Removing the friction from your practice

Cutting friction from your practice will create a smoother patient experience.

Friction is any process that removes energy from a system over time.It requires adding additional energy to a system when there’s friction to keep it moving at the same rate.

Introducing friction can sometimes make people behave in a certain way, like having to present insurance and demographic information each time a patient visits the doctor. This can discourage patients and impact their perception of the doctor and the practice.

Let me attempt to explain the physics of friction with the analogy of striking a hockey puck with a hockey stick with the intention of moving the puck towards the goal.

Suppose that the puck is sitting in a field of tall grass. Each whack of the hockey stick will move the puck only a small distance, since the tall grass removes all of the energy imparted to the puck.

Next, assume the grass in the field has been trimmed to just a few inches high. Each time you hit the puck, it goes twenty feet or more--a huge improvement.With shorter grass, the puck comes in contact with less grass, which means that it travels a longer distance with every strike. You’ll still have to work to get the puck to the goal, but you’ll achieve your objective more quickly and with less effort than trying to do so in the tall grass.

Now assume you place the puck on frozen pond on smooth ice. The puck will travel hundreds of feet every time you hit it, because the ice doesn’t rob the puck of energy as does the high- or even the short grass.As a result, the puck glides effortlessly along the surface.

By hitting the puck on the ice, you’ll only need have one good whack and the puck will sail towards the goal and requires much less energy because you have moved from a friction surface to a near frictionless surface.

So, what’s the big deal and how does it apply to a medical practice? Friction is any force or process that removes energy from a system. In the presence of friction, it is necessary to continue to add energy to a system to keep it moving at the same rate over time. Unless additional energy is added, friction will slow any system or process down until it comes to a stop.

If you move from a state of friction to a frictionless state, you increase the system’s efficiency.

Every medical practice has some amount of friction. The key is to identify areas where the friction exists, then experiment with small improvements or incremental change that will reduce the amount of friction in the system. Removing even small amounts of friction consistently over time accumulates to large improvements in both quality and efficiency or in the hockey analogy, fewer whacks with the hockey stick to make the puck reach the goal.

Removing even small amounts of friction from your interaction with patients or from the business of managing your practice can generate major improvements in efficiency and productivity.

You begin by identifying friction points in your practice.Examples may be long waits for patients to achieve access\appointments to your practice or long waiting in the reception area and exam room before being seen by the physician.Another friction point for most practice is the prior authorization process.In the business sector of your practice, you may identify friction in rising accounts receivables or increased employee turnover.All these friction points have a solution where friction can be removed and less energy wasted resulting in improvement of patient satisfaction, improvement in efficiency, and improvement in the productivity of the practice.

Bottom Line: Work on removing friction from your practice even if it is only a small amount.If you do, you’ll have better results for less effort and your puck will get to the goal with less energy.

Neil Baum, MD, a Professor of Clinical Urology at Tulane University in New Orleans, LA. Dr. Baum is the author of several books, including the best-selling book, Marketing Your Medical Practice-Ethically, Effectively, and Economically, which has sold over 225,000 copies and has been translated into Spanish. He contributes a weekly video for Medical Economics on practical ideas to enhance productivity and efficiency in medical practices.  His 5–7-minute videos and short articles provide practical ideas that can be easily implemented and incorporated into any medical practice. Dr. Baum can be reached at doctorwhiz@gmail.com.