Equipment & Gear, Training

How to Use EMS Scheduling Software

Issue 11 and Volume 35.

Every day, EMS and fire personnel go online to check e-mail, pay bills, read the news, connect with friends and more. But one area of EMS operations in which this level of convenience is often overlooked is the challenge of scheduling and timekeeping. Although spreadsheets and paper calendars have served the EMS industry well for years, scheduling software offers many features that traditional products lack.

Electronic Features
The most popular online scheduling products on the market provide a portal for employees and managers to log in from their homes, offices, smart phones, ambulance bays or any location where an Internet connection is available.

Once logged in, providers can check their schedules, make time off and vacation requests, trade shifts and check time cards for accuracy 24 hours a day, seven days a week. This means no more phone calls about who’s working where and when, fewer paper forms crowding your desk and no more outdated schedules posted on bulletin boards.

Managers and schedulers can also benefit from approving and managing requests, as well as checking clock-ins and clock-outs. They can even do this remotely, in locations such as from home or the field.

Online scheduling can also enhance your current practices by making employees more accountable. Integrating your scheduling software with time and attendance software—or having a single solution that does both functions—allows your time clock to check punch times against scheduled times. An integrated solution can also be programmed to require employees to enter comments if threshold times are surpassed (e.g., an employee is late or fails to meet a deadline).

In addition, such software can e-mail or page managers and schedulers to notify them when a staff member is tardy. In order to further validate system users, some software companies offer the option of a “BioClock” or fingerprint scanners to ensure that personnel are clocking in themselves. Coupled with an “always available” online schedule, users can easily check when and where they’re scheduled to work. Therefore, staff can easily be held accountable for any missed or late shifts.

Managing an ever-growing list of required certifications for employees can not only be challenging, but it can also place an organization at risk if records aren’t meticulously maintained. Your scheduling application should, at a minimum, provide certification reporting and notifications of expiring certifications; the most robust applications will even prevent users from being scheduled or clocking in for a shift if their certifications have expired. Ultimately, this reduces your agency’s liability and risk.

The real power of high-end online scheduling software lies in its capability to integrate an agency’s workflow management components. A software package that provides online scheduling, timekeeping, payroll reconciliation tools, credential tracking and has the ability to output data to popular payroll systems is optimal because everything you need to manage your workforce is in one place—on the Web—and can be accessed from virtually anywhere. JEMS

This article originally appeared in November 2010 JEMS as “Power of ePCRs: What you need to look for when considering going digital.”

 Software Purchasing Tips
You should consider a few things when shopping for scheduling software:

Integration: Does the product contain both scheduling and timekeeping functionality, or will you have to look for a separate timekeeping system? Can the software export data to your payroll application to eliminate unnecessary steps, making the process more efficient?

Configurability: Is the product flexible enough to conform to your current practices while enhancing workflow, or will you be required to change your policies and practices to meet the software? For example, many operations have different pay policies for holidays. An appropriate software package should be able to natively support or be easily modified to meet your organization’s unique policies for holiday payments.

Automation: Does the software automate most of your current manual processes? In this era of high technology and reduced financial resources and staffing, it should.

Notifications: Does the software allow you to message (via e-mail or page) employees directly from the system, or will you still be required to manually send e-mails or pages for messages, shift changes or shift needs? Does the software have a feature allowing staff to acknowledge they have received and viewed important messages? Online capabilities to automate these processes cut down on the need for sending messages manually and ensuring the right people were contacted. These capabilities will enhance accountability and simplify the process of finding employees to fill positions.

Time Off: Can the system track time-off accruals and deductions? This capability is especially important to employees, managers, human resources and payroll personnel.
Software Updates: How frequently will the software need to be updated? Are these updates mandatory or optional? Are there additional costs for these upgrades, and if so, what are they?

Price Stability: How often does the company change or increase its prices? When was the last price increase, and how significant was it for each product, component or service? Software firms should be able and willing to provide you with historical pricing and price increase information.

Reporting: How robust is the reporting system and what’s included? Robust reporting should provide everything from a broad view of every transaction in the system to very specific views of an individual’s hours worked, punch times, certifications and expirations. In addition, these results should be exportable in a variety of formats to accommodate a range of software and spreadsheet programs.  

Training and Ease of Use:
Is training available to orient staff to the new software and its features? Is this training included in the purchase price, or is it offered as an additional option? Make sure to estimate your initial and ongoing training requirements; approximate what this will cost you at the time of the purchase as well as in the future as updates or upgrades become available.