Avoid Workflow Bottleneck

Keep your office tasks moving with effective time-management skills.

Everyone knows that in a busy medical practice environment “time is money.” Time management is crucial to success in any job—especially in healthcare. The way you manage time can help your office keep a steady, efficient workflow that makes the most out of staff resources. Let’s explore the ways you can keep healthcare tasks moving to maintain a viable healthcare operation.
Take Production Inventory
To become more efficient, the first step is to evaluate how you spend your time. By accounting for your time, you can recognize areas ripe for improvement. Keep a diary of everything you do for three days to determine how you use your time. Include all personal phone calls and time spent on the Internet.
Eliminate “Switching Gears”
Next, determine how you can group (or eliminate) activities to save time. For instance, rather than be constantly distracted by the outside world, set aside specific times each day to reply to emails, texts, and phone messages. It isn’t always possible, but the idea is to limit the number of times each day you switch gears, so you’re able to focus on an individual task before moving on to the next one. Multitasking may be a productivity buzzword, but research shows that most people can’t fully concentrate on more than one task at a time.
Plan Your Day
The next step is to make a list of everything you need to accomplish for the day. You’ll get more done, and you’ll feel more in control of your life. As you prepare your list, consider the following:

  1. Do not overload your list. Be realistic about what you can accomplish. If you finish before the day is done, you can always check something off tomorrow’s list.
  2. Rank your tasks in order of importance. Ask yourself, “If I can only do one thing today, what would it be?” Move on from there. Be sure to include both short-term and long-term tasks.
  3. Schedule more difficult tasks during your “high energy” times. For example, some of us are “morning people,” while others do their best work later in the day. If your energy is lowest during the early afternoon, you may not be as productive and attentive immediately after lunch. Schedule your work accordingly.

With your list in hand, it’s time to begin checking off tasks.
Avoid Do-overs
A crucial time-saving technique is to do it right the first time (or “OHIO,” only handle it once). You can waste a lot of time going back to correct things. If you’re unsure of how to do a certain task, it’s better to ask for assistance before you start, rather than spend all day trying to figure it out on your own.
Don’t Procrastinate
Procrastination is, of course, a huge time waster. The more “unpleasant” the task, the more prone to procrastination we are. In some cases, sheer willpower can move you forward, but there are some less stressful tricks to keep you motivated. Using these tricks might mean you change tasks more often than is ideal, or check off a few items on your list out of order, but difficult times call for extraordinary measures. Three ways to beat procrastination are:
Break large tasks into smaller parts. For example, if you’re working the front office and need to file charts, you might arrange the charts in alphabetical order between checking in patients and answering phones. This makes the task of putting them away that much simpler and faster later on.
Try the 10-minute rule for the dreaded task. Knowing that you only have to work on the task for 10 minutes at a time can help to get you through it. Before you know it, you may be able to finish the task completely in the allotted 10 minutes.
Finish a few “easy” items on your list before tackling an unpleasant one. Checking a few items off your list can give you a sense of accomplishment and momentum, which makes it that much easer to continue down the list.
Healthy Body = Healthy Mind
A healthy lifestyle improves your focus and concentration. Get plenty of sleep, eat a healthy diet, and exercise regularly. These good habits will improve your efficiency and give you the focus necessary to complete your work in less time.
You should also take a break when you need to. Too much stress will derail attempts at staying organized and productive. If stress is getting to you, get up and walk around the office or do stretching exercises at your desk. Scheduling time for your physical and mental health isn’t a distraction; it’s a necessity to keep you functioning at your best.
Sylvia Partridge, CPC, CGSC, has more than 42 years of experience in the medical field. She has been a general surgery coder since 1992 and works for Athens Regional Specialty Services, a hospital-owned physicians group. Partridge earned her CPC® in 2001 and spent a year teaching coding at a local vocational school. Partridge is a three-time past-president of the Athens, Ga., local chapter, and a member of the AAPC National Advisory Board.

John Verhovshek
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John Verhovshek, MA, CPC, is a contributing editor at AAPC. He has been covering medical coding and billing, healthcare policy, and the business of medicine since 1999. He is an alumnus of York College of Pennsylvania and Clemson University.

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