Where Ideas Come From

When a patient calls to book an appointment in the hospital, and it's your job to schedule it, but you can't--because there aren't any slots open, or too few to align with the patient's schedule, or because of some system problem--it's frustrating.

A group of SHARE members in Central Scheduling has been building a process to eliminate those frustrations, and help patients get the care they need. These schedulers were recently recognized at the Innovation Celebration, where Katie Warren, a scheduler in the 855-UMass MD pod, and Tony Le, the lead scheduler in the Primary Care pod, explained where their best ideas come from, and how their two areas have worked together to turn problems into opportunities.

Lauren George, another architect of the system, explains her personal process. She says she keeps a stack of idea cards on her desk. "It makes sense for keeping track of this kind of thing. I found if I wrote down an idea on any other ordinary scrap of paper, it was too easy to mix up with all of the other notes I take." If, after she hangs up with a patient, she has some concern that the call didn't go as well as it could, or the patient didn't get the appointment time that they wanted, she pulls a blank card and writes down the problem. Then she places the card in a designated spot on her desk. And it sits there, for maybe a couple of days, with the other problems that she's jotted down.

While Lauren takes calls and goes about her work, the cards rest on her desk. It's a busy job, with a constant flow of conversations, and plenty of interruptions. Still, in the background, her thoughts percolate. When she can, she'll stop to look back at the cards. She might come to find trends among the problems. Or, the day after a tough call, when the tension has subsided and she can look at the problem with fresh eyes, she might hit on an insight about its root cause. Lauren will write down her new analysis, and move the card along to another spot on her desk, where it sits for maybe a couple more days.

When she assesses the problem again, she finds she often has an idea that could reduce the chances of having to deal with that problem again. She writes down her idea. And then the card gets pinned to the department's idea board. "And it's not all for issues with scheduling patients," Lauren points out. "We use it for whatever ideas we have about work. We've got regular Throwback Thursday emails that now recognize birthdays in the department, and other things like that, which have come out of our idea system."

For the schedulers, this is a process that's working. They haven't perfected the scheduling system. But they certainly aren't looking at each other across their idea board huddles, wondering if someone else has thought of something. They're ticking off solutions to problems, one by one. And they're constantly developing a plan for addressing the rest. Not to mention finding ways to have some fun at work in the meanwhile. We're impressed, and very happy to see them recognized.

Look for more SHARE members at the next Innovation Celebration, including a focus on the Primary Care Idea System, on Tuesday, November 17th from Noon-1pm in the University Campus Cafeteria.

Katie Warren and Tony Le