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"Software Maker To Use Grant To Help DOCS Keep Schedule"
by Bob Cook
Published in Crain's Cleveland Business
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 said.

``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

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