Most radiology departments require that examinations such as CT, MRI, ultrasound, and nuclear medicine are scheduled in advance. In 1998, at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center (UPMC), all scheduling activities were centralized within radiology and customers were informed to call a centralized number, 647-XRAY. This proved to be beneficial as they were pleased to know that one number could schedule any procedure type. In addition, the scheduling staff was very competent and had several years of scheduling experience.

In 2000 all of this changed when four of the five schedulers either terminated or had short-term disability issues. The telephone calls continued on a daily basis; in fact, there was an increase of about 18% in volume at the same time staff was significantly reduced. In an attempt to avert disaster, we requested staff that had been schedulers previously to work in the office; we also changed the direct person phone call to a voice mail message and asked that any requests that were being made more than 24 hours in advance be faxed. Letters of complaint continued to arrive on a daily basis.

At this point the senior leadership of the UPMC realized the importance of radiology scheduling and the role it played in the radiology department. An action plan was developed and in three short months the entire scheduling office had a new focus. Additional staff was hired, nontraditional training sessions occurred, meetings with each of the major users were conducted on a consistent basis, information flowed relative to updates, and a scheduling advisory council was adopted in order to keep the major users informed of progress as well as work out improvements as the process continued to evolve.

With use of process improvement techniques, it was clear that customer satisfaction was significantly enhanced and in fact improved from the previous year?s evaluations with significant positive feedback by all users. It is highly recommended that ongoing communication and process improvement be conducted on a routine basis — before a crisis occurs — in order to make changes and facilitate the flow of information.

Loretta L. Hanwell, MPA, is director of radiology services at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center-Presbyterian, and a member of the Decisions in Axis Imaging News editorial advisory board.