How to become a more efficient practitioner

By Jules Murtha | Fact-checked by Barbara Bekiesz
Published June 16, 2022

Key Takeaways

  • One way to increase efficiency in clinical practice is to anticipate any lab tests that may be needed for the patient’s next visit and to pre-order them, so that the results will be available in time.

  • Assess your documentation process, and stay open to new methods for saving time and effort.

  • Save time by implementing streamlined prescription renewal services and minimizing duplicative or otherwise unnecessary tasks.

If you’re a part of the 44% of US physicians who feel burned out at work, you know how precious your time is. Depersonalization and emotional exhaustion are just two indicators that something at work isn’t working.

By tightening some loose bolts in your daily practices, however, you may beat burnout and save time.

To become more efficient, doctors can prepare for appointments well in advance, implement optimal note-taking strategies, and eliminate unnecessary work.

Prepare for patient visits

One of the first ways to increase your efficiency in-office is by preparing for patient visits prior to the start of the appointment.

According to an article published by Family Practice Management, pre-ordering all necessary labs or x-rays so that the patient can get them done a week before they come back can save you the labor of reviewing charts between visits.[]

This also keeps your office from having to reach out to patients about which tests are needed and when to get them, avoiding the dreaded game of phone tag.

In addition to pre-ordering tests, you may have your medical assistants look over your patient’s chart a day or so prior to the appointment. They can then determine what other prep work must be done to help the appointment run smoother, which might include creating prep sheets for common illnesses, listing immunizations or labs that may be needed.

Optimize note-taking

Another way to maximize productivity is to practice more efficient note-taking habits.

For example, when medicolegal risk is a concern, you may over-document, or feel as though checking all the boxes is a priority. Resist the urge to do more than what’s necessary by keeping your notes brief and clear, which can also save you the effort of misdocumenting a patient’s psychosocial issues or other sensitive matters.

You can also avoid “death by a thousand clicks” when filling out EHRs by placing your must-have data section at the top, instead of letting it live miles down on the screen or in drop-down menus, as noted by Family Practice Management.

Don’t forget that live and virtual scribes are available to you.

Nurses and medical assistants can begin the documentation process before you enter the exam room, and continue while you direct your attention to the patient.

Dictation is another option. Instead of typing, invest in a good microphone with accurate speech recognition. You can use this documentation style during or after appointments, depending on what feels most comfortable. Mitigate background noise, and use careful articulation.

Save time

If you already feel comfortable with your note-taking habits and preparatory work, perhaps your main concern is saving time.

Here are a few ways to do so from the AMA’s Saving Time Playbook:[]

  • Ditch the unnecessary work. Update the automatic logout time for the EHR to 15 minutes instead of 5. Then you don’t have to log in every time you need to access your EHR. The same goes for prescriptions for non-controlled substances. Revise your settings so you can electronically send them without needing to repeatedly plug in the EHR password. Finally, turn off automatic inbox notifications for test orders, scheduling confirmations, and copied test results ordered by different physicians.

  • Streamline prescription renewals. There’s no need for you to renew chronic-illness prescriptions at every appointment. Instead, save up to 5 hours per week by writing prescriptions so patients receive a 90-day supply filled four times a year. Practice using the shorthand, “90 x 4.” Choose one appointment each year—perhaps the annual check-up—to renew all of the patient’s medications.

  • Declutter your EHR in-basket. Reach out to IT for assistance in updating your EHR in-basket. Determine which messages could be sent to other team members, and with IT’s help, redirect them. You can also organize a team pool to better distribute and effectively streamline tasks. Bolster these efforts by encouraging all involved to follow principles based on team care.

What this means for you

Non-patient-facing tasks are significant contributors to physician burnout. To mitigate this and increase your practice’s efficiency, save time by minimizing unnecessary or duplicative tasks. Implement streamlined, annual prescription renewal services. To maximize productivity during patient visits, assess and update your note-taking protocols. Prepare for patient visits beforehand by ordering necessary labs or x-rays enough in advance for the results to be available a week prior to an upcoming appointment.

Related: 10 ways doctors can boost their productivity
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