Small Changes, Big Efficiencies

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A doctor assists two patients, one of which is in a wheelchair.

“Create a schedule that can handle any surge”

By making small changes to how you organize your practice, you can realize big efficiencies in workflow.

At the Family Medicine Summit hosted by the Ontario College of Family Physicians earlier this year, Dr. Ryan Banach, a Toronto family physician who presented on behalf of the Ontario Medical Association, shared tips on organizational efficiency that have allowed him to work at a pace that he finds manageable.

Here are five of Dr. Banach’s strategies for managing workflow in family practice:

  • Avoid overmanaging normal variability in patient visits. Dr. Banach, who practises in a family health organization, says using a standard appointment time – in his case, 20-minute slots – allows his schedule to run smoothly. Too much variability in patient visit length can lead to staff confusion as to how long they should book a patient.
  • Don’t undermanage predictable trends. Dr. Banach says physicians can anticipate variation in demand. For example, during the respiratory illness season from November to February, he doesn’t book annual or wellness visits to allow flexibility in his schedule to see his patients with bad coughs and colds.
  • Maximize the effectiveness of staff time. On Monday mornings, the busiest time for calls in a family practice, Dr. Banach has two staff members answering and returning them. On Friday, the day he receives the most consultation reports, two staff manage the e-mail inbox and assign them to the different doctors in the practice.  
  • Leave buffer time for same-day visits. Dr. Banach includes flexibility in his schedule to accommodate patients who need to be seen on an urgent basis. “This means that you can see that sick baby and not feel like it is something that has to be squeezed into a schedule that’s already full.” It’s important, he said, to create a schedule that can handle any surge.
  • Delegate as needed. Administrative staff can take weight, height and blood pressure. If you have a nurse on staff, have them vaccinate patients or remove stitches. If you write a prescription for a vaccination, make a note directing the pharmacist to administer the injection.  

Further reading: Want to learn more about creating and managing efficiencies in your practice? Check out this article from the American Academy of Family Physicians and the content on OMA’s website – Running your practice.