The Six ‘I’s of Patient Experiences: Inventory

November 20, 2011

In a medical practice, one of your most valuable assets is your inventory. But when I say inventory … I'm talking about your time as a physician.

In a medical practice, one of your most valuable assets is your inventory. But when I say inventory, I'm not talking about the value of your medical supplies, equipment or pharmaceutical samples. I'm talking about your time as a physician. Managing your time effectively has personal benefits, business benefits, and patient satisfaction benefits for your practice.

Several years ago, I read a book I'd highly recommend called “Margin.” It was written by Richard A. Swenson, MD, and in it he talks about the concept of building margin back into our lives. Think about when you were a kid writing a school paper. There was the room on the page that was for writing, but the teacher always had you leave space on the sides, called margin. Margin is the amount that is available beyond what is necessary. As professionals, we have to be disciplined to build margin into our practice operations. The first step as a physician is to say "no" to many good things so that you're able to say "yes" to the best things. Here are three more ways to build margin into your practice and recapture your valuable time.

1. Identify and eliminate work flow bottlenecks. Throughout the operations of your practice there are areas where processes narrow and work piles up. These bottlenecks have an eventual outcome of scheduling delays, missing paperwork, and other activities that steal time from you and your staff. Begin to map the flow of activities from the point of view of your patients. This will give you an outside-in perspective and enable you to find the areas where your operations are truly benefiting patients and where there are just additional steps in the way. Pull a small team together to map these processes one at a time and then involve your staff in solving the bottlenecks. A great technique is to grab a small stack of Post-it notes and have your staff quickly write down potential solutions to a bottleneck. Then you can categorize the potential solutions on two dimensions - one is how easy or difficult it is to implement and the second dimension is how much of an impact it has on the bottleneck. Rate each with high, medium, or low. From there you can find the ways to reduce bottlenecks that everyone agrees are the highest impact, yet easiest to implement opportunities.

2. Delegate tasks to staff. It's your name on the door, so you want to make sure everything is done just right. That's absolutely the right attitude, but the wrong approach is to think that means you have to do it all yourself. Identify tasks and activities that you do throughout the day that someone else could do if they did it correctly. Invest your time in training someone to take this task over and be responsible for making sure it is done well. Be sure, too, to continue to invest in your staff’s training in general. Stay committed to their growth and development. If they turn over and go to a different practice, it will cost you a lot of additional time to both find and train a replacement. Have your staff cross-train on the responsibilities of each other's jobs. This way if one of your staff members is out of the office for the day, operations can still run smoothly and your time can stay where you intend for it to be.

3. Hold a regular staff meeting. On the surface, this might seem like an activity that takes away from your time, but in reality, you will find this to be a significant time saver. My recommendation is that you meet once a week at a minimum with your entire staff. The purpose of the meeting is to communicate important news, set expectations, talk about opportunities to improve, and provide a forum where the staff provides feedback on improvements. I find that most time management problems have underlying lack of communication symptoms and this is a good fix. Furthermore, by providing an open forum for discussion you'll find that you get fewer interruptions throughout the day and your staff will have clarity on what you expect.

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