Time wasters: Are they killing your practice?

November 1, 2005

The front office should never have to go back to the clinical department to get clarification from a doctor or nurse to process a patient at the end of a visit.

It's time to take charge and eliminate time wasters that cause havoc in your practice. Here's how.

Learn to lead and manage

Does your staff interrupt with matters that can be dealt with at a more reasonable time? Worse yet, do they come to you to get answers to problems that, with a little thought, they could easily solve?

Set ground rules, limiting when it's OK to interrupt you. Reduce outside interruptions, such as drop-in pharmaceutical reps and non-emergency telephone calls that could be returned at your convenience.

Failure to delegate. This is a common problem that can result in only part of your staff being fully productive. I call it the "I'd-rather-do-it-myself" syndrome. Some self-analysis might be in order. There are a variety of reasons why physicians fail to delegate:

Delegation begins with identifying tasks you don't need to do and identifying and assigning the right person to do them. Generally speaking, if a staff member can do it 80% as well as you can, delegate it.

In addition to saving time, delegation is an expression of confidence in your staff. It strengthens their skills and is a source of job enrichment. Delegation fosters improved teamwork while it helps manage your time.

Poor communication. Physicians need to be a part of the office team and not use the manager to do all the communicating. Get involved in staff meetings. It's the perfect time to deliver a consistent message and know that everyone hears exactly the same thing at the same time. It also gives you an opportunity to get valuable feedback from the people who serve you. But these meetings must be time-managed. Establish meeting objectives and set time parameters that will keep you from drifting aimlessly through meetings and wasting time.

Intra- and interoffice e-mail and instant messaging are excellent tools that help you make the most of communication. They're timely, accurate, and provide documentation. Just as important, they allow you to communicate when it is convenient, eliminating needless interruptions.

Lack of documentation. Examples of poor documentation are inadequate charting, lack of proper routing slips, and poor message-taking. Put important information in writing, with specific instructions and a time frame, so it can be reviewed and acted on without interrupting you.

The front office should never have to go back to the clinical department to get clarification from a doctor or nurse to process a patient at the end of a visit. Routing slips should identify what service was rendered and should also signal the front office about how to schedule the next visit. Documentation is a matter of training, commitment, and accountability.