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Medical practice management is a challenging field in which administrators frequently feel pulled in several directions at once. It is not uncommon for some to become frazzled over the demands of the position. But operating on overload at all times creates chaos and isn't good for the health of the practice or the individual. One must know how to work smarter, not harder. For many, this requires the formation of a few new habits.

New Habits

Practice administrators need to know how to manage their time and resources in a way that eliminates unnecessary work and effort and reduces the possibility for errors. Those looking to improve in this area should consider incorporating the following habits into their work style:

Get organized. Getting organized saves time and energy and provides managers with control over what is often a complicated work landscape. Once busy administrators take steps toward getting organized, they become more effective in their positions. Taking these actions provides a good start:

Create and maintain a to-do list. All projects should be placed on one central to-do list. While many will want to create this list on a computer, a handwritten list might be more effective. Research suggests that the cognitive process of writing by hand engages the brain in a way that boosts retention and productivity.

Prioritize tasks. A daily prioritizing of to-do list tasks provides managers with direction and helps in meeting deadlines. When tasks are regularly prioritized, there is never a question as to where a manger's efforts need to be directed at any given time.

Begin and end every day with a smart routine. Some administrators think that getting organized will solve all of their problems. But it's staying organized that produces the most remarkable benefits. To accomplish this, administrators should begin and end every day with a routine that involves these tasks: Checking email, updating to-do lists, reviewing the schedule, and checking the calendar.

Maintain a neat desktop.A clutter-free desktop often is the hallmark of people who work smarter instead of harder. When taking a break from a project, administrators should get in the habit of putting away related papers and documents. Having an efficient filing system helps. Maintaining a neat desktop provides a less-chaotic work environment and eliminates potential distractions. This helps administrators remain focused and organized.

Streamline processes. Efforts to streamline processes capitalize on small opportunities that can result in exponential time saving. For this reason it is essential to conduct regular reviews of all processes and systems to see where adjustments can be made. Administrators should begin with their own file systems and then move on to the practice's general operational processes. No adjustment is too small. For instance: If two adjustments that save 30 seconds each are made to three different processes that are completed 20 times every workday, 240 hours are saved in one year. Impressive, isn't it? Saving time helps free up staff to help managers accomplish other goals and usually leads to an increase in patient satisfaction.

Master the art of delegation. A busy administrator cannot perform efficiently in a vacuum. Administrators can ease their load by delegating tasks and relinquishing appropriate control to trusted staff members. Frequent thoughts of, “I'm going to do this myself because I can do it faster and better,” indicates a manager who needs to allow staff members more opportunities to prove themselves as trusted assistants. Those who find themselves making copies of new patient forms and ordering table paper have not mastered this art.

Hold regular meetings.Setting regular meetings with staff members and physician-owners helps administrators keep their finger on the pulse of all aspects of practice operations. When this is done, issues tend to be minimized and can be addressed with simple solutions before ballooning out of control. Holding meetings only when major issues arise keeps the team operating in crisis-mode and often results in less-urgent (but important) issues slipping through the cracks. Additionally, regular meetings with physician-owners allow administrators to keep their pile of “needs physician's signature/approval” documents to a reasonable size.

Don't let impromptu meetings hijack your routine. Physicians and staff are notorious for stopping managers in the hallway to discuss topics that require more focus and time than is realistic in that setting. While it is important to remain flexible, managers should schedule meetings for non-urgent impromptu discussions that will take longer than two minutes. “I think this idea/issue deserves more time and attention, so I'd like to sit down with you to talk about it. Are you free after lunch?” is a great way to encourage a meeting and allows both parties to return to tasks requiring immediate attention.

Anticipate and plan for demanding projects. All practice administrators are faced with big projects that threaten to dismantle their routine and divert attention from their regular duties. Hiring and training new staff, office renovation, and installation of new computers and phone systems are examples of such tasks. Although not always, most of these come with some advance warning. Smart administrators take advantage of this by carefully planning their course of action.

Provide thorough staff training from the start. When training new staff members, managers should keep in mind that a little extra up-front effort can provide meaningful efficiency dividends later. A well-trained staff provides managers with:

  • Competent employees to which tasks can be delegated with confidence.
  • A reduced need to deal with future staff performance issues.

Deal with issues as they arise. The role of practice administrator does not lend itself to the luxury of procrastination. Prioritizing projects can help, but administrators must be honest about why an item might continuously end up at the bottom of their to-do list. Working smarter means making it a point to tackle issues as soon as they arise, no matter how unpleasant or difficult. Another habit that can help is returning calls and emails as soon as possible. Not only will the details be fresh for both parties, this routine demonstrates excellent internal and external customer service.

Balanced and Sane Approach

Anyone can learn to work smarter instead of harder, but it requires the formation of new habits. Administrators willing to develop and incorporate new habits into their workday will notice an increase in productivity and an improvement in quality and efficiency. As a bonus, they will enjoy a less chaotic work environment as they form a more balanced and sane approach to the demanding field of medical practice management. n

Heidi Pesterfield is a publication services assistant for BSM Consulting, Incline Village, NV. She assists in the preparation of content for client media projects ranging from written materials to electronic, web-based content and programs. Her primary responsibilities include the writing, editing, and lay out of content used in various communication and learning products and services such as marketing/advertising tools, magazine articles, web-based learning courses, study guides, staff training tools, slide presentations, and other material. Before joining BSM in 2011, Ms. Pesterfield accumulated more than 25 years experience as a nonfiction freelance and public relations writer. She has 25 years of experience working as a medical assistant and phlebotomist at various primary care facilities, hospitals, and clinics. She also is author of the book Traditional Lead Climbing (Wilderness Press, 2007).

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