Nearman, University Hospitals' clinical director of operative services and
co-director of surgical intensive care.
Currently at University Hospitals, anesthesiologists' schedules are compiled on paper and mag-net
boards because existing software can't handle the subtleties of scheduling medical personnel, Dr. Nearman
``You don't want an obstetrics anesthesiologist assigned to heart transplants,'' he said.
Also, Dr. Nearman said he has yet to see a computer program that can deal with the sensitive task of
assigning personnel to equally odious or desirable on-call shifts on a fair basis.
``Mr. Scipione feels he has a way to do this,'' Dr. Nearman said. If DOCS works, ``a lot of
personnel satisfaction points will be scored with this,'' he said.
Mr. Scipione, whose brother served his anesthesiology residency at University Hospitals, has been
developing DOCS since 1988. Acme Express got its firstNIH grant of $73,000 in 1995.
DOCS attempts to balance out schedules by using so-called Monte Carlo simulation and accounting
techniques to shuffle personnel to equitable assignments. An ``account balance'' created for each staff
member determines who should be assigned to a particular shift.
Acme Express, which Mr. Scipione founded in 1982, used similar technology for its first product, a
truck-routing software package called Priority Dispatcher. That system premiered in 1986.
Acme Express, a 10-employee firm, received its NIH grant under the federal government's Small
Business Innovation Research program, which gives money to small businesses developing new technology