Six Ways to Maximize Your Time

June 1, 2011

Here are six ways you can maximize your time and improve practice performance.

Not enough time, not enough money, and too many demands! This is the mantra I hear over and over from busy physicians and their managers. Everyone's looking for ways to manage time better - but how do you do it with so many demands vying for your attention? Here are six ways you can maximize your time and improve practice performance.

1. Plan Ahead

None of us think we can dedicate time to planning when our schedules are already so full. But in reality, taking time to plan helps you can accomplish much more. You won't get caught with a deadline that causes you or your staff to drop everything to resolve the problem. A perfect example is the patient who is due any minute and you still don't have the reports on diagnostic studies that were ordered at the last visit. Everyone is in a panic and work comes to a halt. By having a morning huddle and conducting a chart review on the next day's patients this type of problem can easily be avoided.

Staying on schedule is an issue that plagues many practices. When you get behind it doesn't take long to realize resources and time are out of control. This can be resolved by planning for the inevitable. For example, if your practice typically works in five additional patients into the daily schedule, then you can resolve this time crunch by reserving five slots a day instead of double-booking. If new patients are the reason you get behind schedule, start allowing more time for these appointments, stagger them throughout your day, and schedule them at strategic times during the day or week.

At a minimum you should have a system that allows you to schedule with flexibility, and maximizes the functions of your clinical space and time.

2. Communicate well

Everyone in the office needs to stay informed and know what's going on. This requires effective communication starting with individual interaction and ending with group discussion.

Good communication on an individual level includes making sure employees know what is expected of them. For example, has the nurse been trained to anticipate the doctor's needs - making sure patients are properly prepared, and that everything needed for the visit is in the room and doctor-ready?

Another good point to remember: Employees deserve to know how well they are doing, so be timely in conducting performance reviews.

Electronic communication is a powerful way to stay on top of communication, reduce disruption and misunderstandings, and save time. Just as importantly, it allows you to communicate when it is convenient for you, eliminating needless interruptions.

Staff meetings help strengthen communication. They get everyone on the same page and give staff a chance to talk amongst themselves about what is working well and things that are not. This can result in a strong and efficient team that uses time wisely.

3. Limit interruptions

Of course it's impossible to eliminate interruptions, but setting criteria for "acceptable" interruptions will reduce the number of interruptions and keep providers on target during the day. Does your staff interrupt you when it's something that can be dealt with at a more reasonable time? Worse yet, do they come to you to get the answer to problems that, with a little thought, they could easily solve by themselves? Set some ground rules, defining when it's OK for staff to interrupt you.

4. Delegate, delegate, delegate

This is a common problem. I call it the "I'd rather do it myself syndrome." Perhaps you don't think someone else can do a job right, or maybe you are just accustomed to doing things for yourself. Don't fall into this trap - if you didn't need help, you'd have no staff at all.

Delegation begins by recognizing that if a task does not require your level of expertise it should be delegated. Generally speaking, if a staff member can do a task 80 percent as well as you can, delegate it. The trick is to set a time limit and define the expected outcome, so you build in accountability.

5. Smart use of space and tools

Poorly designed space and outdated equipment are silent culprits that steal your time. Take a look at the number of unnecessary trips that are taken in your office. Do you have a workstation that is central to the exam rooms and the nurses? If not, you are bound to lose precious time throughout your day. An extra two-minute walk down the hall between each visit quickly adds up to an hour a day. Multiply this by the number of staff in your practice and you'll see that it can be very costly in terms of lost time. Walk around each staff member's work space, and look for ways to cut down on steps. You might be able to make a few minor modifications that will have a dramatic effect on overall efficiency for both physicians and staff members.

Strategically position supplies and equipment to save steps. When exam rooms are designed and supplied identically, physicians and staff work quicker; when your procedure room is designed to save steps and optimize performance, productivity improves; when telephones are within arms' reach and computers are at every workstation, you and your staff work in "realtime," completing tasks in far less time, with far fewer steps. Working in realtime results in getting today's work done today, instead of facing mounds of accumulated work when you arrive in the office each day.

6. Be technology resourceful

Technology is an incredibly powerful resource - improving practice efficiency and time management.

It's easy to outsmart yourself and think you are saving money with your old systems for charting, appointment scheduling, patient recalls, telephone messages, and accounts receivable. It's true, updating technology is costly, but it's also an investment and the single greatest timesaver for today's medical practice. Implementing new technology and electronic health records can have a dramatic impact on improving work flow, reducing errors, and saving time.

Applying these tips you will not only save time, but will also help reduce stress, and improve work flow in the office. It will also go a long way in creating a loyal, dedicated team that will do their best for you and your practice.

Judy Capko, the founder of Capko & Company, www.capko.com, is a healthcare consultant, speaker and author of the popular books; "Secrets of the Best-Run Practice," 2010 and "Take Back Time," 2008. Her focus is practice operations and strategic planning with emphasis of patient-centered strategies and valuing staff's contributions. She is, based in Thousand Oaks, Calif. and can be reached judy@capko.com.