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Power to the Punctual! How Physicians can be on Time!

Posted Jan 07 2009 5:09pm

Patients have a pet peeve: they hate waiting for the doctor.  I hate waiting for the doctor, and hate it when patients wait for me!  It’s very funny, but in my personal life I tend to run late, but at work, I’m usually on time.  Reflecting on what helps me be on time, I came up with some tips:

  1. Don’t check voice mail or email first thing.  Get to the clinic (or hospital, as is my case), and get started.  Checking emails/voice mails will likely take up more time than you have.  Remember, the beauty of email/voice mail is that you can respond when you are able.
  2. Give yourself extra time to get to the office/hospital.  Don’t fall in to the “well, I have three extra minutes so I will check my emails, start my latest article, read up on transplants…”  trap.  Get to work first!
  3. Set your clock or watch ahead by an uneven amount.  (It’s harder to subtract, although my fiendish little brain has become adept at subtracting odd numbers.)  Set different clocks ahead by different amounts.  (Take that, smart brain!)
  4. Estimate accurately how long something will take, then add 15 minutes.  When a nurse calls me and asks when will I see a patient, I estimate how long it will be, and then add the extra 15 minutes.  The patients and families love it because I am on time, and I really look good if I arrive in the room early!
  5. Don’t schedule meetings during peak times.  At one hospital I worked at, they wanted us to meet with the case managers at 9:00 am.  I am hitting my rounding stride around then, and having a meeting in the middle of the morning would really slow me down, (not to mention slowing discharges down!)  My group was able to get a different meeting time set up.
  6. Set a goal for what you want to accomplish ahead of time.  I try to break my day up when I’m rounding into segments.  I will set a goal of seeing 2/3rds of my patients by 1:00 pm for example.  I know I am much slower in the afternoon, so I try to have the bulk of my work done before lunch.
  7. Set up your day so you can use your peaks effectively.  I try to see my ICU patients first, when I am sharpest, and leave phone calls for late in the day, when I can sit down with a cup of tea and really listen to what the families say.
  8. Don’t dwaddle on the Internet.  There is so much to read and learn, but getting sucked into the Internet black hole is a guaranteed time drain.  Be strong!
  9. Cut the optimism.  We all have ideas that we can get “just one more thing” done.  Try doing less, and you will probably be able to do more, because  you are less stressed because you are on time!
  10. Lastly, why are you late?  Is it a rebelliousness toward the system?  Are we physicians late because we can get away with it? Better book some time on the shrink rap couch!

So what are my top reasons for being late:

  1. Exuberant optimism about how much I can get done.
  2. Perfectionism, for example trying to get my computerized note to look “just so.”  (I am desperately trying to break this habit!)
  3. My kid/family/dog.
  4. Reading when I should be in the car driving.
  5. Complaining.  (Seriously, the way we docs carry on!  I am working HARD on breaking this habit, and will post on my ‘no complaining’ bracelet later.)

And you?  What’s keeping you from your patients?  Make 2009 the year when physicians are on time!  Power to the punctual!!!

Resources:  See posts on Lifehack and MedicineNet.

      
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