Most of us think of the web as being a place where we go to the browser, type something in the address bar, and wait for a response.¬† While that is all well and good, it‚Äôs not the best system when immediate notification is important.¬† It‚Äôs much better when we get notified automatically of an important event, without us having to go and do a lookup or search.
One of the thornier staffing problems out there is getting the right nurses scheduled for a shift at a hospital. Schedule too many, you lose money. Not enough, patients die.
This ability to get notified immediately of an event is known in computer circles as real-time technology.¬† It‚Äôs a technology that has been with us since the dawn of computers.¬† The flight status boards at airports that started appearing in the 1960s were real-time.
The web has been slow to get real-time because http, the protocol used by the web, wasn‚Äôt designed for it.¬† The idea of http was that you could publish a document to a web server and make it available for anyone who wanted to request it.
That is changing now as something called web sockets and long http polling have matured.¬† Web sockets you can liken to the direct connection you get on a phone conversation.¬† Your wife calls you to tell you to bring home wine for dinner, and there is no delay.¬† You get the message, and you get the wine too.
Long http polling is more complicated and uses http in ways it wasn‚Äôt designed for but has nevertheless come into vogue because the alternative, the previously described websockets, has proved messy in implementation.¬† So long http polling, which you can liken to two people calling each other back and forth really fast , appears to be both the short and mid-term winner on the web.
So what does this have to do with staffing?
One of the thornier staffing problems out there is getting the right nurses scheduled for a shift at a hospital.¬†¬† Schedule too many, you lose money.¬† Not enough, patients die.
Losing money, death and lawsuits not being popular outcomes, hospitals have relied on per-diem nurse agencies to fill the gap.¬†¬† Usually run by nurses or nursing administrators, they get the drill.¬† The four o‚Äôclock shift just came up five nurses short, and they scramble to contact the nurses.¬† ‚ÄúWhoever has the nurses wins‚ÄĚ goes the old saying.
As quick as these agencies are, latency, ‚Äėdelay‚Äô to use the more colloquial term, complicates the shift staffing process.¬† First, you have the delay in the nurse administrator becoming aware of an actual need.¬† And from there it gets worse.¬†¬† Notify agencies by phone.¬†¬† Delay.¬† Agency tries to reach nurse by phone.¬† Delay.¬† Nurse confirms.¬† Delay.¬† Administrator cancels shift.¬† Delay.
Delay, delay, delay.
Solution: real-time notification: