Hospital rostering and the rise of artificial intelligence

July 06, 2018reflections

In an earlier post we mentioned that we have been looking at other medical rostering software (or physician scheduling software, if you are in the US).

There seems to be a trend to try to make rostering easier by increasing the sophistication of the rostering algorithms and AI (artificial intelligence) that can be used to take the effort away from hospital administrators.

The challenge of AI in hospital rostering

We are all for making the rostering more efficient and automated where possible. And maybe one day we can see a completely hands-off approach. But we think this current emphasis is misplaced.

  • Hospitals are complex places. The number and types of rules, policies and exceptions that need to be incorporated is diverse, even in a single hospital.
  • Doctors are not interchangeable. Each individual has different and/or unique capabilities, and each person interacts differently with their various tasks and their colleagues.
  • Hospital resources are limited. There is work required to train the AI, maintain it, and update it when the rules or staffing mix changes. The skills to manage this maintenance don't normally exist in a hospital.
  • The rewards for effort are sometimes small. Even in a large hospital the rules for one group, e.g. ENT surgeons, might only apply to a handful of people.

HosPortal's approach

Our approach is slightly different:

  • Automate where it makes sense, such as our self-roster feature that allows doctors fill their own rosters within certain rules.
  • Provide the right frameworks and reporting tools, such as repeating templates and activity reports, to allow administrators to manage the roster for fairness and balance.
  • Provide rules... where that helps maintain structure in the roster, or makes administration more efficient....
  • ...but don't stop sensible changes that break the rules. Almost nowhere in HosPortal are there rules that administrators cannot override (after they are warned that they are about to break the rules): you can add ad hoc clinical and non-clinical sesslons, or add additional people to a theatre, or allocate a senior doctor to multiple places at the same time if you want.

So far this has worked in all our public and private hospitals. But we would also be happy to do more automation if there is ever a sensible demand for it.

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