There has been a bevy of research into the ever-increasing workloads of doctors across the U.S. These expanded schedules regularly impact physicians' abilities to interact with and manage their patients, greatly affecting those individuals' quality of health. As an extension of that, doctors have less opportunities to see patients. According to a report by the Press Ganey, the average wait time for a doctor's visit is 23 minutes as of mid-2011. Doctors are already stretched somewhat thin as it is, and patients will inevitably be perturbed by such delays. To address this deep concern, it's important that physicians attempt to streamline their office as best as possible as to better serve patients in a timely manner.
Create a flow map
While routines are a great way to control the pace of your day, they can often leave you somewhat unaware to any wasted actions. That's why implementing a flow map can be helpful in better focusing your energies. This map is a step-by-step breakdown of your entire day, from the moment you enter the office to the last patient. Once you've got a general idea of how your day pans out, you can then analyze which steps are vital and which can be cut out as to free up more of your time. When eliminating steps, it helps to ask a few different questions of both yourself and the practice as a whole:
- Does this step fulfill a specific requirement to your patients?
- Can you maintain your day's regular pacing without this step?
- Is this step effective at creating results or does it prove problematic or require upkeep?
If you cannot answer yes to at least one of these questions, you can freely cut that part out of your schedule. It's also worth noting that some issues you may face are episodic. For instance, an office that is short-staffed might encounter more of these so-called bottlenecks.
Consider, for a moment, the assembly line model used by car manufacturers. It's an effective method because everything is done the same way every single time. When it comes to setting up your office, there is a lot to learn from this tried-and-true approach. By that, your office should try and phase out any idiosyncrasies of regular office routines. For example, a patient's intake should always follow one specific format. Or, each exam room needs to be setup similarly – like the location of gloves, thermometers and other medical tools. The same should go for setting up appointments, sending out referrals and any prescription refills. The aim is that by establishing a standard operating procedure, there is less room for any wasted motions, which means more time for other office-related tasks. Part of this change will rely on retraining office staff regarding the correct procedures and relying on each member to promote adherence to the new operating model.
Set time goals
Every patient is unique. Not only in terms of their overall care, but also how much time and attention they might require. There are a number of factors at play here, from a patient's specific treatment regimen to the number of questions they might have. Understanding this is often a matter of knowing the unique makeup of each patient. To better understand every patient, it's a good idea to place information questions into registration packets. These will give you insight into the patient's concerns and how they may approach and interact with you as their physician. Once you have this knowledge, you'll then be able to schedule more realistic appointments, with some patients needing closer to an hour and some perhaps requiring perhaps just 15 minutes. By dictating each patient visit individually, you're creating a more organic schedule, one that often leaves you with 10- to 15-minute pockets of downtime. These periods can then be used to catch up on other office tasks or upcoming projects.