In the past, members sent us their availability via email. When we eventually received all submissions, we combined the member availability into a master report which was used to create the schedule. The process was tedious and error prone which made scheduling seven ambulances very time-consuming.
Once the schedule was finished, we transferred the data to an Excel spreadsheet and then emailed it to our members. Emailing changes out each time they occurred was cumbersome and often led to confusion for both administrators and members. The underlying problem with this method was that an accurate schedule wasn’t available to everyone in real-time.
We knew we had to find a better way to schedule. We called everyone involved in scheduling together to determine what we wanted to do next. Since we didn’t have anyone on staff that had any sort of computer programming skills, we ruled out doing anything in-house. We also ruled out desktop applications since members wouldn’t have easy access to it and we wouldn’t be able to work on the schedule outside of the station. Next, we looked into online scheduling designed for public safety agencies because non-public safety schedulers could not handle our 24-hour schedule and customized rotations. We then called around to other EMS agencies that use online scheduling systems to get ideas and compared some of their suggestions.
Our priorities were broken down into three main components:
- We needed web-based accessibility so our members could view an up-to-date schedule and submit availability at any time
- We needed a system which allowed multiple users to make changes
- We needed support for custom rotations
After looking into several online scheduling programs, we went with Aladtec’s EMS Manager. After trying their free demo and several conversations with their customer support, we found the program not only met our needs but was easy to use and was available for a reasonable price. We felt that integrating it into our work-flow would be simple and that our members would have an easier time submitting availability using this system. Once the decision was made, we set a timetable for implementation; we wanted the whole system set up and running within 60 days.
We decided to do the training through one of our staff meetings. We set up an LCD projector and went through how each section of the system worked. It took no more than a couple of hours for our members to learn our new scheduling system. For members who couldn’t make it to our staff meeting, we went out to each of our six stations and went through the demonstration. We didn’t anticipate the training to be so quick and simple but the ease of use made the roll-out process very easy. All members were up-to-speed and using the new system well within our 60 day time-frame.
Training for our administrators went the same way - it was quick and straightforward. The system provides a variety of administrative tools for managing our personnel and calendar. We use the Home Tab to list the physical addresses of all our stations and any urgent news and information our members may need. The Event Calendar is used to include notes of interest concerning upcoming special events. The Library provides 200GB of storage, which allows us to share documents such as personnel policies with all our members. The Member Database allows us to monitor the expiration dates for certifications and track employee contact information. We get a lot of mileage out of the reports section, which helps us create and save a variety of reports to ensure that we meet agency requirements.
The system accommodates our custom shift schedules even though we operate with two different rotations. We can have one member scheduled throughout the year on their shift rotation and another member scheduled throughout on an entirely different shift rotation. We can easily keep track of who is on what rotation while their regular schedule isn’t affected by things like time off requests or shift trades. This feature alone has made scheduling much quicker!
Of special note, we have a county-wide protocol in Wake County mandating that personnel work no more than 36 consecutive hours. When we mentioned this to Aladtec, a feature was added allowing us to set a maximum amount of consecutive hours a member is allowed to be scheduled. Complying with the 36-hour rule has never been easier!
The total transition from pen and paper to electronic submission went more smoothly than we had hoped. Instead of submitting availability by hand, members are now submitting availability online, which allows the schedule to be completed faster and more equitably. Picking up shifts is easier than ever for members and filling openings takes significantly less time. In particular, our members are enjoying being able to do so much from home. Even though we have a computer kiosk in each station, the convenience of being able to enter availability, submit trade or time-off requests, or sign-up for shifts from home is priceless for our members. The ability to work on the schedule from home is just as valuable for our administrators.
While it may seem backwards to spend money on something to help reduce costs, we found that switching to online scheduling did just that. Doing our schedule on paper didn’t cost us anything - or so we thought. When you consider the man-hours spent emailing or calling just to gather availability, that time is certainly worth something. Even the collecting and organizing of time-off requests and trades previously made through paper or email takes more time than you would realize. Since switching to online scheduling, we are now saving more than four hours each scheduling cycle on availability submission alone. Reducing overall time spent on the schedule for administrators and making the process easier for members has greatly improved productivity and has been a worthy investment.
With our six stations, we proudly serve over 65,000 people in Wake County. In our five years operating as Eastern Wake EMS, we have always taken an EMS System approach rather than a territorial approach in deciding how to improve service, deployment, and response times. Online scheduling, like through EMS Manager, is a major component in our mission. For our members, submitting availability, trade requests, requesting time off and signing up for available shifts has never been easier. For our administrators, putting together the schedule and tracking certification couldn’t be simpler. It has not only made one of our most tedious tasks easy, it has become completely integrated in our operation. With how useful and time-saving online scheduling is, it is easy to imagine all providers using an online scheduling system in the future. And with how simple implementation is, there’s no reason to wait!
Eddie Ross has been in the EMS field for twenty-three years, holding a Paramedic certification for the last sixteen years. In 2005, he was instrumental in the largest consolidation of EMS providers in the history of Wake County. When not at work as the Operations Chief, he enjoys spending time with his two granddaughters. He can be reached at email@example.com.
Beth Costantino has been with Eastern Wake EMS for five years serving as the Executive Secretary. She has a Public Relations degree from N.C. State University. In her spare time, she enjoys reading and working with the AWANA Program at her church. She resides in Wendell with her husband and two young daughters. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Photographs courtesy of Damon Thomas.