Most parents are familiar with the direct service providers who work at our center but have not met those who work “behind the scenes”. Arguably the busiest people in the building, our schedulers are the ones who keep this place running. Today we take an inside look at what this critical role entails and answer a few questions we get about scheduling.

First, let’s introduce you to Ingrid, Andrea, Kira and David, the Fearless Four:

SchedulersThe day starts with taking messages off voice mail including any from providers calling out sick. The team huddles to determine the day’s priorities such as ASAP-rescheduling for sick providers or calling to see if anyone can take a last-minute-cancelation appointment. Our goal is to not have any holes in the schedule. Of an eight hour day, about five are spent on the phone calling those on our waiting list, returning calls, and fielding questions about what can be expected in an appointment. Calls also are made to schedule families for our monthly First Steps and Next Steps classes and prep is done for our Autism 101 and Autism 200 series.

Due to the diversity of the patients we serve, scheduling is a complicated process. Insurance, type of appointment needed, and schedule play a role in how patients get scheduled with whom. About half of the almost 3,000 current referrals we have are for diagnostic evaluations and half for some type of treatment including medication management, individual or group therapies, and treatment planning. Note: A patient may have more than one referral in our system at a time so the total number of referrals does not equal the total of individual patients waiting to be seen.

In addition to scheduling appointments, new referrals must be reviewed and coded. At times a follow-up call to a referrer is necessary to clarify what type of appointment is needed. Schedulers also make calls to obtain consent to gather records and to request records from schools and other providers prior to the child’s appointment. Charts are made and prepped for providers seeing patients for the first time.

When asked what the best part of their job is, here is what I heard:

  • Validation from the work I do. I feel valued by my peers and leadership that I do important, good work, and that I am part of a vital process here.
  • Helping a family navigate the complexities of the hospital outpatient process successfully. Either providing correct phone numbers, scheduling complex appointments or guiding someone to the right resources. It’s rewarding to clarify and simplify for someone when they are overwhelmed or confused.

 And how about the hardest part of the job?

  • Having to tell parents that there is a long wait to get in or that their insurance doesn’t cover a service here.
  • The hardest part of my job is the continual change. Nothing stays the same and so once I think I’ve got something, it has probably changed.

I asked our schedulers the proverbial Three Wishes question and here is what they wish:

  • Decrease wait times for families
  • No one has to leave a message or wait on hold and we could get to all phone calls immediately
  • That the complexities of insurance would be decreased and it would be more straightforward for families
  • That no staff ever calls out sick
  • That insurance coverage is good for all no matter the service
  • That no family has to wait to get in

And we close with this question: What do you want most for families to know?

That we understand how hard it is to wait. That we want everyone to get what they need and that it’s hard to say “no” or “not now” knowing it is needed. We understand your child is your priority, that your crisis is real. Our challenge is that we collectively have your child and many others and all are in some kind of crisis so prioritizing isn’t as feasible as it might seem.

That we understand our wait time is long and we dislike it as much as you do. We are doing everything we can as schedulers, administration and providers to decrease that and move families through the process both efficiently and effectively.

We’d like to thank our schedulers for taking time to answer our questions about their job serving families of Seattle Children’s Autism Center.