The most valuable asset any physician has is time. This is true in terms of both his or her personal income, and also as pertains to the ability to help the community around him. So time management is amongst the most significant ways in which one can improve one’s practice. But neither doctor nor patient wants to be short-changed in an office visit. Here are a few suggestions on ways to optimize your time:

The first step is to be cognizant of the problem. Make a point of reminding yourself that time is your most valuable resource. Design your care around that truth. That doesn’t mean that your interactions with a patient need to be rushed. It simply means that you must choose to spend, rather than wasting, that time. Invest it in asking the right questions, questions which will yield the information you need for proper diagnosis and treatment without inviting unproductive dialogue. If the questions are phrased well, it won’t be necessary to cut the patient off when they go into a narrative which is less than productive.

As you know, documenting the visit is an important part of care and an essential part of defensive medicine. One physician carries a digital recorder in his pocket and makes quick notes on it while with the patient. Of course, he speaks very rapidly. More importantly, he chronicles both details and summary of the visit while in the room, when it’s all fresh. Finally, he does so in front of the patient. If there is any misunderstanding, the patient has the opportunity to correct that at the time. That the patient does not object is also automatically noted. This saves some time and allows for more complete accuracy.

Allow an extra few minutes on each appointment. If you don’t need it, you may be able to work in a walk-in or unexpected urgent situation without rearranging later plans. If you come across a case which merits further investigation, giving that patient more time will not require that other patients be short-changed. In the overall, the extra few minutes per appointment makes sense.

See another patient while other staff are tending to drawing blood, etc., if you’re going to be waiting for test results before the patient leaves the office. If you feel you may not have enough time to do that without slighting one or the other of the patients, then use that time to tend to other practice matters, but be sure that it’s not squandered; Don’t think of it as “down” time.

These are just a few suggestions on making more efficient use of your most valuable resource. Does your experience agree with these? What other ideas can you share?