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Apr 11, 2023

Scheduling in EHR systems - explained

Vikk LindenHead of Product Success

If you are new to EHR systems, you might assume it will follow general software conventions. For the calendar, you’ll probably expect something similar to what you use privately: a space where you can fill in any kind of events you have, without any limitations. However, this is often not the case for EHR calendars. In fact, they are more similar to an online reservation system for a restaurant, than a personal calendar. Let’s explore the similarities.

The restaurant analogy

A restaurant decides in advance how many guests they can serve over the course of a night, and will offer different time slots for you to book, matching their capacity as it varies over the year. This allows you to make your reservation weeks or even months in advance. Selecting a different party size - let’s think of this as the needs of said party - your booking options might vary. It could be easier to find a table for two than for eight, for example.

Scheduling logic, benefits and downsides

Similarly, EHR systems that use a scheduling logic require support staff to reserve time slots in each professional’s calendar to make space for different kind of tasks - like seeing patients for urgent visits, conducting an annual check-up for a patient with a chronic condition, reviewing examination results, and so on. This process is referred to as scheduling. Depending on the needs - remember the restaurant - some types of time slots are more numerous, and some are more scarce. By allocating time slots for their staff members in advance, healthcare providers can ensure that they have the necessary resources available to provide quality care to their patients. A time slot matching the required task can then be booked, as a patient seeks to make an appointment.

Scheduling also - in theory, at least - opens up for individual tailoring of the work week. A junior colleague might need more time allocated for each patient appointment, for instance. By scheduling longer time slots for them than for senior colleagues, nobody has to keep the required extra time in mind when completing a booking. In addition, having a schedule set in advance makes the workday more predictable to healthcare professionals. It also makes it easier for others to make appointments for someone, without having to first ask them whether the time is suitable for them or not. This also goes for booking requests via integrations, of course - see where we’re headed? 😉

A downside to scheduling is that it makes resourcing less flexible. Not all patient visits are the same, and you cannot always predict how much time will be needed for the same kind of task. Some argue that healthcare would benefit from shifting to a more need oriented scheduling than the current fixed calendar scheduling. In practice, you would see manual overrides to the set schedule being made, to account for reality not being as predictable as we might think it to be.

Implications for developers

So, what does this mean for anyone looking to create an appointment booking integration?

  • You will need to know what types of appointments are scheduled at the care unit. These entities are often called time types.

  • For a certain time type, you will want to request all available time slots for a certain care unit and the professional (group/s) that you want to make the appointment with.

    • With Leyr, call our Resources endpoint to get the list of available practitioners or groups in the care unit.

  • Allow the user to decide what time slot they want to book, and make the appointment.

    • With Leyr, call our Time Slots endpoint, where you can pass one of Healthcare Service IDs or Resource IDs, received in the responses from the endpoints above.

    • Once done, put them all to use with our Book an Appointment endpoint. You’ll need all the details you gathered above: patient ID, care unit ID, resource ID, healthcare service ID and start and end time.

If you want to try it out yourself, head to our Sandbox.

- Examples of EHRs that use scheduling logic: TakeCare, Cosmic, Millennium, Epic, WebDoc

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