Effective Time Management for Physicians

Aug 15, 2012

Whether you're the one who's constantly running behind or the person who continually seems to be waiting for others, these five points will save everyone valuable time.

They don't call it a waiting room for nothing at my doctor's office. Even when I book the first appointment of the morning, my annual physical examination can take a half-day. It's not because I have a complex medical history or chronic ailments - in fact I'm very fit and healthy. The reason it takes so long is that my physician, whom I've been seeing for over 20 years, is always running behind. Sometimes it's because of a midnight delivery, but usually it's due to poor time management.

Medical personnel are notorious for being late, and often with good reason. Emergencies, complications, and staffing issues can all cause unexpected and lengthy delays. And in the world of medicine, where teamwork is vital, one person's tardiness can literally upset the whole apple- cart or, in this case, crash-cart.

But sometimes it's the system that doesn't work. Whether it's your personal timetable that needs an overhaul or an office schedule that's overseen by someone else, overbooking and underestimating patient demand are two common reasons why agendas go awry. An overwhelmed scheduling system naturally leads to overwhelmed practitioners.

Patients often add to the chronic challenge of staying on time. When they show up with a laundry list of complaints, are shocked by a frightening diagnosis, or surprise you with a "just one more thing" bombshell at the end of an appointment, you usually have no choice but to hear them out, check them out, or help them out.

No one appreciates having to wait for someone who is always late, and that applies to both sides of the examination table. Whether you're the one who's constantly running behind or the person who continually seems to be waiting for others, these five points will save everyone valuable time.

1. Take a reality pill. If you struggle with staying on time, take a good look at your calendar. Back-to-back appointments that don't allow enough leeway to get the job done may have to be adjusted, despite self- or management-induced strategies. Track your time for a week, noting your efficiency, the reasons you were late, and how many people you inconvenienced. Everybody is busy these days, and their time is just as valuable as yours, so be realistic with your schedule.

2. Allow extra time. Whether you're traversing a city or navigating the maze of a hospital, adequate travel time must be incorporated into your routine. Make a commitment to yourself to leave earlier than usual so you can get to your destination on time. This will be reflected in your attitude, because you will be more relaxed and calm. Your patients and colleagues will appreciate your efforts and respect your professionalism.

3. Stop saying yes. Think twice before accepting another invitation, and if you can't go, say no. Whether you're being asked to steer a committee, sit on a board, or see another patient, be absolutely positive that you can afford the time. Responses like, "I need to think about this," "not now," or "perhaps another time," can help you avoid over-committing. If you're certain you can't squeeze another obligation into your calendar, a simple "no, thank you" is all you need to say.

4. Discuss mutual expectations. Let your patients, colleagues, and family members know what they can expect from you and what you expect from them. Be diplomatic and straightforward when clarifying what time you'll be somewhere, when you need others to be there, and how long scheduled activities will take. When patients catch you off-guard with unexpected questions, be very clear about how long you will need to treat them, and, if appropriate, suggest they make another appointment so you have ample time to focus on their concerns. Likewise, start and end meetings on time to ensure that everyone's schedule is being respected.

5. Relay the delay. Letting others know that you'll be late is a basic element of corporate courtesy, and one that's often overlooked. If you know you'll be running behind, send a text message, make a quick call, or ask your staff or a colleague to notify those who are expecting you so they can adjust their schedules accordingly.

Legendary writer E.V. Lucas said, "I have noticed that the people who are late are often so much jollier than the people who have to wait for them." You can add to the health and happiness of others by honoring your commitments and staying on time.

Sue Jacques is The Civility CEO™, a veteran Forensic Medical Investigator turned Corporate Civility Consultant who helps individuals and businesses gain confidence, earn respect and create courteous corporate cultures. www.TheCivilityCEO.com

 

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