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"Scheduling Staff"
by Dennis Sinar, M.D.
Published in Medical Software Reviews

Scheduling employees is a repetitive task well-suited to computerization. Although individual employees, shift needs or employee preferences may change, basic functions are the same month after month. If your requirements are greater then simple repetitive scheduling, or you have many employees to schedule for varying shifts, you may want to consider one of the packages reviewed here. For a patient scheduling system, see Medical Software Reviews, July 1992. The tasks are total different.

Several basic operations are offered in most scheduling systems:

  • Consideration of some level of an employee's preference.
  • A scheduling priority, generally a seniority system.
  • Ability to add/delete specific employees for periods they are not available, without redoing an entire facility set up.
  • Ability to print individual and group schedules.
  • Ability to manually fine-tune a schedule to add large changes or fill vacant shifts.
  • Ability to consider previous schedules in the current scheduling period.
  • Some reporting capability for scheduling statistics (how many employees where scheduled, what was the cost, how many on call or float employees where used?).

This is a great package- the only one in this review that could schedule all tree scenarios above (although it required considerable software support). The manual and tutorial, recently upgraded, help the user get a feel for the system. The system's intricacies required an in-depth study if your scheduling needs are at least as complex as the second scenario.

DOCS was originally designed for anesthesia scheduling, progressed to radiology scheduling, and is currently being advertised to emergency departments. Customized installation provides a complete turn-key system that can be modified locally. A team scheduling update is planned for this year.

This package provides one additional feature. The others reviewed fill a schedule to fit rules generated by the user with the ability to manually tune the schedule for last-minute changes. DOCS adds to this by optimizing a schedule so that all staff has a schedule that not only meets their preferences as well as possible, but optimizes the institution's needs. The optimization routine takes people who have had less then the normal workload in the current scheduling period and preferentially assigns them to additional shifts in a dynamic scheduling priority system, so that the final program goal over time is a schedule that balances the requirements of the institution with each individual's account balance. Staff with the most negative account balances are preferentially scheduled first for all subsequent task for which they qualify untill their account balances reaches zero. In short, a method that balances diverse factors in a time period and carries them forward to optimize an equitable schedule.

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