For Physicians and Staff, Practice the Right Things

October 20, 2011

I think there are areas in our medical practices that we should practice and things we should not.

I am currently training for my next marathon, but I am not doing any running beforehand. I know it sounds crazy and most people I tell this to think I won't make it very far, but I think differently. Instead of training by running and running, I train using a variety of high intensity workouts that help me become stronger and fitter all over.

The way I think about it, I already know how to run - I've been running my whole life. So why do I need to practice more of that? This reminded me of my seventh grade basketball coach who always used to say: "Practice does not make perfect - perfect practice makes perfect."

There is no way I am going to train for a marathon by running marathons beforehand! So in the spirit of practice, I think there are areas in our medical practices that we should practice and things we should not. Most of the time I find that practices get confused about this and wind up practicing things they should not be and vice versa.

Here's a short list to get you thinking about practicing for your practice:

Talking with patients: As physicians, we tend to neglect practicing how we talk with patients. Focused more on prescriptions and labs, we tend to forget that building rapport with patients takes effort and is critical to developing a strong connection with patients. You can practice how you talk with patients by practicing ongoing eye contact, using body language to express your thoughts, and by listening intently without focusing on anything else with other people in your life. Do this every day with your family and your staff. The more you practice this, the easier and more natural you will feel with patients. I agree, this sounds simple and easy, but if you practiced communicating the way you practice writing prescriptions, you would be amazed at how well your patients would respond to you.

Answering the phone: Definitely worth practicing. I find that many offices become inefficient simply by the way the staff is trained to answer the phone. Usually staff receive bland and generic directions about what to do when answering the phone which usually results in the doctor having to field all the questions over and over again every day. A better approach is to practice with pre-written scripts. For example, you can have a dialogue script for what to do when the patient calls with a fever, what to do when the patient calls with a side effect from a medicine, and what to do when a patient calls needing to speak to the doctor right then. The more time you and your staff put in to practicing how to answer the phone this way, the more efficient your work flow will become every day.

Seeing patients on time: Why is it that we just accept that patients will have to wait a while before being seen at the doctor's office? To start practicing for this, ensure that the scheduling is spaced out enough to allow for proper time allowance in the exam room. Then ensure that patients are brought back to the exam rooms in a timely fashion. And lastly, it is up to the physician to practice time management during the appointment. Yes, I know, every patient has a lot of questions and concerns, but since you only allotted them 15 minutes today, you need to practice sticking to that. Otherwise, you are not being fair to the rest of your patients and staff (and yourself). Getting this timing down takes a lot of practice, but the more you do this, the better you will be at being able to stay on time and that will help make for a better office day, every day.

I'm sure I am not telling you any new information here. But, I hope I am helping you think about what is worth practicing and what is not. Most practices spend their time and energy practicing the wrong stuff and hopefully this blog post can get you inspired to think about these issues.

Yes, practice can be a useful tool, but practicing for just the sake of practicing, to me, makes no sense. Far better to focus on three to four areas of your medical practice that can help you become a better physician and your office a more efficient office and ignore the rest.

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