If you're running behind, try these tactics to get back in the groove

March 1, 2010

There's nothing more frustrating to patients and staff than a dermatologist who constantly runs behind. Running behind is a vicious cycle; until you root out its causes and take action, everyone - including you - will be miserable.

Key Points

Running behind is the exception, not the rule, in a well-run dermatology practice. If you find yourself falling further and further behind as the day goes on, consider implementing these tactics to stay on time:

Prepare the charts. Assign accountability for preparing every patient's chart. Don't fool yourself into thinking that this recommendation is relegated to paper charts; it doesn't matter what they're made of. What counts is that the information is reviewed before the visit to ensure that you have what you need to see the patient efficiently.

Huddles also help determine if - and when - your schedule can accommodate requests from patients for same-day appointments. This helps avoid the constant interruptions from your scheduler about patients who want to be seen immediately.

Hang a clock. Simply keeping track of time can help you stay on time. Your patients will wince if you're constantly glancing at your watch, so hang a clock in your exam and procedure rooms. Place it on the wall behind the exam table and slightly higher than the patient's head. You'll be able to maintain eye contact with your patient while you monitor the time.

Ask for a reminder. If you're running significantly behind, a signal from your clinical support staff can be helpful. Set a protocol for when to get a reminder, such when you are 30 minutes behind schedule. Your medical assistant or nurse can page you (in vibration mode) or knock on the door. Instruct them to tell you that "Dr. Jones is on the phone" - or a similar phrase - as the signal you are running late. That's a lot more patient-friendly than saying, "Dr. Smith, you're running 30 minutes behind, and you need to get a move on!" - which will make the patient feel that you are rushing through the rest of the visit.

Be sure that your "running-behind" protocol allows you to control the communication. For example, you could respond to the reminder by asking your staff to take a message from Dr. Jones to indicate you acknowledge the situation but need more time with your current patient.

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