Five Ways Physicians Can Minimize Interruptions

January 16, 2015
Jeff Davidson

Interruptions are now the chief impediment for doctors and medical office staff when it comes to getting things done. Here's how to deal with them.

In a busy medical practice, it's understandable that distractions and interruptions occur all day, but over the past few years, have you found yourself being interrupted with greater frequency?

We’ve all experienced it. Interruptions are now the chief impediment for doctors and medical office staff when it comes to getting things done. Worse still, interruptions are on the rise!

While some people are hired specifically to deal with interruptions –– receptionists come to mind –– most other people have more control over their schedules, when they ought to be available, and when they prefer not to be. 

A survey by Basex, a U.S. technology research firm, reveals that interruptions account for 28 percent of the typical career professional’s workday. On average, employees typically get only 11 minutes to focus on any task before they encounter another interruption. Then, another 25 minutes on average is consumed before returning to the original task or project, if it happens at all on that day.

Your best effort
To do your best work often requires being able to give your complete and undivided attention to the task at hand, not only being free of interruptions, but knowing in advance that you will not be interrupted. The notion that you might be interrupted during a given task might not only impede your productivity, but also might keep you from beginning in the first place.

The most productive members of society, in one way or another, gravitate toward the idea that they must safeguard their work environments and determine in advance how and when they can be reached. These highly productive individuals recognize that working in the face of constant interruptions takes a toll. The loss of focus and concentration, as well as overall productivity, is simply not worth it.

Five tips for staying in control
What do the highly productive among us do to stay productive, keep interruptions at bay, and still remain in the communications loop?

1. They keep their communication technology at hand and periodically check to see who has left a message, and then immediately turn back to the task at hand. By briefly monitoring the calls and text messages that come in, but not responding to them, they are able to turn back quickly to their work and make good progress. You may have already gravitated towards this procedure, but now let’s up the ante.

2. If you monitor your messages every five minutes to 10 minutes, increase the interval to 15 or 20. In the grand scope of things, that’s not a big deal in terms of staying informed, while at the same time it affords you the ability to stay focused and accomplish great things. In time, increase the interval to 25 minutes to 30 minutes. You’ll accomplish even more.  On those rare occasions when you check your messages and something requires your immediate response, by all means, get in touch with that party. To not do so would create more anxiety than you need to endure.

3. Decide in advance who and what type of messages truly merit your quick response. If you’re honest with yourself, you’re likely offering rapid responses three times or four times as often as you need to based on the nature of the communications you receive. A 60 percent to 80 percent reduction in rapid responses, combined with your ability to return fully to the task at hand, will make a dramatic difference in your productivity.

4. After hours when you’re attending a play, a movie, a dinner, or are at some other place where you do not need to be disturbed and, indeed, would disturb others if you were to check your cell phone, take it out of the equation. Don’t bring it with you.

5. For some part of each day, you need to have a 30-minute period, if not 60 minutes to 90 minutes, when you cannot be reached by external correspondents. In other words, you are where you are. You are in the moment. You are present with those around you. Those around you do not need to compete with those who might otherwise be in touch with you via electronic communications. This simple measure will make a notable difference in your family life, with friends, and even among professional colleagues.

Fortunately, we can all safeguard our personal environments for significant stretches throughout the day so that we’re free from interruptions.