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8 ways to make your practice more efficient

Boosting productivity can be an alternative to cutting costs



In an effort to maintain your income in the face of flat or declining collections, you may be obsessing with cutting overhead. You're against wasteful spending, but cutting costs isn't the only way—or even the best way—to preserve your bottom line.


Judy Bee
It's a handicap to avoid spending money that makes you and your staff more productive. So here are some efficiency basics you can implement.

1. Only do work that others cannot do

Many patient care functions, such as data collection and patient education, are commonly—and successfully—delegated to trained assistants, freeing you to work faster.

You may be reluctant to delegate tasks, however, if past experiences proved disappointing. Keep in mind that delegating is not the same as dumping.

If you ask your staff to do something and then walk away, you are simply dumping work on them. Delegation, however, requires you to train your staff and provide benchmarks to ensure they understand their assigned tasks, and it requires you to offer feedback so you get the performances you expect. Taking these steps will ensure they do their jobs to your satisfaction. It helps to think of delegation as an investment that will pay off.

Another waste of your time: deciding, case-by-case, when patients can be seen. Many receptionists admit that they add patients to an already full schedule at their peril, so they always ask the doctor what to do. The decision is usually the same, however: "work them in." Why not specify the criteria for an acceptable add-on patient and let your staff make the call?

When you train your receptionist, stress that he or she never, ever has the last word. Instead, ask your receptionist to take the patient's information, including details about the problem, and offer the next appropriate appointment that's available. If the patient argues that he or she cannot wait, instruct your receptionist to say that a nurse will be in touch within an hour or two. Then, the nurse who returns the call should advise the patient that no appointments are available. Any patient who insists on coming in anyway should be told that the doctor does not have an issue with their visiting the emergency department if they cannot wait a day or two.

You just trained your receptionist to add two layers of filter to every call so you do not get them all. Your staff members are there to help you, so train them so they know not to turn away a patient whose health is at risk. The receptionist's affirmation for the day should be: You may not be able to treat every patient who calls, but you will be able to help everyone who calls.

In addition, you may choose to delegate callbacks, but not all of them. If the news is big or may be a shock, call the patient yourself or ask him or her to come into the office. For example, during an exam, discuss with your patient what to expect from a routine lab test and explain that the nurse will call if the results come back as expected. Then delegate that task to your nurse and include instructions on the patient's next steps.

Although data collection can be delegated to staff members, you must train them to gather quality information. A patient who answers health-related questions, for example, may mention facts that should be brought to your attention. Your staff needs to know how to highlight this critical information so you do not overlook it during the patient's visit.


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