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Emergency Department Call Schedules in the COVID Era

The COVID pandemic has been a roller coaster ride for emergency departments around the U.S. – and likely around the world. They have moved from virtually empty emergency department bays, to packed-to-the-rafters boarding areas for patients awaiting transfer to hospital and ICU rooms, and back again. These days, the atmosphere of any given emergency department is generally a reflection of the pandemic’s ever-shifting curve in their area. This can turn emergency department call schedules upside down and leave schedulers scrambling to contact physicians.

A Dip in ED Visits

On June 3, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention published a report on the impact of COVID-19 on emergency department visits. Using data collected by the National Sydromic Surveillance Program (NSSP) between January 1, 2019, and May 30, 2020, the report outlined that emergency department visits took a nosedive early in the COVID-19 pandemic.

Comparing late March to late April 2019 (weeks 14 through 17) with the same period in 2020, NSSP determined that visits to emergency departments plummeted 42 percent, from 2.1 million per week in 2019 to 1.2 million per week in 2020. While visits ultimately rose, during May 24-30, the last week covered in the study, the volume was still 26 percent below the same week in 2019. During that same four-week period, emergency department visits for infectious disease, respiratory disease, and pneumonia – hallmarks of COVID – increased fourfold.

The CDC’s conclusion was that public concerns about emergency department utilization need to be urgently addressed. It also recommended the use of virtual triage and physician visits. Those responsible for scheduling physical emergency department call schedules, video and telemedicine visits, and triage help lines were likely doing somersaults to keep schedules straight and physicians and staff members informed.

Overwhelmed Emergency Departments

While footsteps could be heard echoing in the hallways of some virtually empty emergency departments, others reflected a cacophony of medical equipment intermingled with the sound of tragic suffering. In Montgomery, Alabama, for example, hospitals with ICU departments over capacity kept the overflow of patients in the emergency department to be cared for by ED doctors and nurses.

In late March, an emergency department physician in Brooklyn called the ED a “medical war zone” where COVID patients lined the department’s hallways. Even the pediatric emergency department became a COVID isolation area.

Crafting Flexible Emergency Department Call Schedules

COVID-19 is requiring every person in the country – and the world – to be flexible. The pandemic is requiring even more flexibility from those on the front lines. The front lines are staffed not only by physicians and nurses, but also by those responsible for emergency department call schedules. And schedulers need the tools that automation provides.

Traditionally, emergency department call schedules are tracked by hand or on a spreadsheet. Each time a change is made, a new iteration of the schedule must be created and distributed. That results in physicians consulting outdated schedules and call centers calling the wrong on-call physicians. In contrast, emergency department call scheduling software promises real-time updates and schedules that are accessible from any desktop or mobile device.

In the era of COVID-19, physicians and nurses are experiencing untold stress, anxiety, and trauma. One small but significant improvement to their professional lives is a schedule they can depend upon. Emergency department call scheduling software delivers just that.

MDsyncNET is a leader in emergency department scheduling software. To learn more about how MDsyncNET can deliver seamless, real-time schedules to your hospital staff, call 888-506-5061.

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