12 Smart Time Management Tips for Doctors

Shelly Reese

Disclosures

April 27, 2016

The Challenges of Time Management

Physicians are swamped: heavy patient loads, mountains of administrative demands, endless team and departmental meetings, and the list goes on. The result? Patients are kept waiting. Work becomes less enjoyable. Stress builds; and "expendable" activities, such as exercise, family time, and sleep, are jettisoned.

Part of the problem, experts say, is that most people, including physicians, aren't trained to manage their time. While time management is an integral part of many corporate management training programs, medical training is about "triaging emergencies," says Dr Craig Gordon, a nephrologist and assistant professor of medicine at Boston University Medical Center. "We are trained how to be busy, so we don't stop to ask questions like, 'Is this the best way?' and, 'How do I want to spend my time?'"

How do you address the problem? Here's some advice designed specifically for doctors.

1. Develop self-awareness. "Medicine is full of type A personalities," says Dr Gordon. For many, introspection isn't a frequent activity. To improve your time management skills, you really need to know your personal strengths, weaknesses, habits, and goals. When are you at your best? Are you a morning person or a night owl? What makes you drag your feet?

For Dr Gordon, waiting for big blocks of uninterrupted time to tackle large projects "is just another form of procrastination." Instead, he breaks big projects into more manageable pieces. What's more, he's figured out that he can get far more accomplished on those projects during a couple of hours in a coffee shop over the weekend than he can in his office during the week.

2. Huddle with your team. In a practice situation, Elizabeth Woodcock, an Atlanta -based consultant and author of Mastering Patient Flow: Using Lean Thinking to Improve Your Practice Operations, recommends starting each day with a staff huddle. It's a chance to identify time-saving opportunities.

For example, you can identify the best times to work in patients if you know which patients on your schedule are likely to be no-shows. Similarly, "if your nurse knows that Mr Jones has trouble walking and takes 20 minutes to get from his car to the office, you can head that off by making plans at the morning huddle to meet him with a wheelchair,"she says. "It's great customer service, and it helps you stay on time."

3. Start on time. Woodcock advises practices to prepare examination rooms the evening before. If office hours start at 8 am, the first patient should be scheduled for 7:45 to allow time for greeting, registration, and clinical intake. That way, the physician can begin promptly. The same rule applies for the first appointment after lunch.

4. Work with your scheduler. If every patient visit runs 5 minutes longer than scheduled, despite your best and repeated attempts to be on time, then talk to your scheduler about strategies for adjusting your workload. Can the scheduler increase the amount of time he or she allocates for patient visits or work a 15-minute break into your midmorning schedule to give you a chance to get back on track? Yes, such strategies are a productivity ding, but they'll reduce your stress and, by improving your on-time performance, may boost your patient satisfaction scores. "This has to be a team effort," says Ken Hertz, a principal with MGMA Health Care Consulting Group.

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