By Amy Rogers, MD

Busy medical station

A medical office is a living, breathing animal. Lassoing it into a productive machine that efficiently cares for patients, while keeping a tight rein on administration, can feel like you are actually trying to tame a wild horse.
But there are steps you can take that will help squeeze every bit of productivity out of your operation. As a bonus, they will make your life easier in the process.

1. Don’t Rely on Memory

You may have the most efficient nurse, the most together office manager, or the most reliable receptionist. But tyranny of the urgent rules in a medical practice far too often. Even the smartest and most efficient employee can get side-tracked by the continuous distractions.

Creating systems and checklists will keep everyone on track in the face of these attention-stealers. It has the added benefit of providing a record of work accomplished should the responsible staff member be out sick or on vacation.

Doctor with checklist

Atul Gawande is famous for The Checklist Manifesto, in which he champions the use of checklists for preventing medical errors. As a surgeon, he mainly discusses their use in direct patient care. But there is no end to the scenarios where checklists can help—billing, insurance, scheduling, prescription refills, etc.

As Gawande states, “[C]hecklists seem able to defend anyone, even the experienced, against failure in many more tasks than we realized.”

2. Don’t Do the Work Someone Else Is Qualified—and Paid—To Do

Many tasks are better performed by properly trained staff than by a practice physician. Whether for collecting data or managing patient call backs, trained staff save time for the physician to perform the work only he or she is qualified for.

The key to successful delegation is training. Simply handing off a task to a staff member who knows generally how it’s done is a recipe for mistakes and stress. They need thorough training—and possibly some checklists.

Spending the time to be sure each member of the staff is well-trained in their job responsibilities will save your practice both time and money.

Medical staff on computer

3. Communicate Wisely

Spend a little time considering all the types of communication you do in a day. From patient education and instructions to notes for absences from work and school. Which of these do you end up writing or reciting over and over again?

Some of these can easily be written, printed, and incorporated into your practice to use repeatedly. You may not want to stop giving verbal instructions to patients, but written educational material for the most common issues will reduce confusion—and call backs—from your patients.

Having your most used materials pre-written and printed will save you time and therefore money. It will also improve your patients’ limited retention of your verbal instructions.

Continuous Improvement

A maximally efficient medical practice isn’t a destination; it’s a continuously evolving process. Take consistent small steps toward a more efficient practice and you will start to see big leaps in productivity and patient care.