Who's In Control - You or Your Technology?

In this electronic age, has the convenience of being able to have greater access to information actually made your life more complicated? Do you find yourself working 24/7 as you answer emails on your Smartphone, iPad or home computer, catch up on industry journals, or watch a webinar or two during the evenings and on weekends, instead of giving yourself much needed down time? Are you scheduling date night with your significant other, meditation time for yourself, workout classes, dates with friends, even time for reading a book?

It's easy to understand how we Americans are becoming more and more dependent on technology. There's such a vast array of information available to us - and it's all instantaneous. We used to spend time researching the answers to questions or problems, now our answers are just a Google search away. And, as a Practice Manager, there is so much information you need to keep up-to-date with - Meaningful Use, electronic health record technology, treatment protocols, HIPAA regulations, patient care news and so much more. In fact, part of your success as a Practice Manager is being "in the know," having ready answers to questions, being a resource to your staff, your patients and the doctors in your practice.

Is EMR Technology Distracting Your Medical Practice?

If you're using Electronic Medical Record (EMR) technology in your practice, it's likely that your doctors and medical staff are finding it difficult to maintain the same level of personal patient interaction as before the new technology. I hear from many practices that their chief complaints are: 1) they're seeing fewer patients because the EMRs require more time to manage and update than paper files and 2) their patient interaction is suffering because they're less able to maintain eye contact with patients as search for the proper fields and screens on the EMR to enter the information the patient is communicating. In response to this challenge, there's a new and growing profession called EMR scribes.

An EMR scribe is a person who accompanies the doctor on his/her examinations for the sole purpose of handling the electronic medical record documentation. There's even some talk of virtual scribes who don't physically accompany the doctor, but can document the EMR through the use of high powered cameras and microphones.

With an EMR scribe, the doctor is able to focus his/her full attention on the patient. This results in:

  • Quality doctor-patient interaction.
  • More thorough documentation of the exam, patient concerns and the resulting treatment plan.
  • Increases in productivity as the patient exam and record documentation are occurring simultaneously leaving more time for the doctor to see patients rather than interact with technology.

It isn't surprising that doctors are looking for better ways to preserve patient interaction, their own productivity and practice revenue. After all, using an EMR when you're talking with a patient is just an extension of the many distractions that we face in our electronic-focused world today.

7 Ways to Overcome Productivity Challenges for the Practice Manager

There is no shortage of technological productivity tools to help you become a more effective Practice Manager. But do they really deliver on their promise? How many hours have you spent on the Internet researching a myriad of products to help you become more productive? How many 'apps' have you tried and discarded? How many productivity seminars (or webinars) have you attended with the hope of finding the system that will finally make you or the practice more efficient?

A few simple productivity management tips can go a long way toward decreasing technology distractions and increasing your productivity:

1. Clean Out Your Inbox (and Keep It Clean!)

First, let's tackle your email inbox. Are you guilty of keeping hundreds of email - newsletters, news feeds, Google Alerts, etc. - in your inbox waiting for that elusive time when you get a minute to catch up on your reading? If you're like most people that time never comes, or when it does come the emails are so old that the information has been updated many times over since you first received it. Only keep what needs to be handled each day in your inbox. And, as you clean out your inbox, you will reduce your feelings of overwhelm and actually feel a sense of accomplishment and control.

For the rest of the items, create a folder in your inbox (if allowable by your email system) to store those emails and - here's the important part - go through them once a week. Whatever you don't read, delete. Move 'informational' emails to the 'Weekly Reading' folder as soon as you get them. One of the tricks that works for me is to jot down a couple of notes about why I want to read a particular article or newsletter. Then, when I have some downtime, I go through those notes and see how each item complements something that I'm currently doing. If it's applicable, then I invest the time in reading it.

2. Create a System for Managing Snail Mail

The next area of overwhelm and clutter comes from the things you're getting by US Mail - newsletters, journals, sales offers, brochures and pamphlets. Treat these just like you do your inbox. Separate them from the mail that has to be taken care of today, and set them aside in a 'To Read This Week' folder. Schedule time on your calendar every week to go through what's in the folder and discard whatever you don't have time to read. Skim publications looking for topics that are relevant to you right now. Here's where the beauty of the electronic age helps you - if you miss a topic that later becomes relevant to you, all you have to do is enter a few keywords into Google to gain the knowledge you need.

3. Increase Focus with a Targeted To Do List

I find that a calendar and a well-defined To Do List are one of the most effective ways to stay focused on what you need to accomplish each day. Avoid the open-ended question: "What do I need to do today?" This will only cause your mind to race from one thing to the next. Instead of becoming focused and productive, you will increase your anxiety possibly becoming overwhelmed with a mountain of To Dos.

A big running To Do List with no timeframe for completion attached to the individual tasks is just going to become another tried and discarded efficiency tool. You must hold yourself accountable by including target completion dates to find the real efficiency in the To Do List. I find that setting a goal - challenging myself - to complete a certain realistic number of tasks each day is a great way to get more done. The ideal number of tasks for me is 6. I like to make sure that those six items are differing levels of difficulty and time commitment. To maintain your focus, the question to ask each day is: "What are the 6 most important things I must do today?"

Make sure you:

  • Are realistic about what you can achieve in a given timeframe.
  • Plan for the interruptions that come with managing a busy medical practice.

When you find yourself straying from the To Do List, ask yourself: "Is what I'm doing right now going to help me achieve something I need to accomplish on my To Do List." If the answer is "no", then go back to your To Do List to get focused. If that thing that you want to do, needs to be done, then add it to your list and schedule it.

4. Create a Schedule (and Stick to It!)

You'll notice that a lot of my suggestions revolve around scheduling. Your calendar is one of the most important tools you have to keep yourself organized, productive and in control. When you block time on your calendar, protect that time so you can use it for what you intended. You'll find that once you schedule something, it is no longer floating around in your brain as one of those elusive 'To Do's' that awaken you at 4:00 in the morning.

5. Make Time for Annual Goal Planning

One of your strengths as a Project Manager is your ability to access a wide array of information and knowledge. Important ways of doing this include networking, attending seminars, gaining new certifications, implementing new productivity tools and techniques in your practice and much more. You should approach this aspect of your personal development methodically. Each year, set aside time for goal planning. Identify the top 10-12 items that you really want to accomplish in the coming year. Take those items and schedule one per month for each of the months of the new year.

When you break your goals into manageable chunks, it's so much easier to accomplish those goals than staring at a long list of 'To Do's'. Now let's take this one step further - every quarter revisit those goals to see what adjustments you need to make. You may need to move things around a bit on the schedule, but the idea is to keep committing to your goals.

6. The Power of Writing Things Down

Get in the habit of writing things down. Get a journal and use it to jot down lists of things you want to do, ideas you have, techniques you want to research, things you don't want to forget, etc. Once you get ideas out of your head and onto paper, you free up your brain to work on other goals and tasks. You gain more focus, increase your ability to concentrate and, ultimately, get more done.

7. Take Time for Yourself

You need down time to function at your peak. Think about the things that give you joy. Is it exercise, a walk in your neighborhood, volunteer work, spending time with your family, reading, listening to music, a hobby, or something else? Make sure that you're leaving time on your calendar to do things that feed your body, mind and soul. Start by listening to some meditation audios

Don't Sabotage Your Success

When it comes to getting things done, the simplest methods are often the most useful. Don't try to tackle all of these ideas at one time. Pick the one or two that will give you the greatest feeling of control. Once you've incorporated that idea, pick another one to try. One of the most important ways to make change is to be realistic about what you can achieve. Don't overschedule yourself. A sense of accomplishment is a powerful thing - it gives you energy and enthusiasm to keep on going. You'll be amazed at how much more you can accomplish when you feel power over your time and your life. Oh, by the way, leave the Smartphone at home the next time you go out to dinner with someone you care about. See how it feels to be present in the moment. You can always check your phone when you get home.

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