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  • Managing my time

    Finding enough hours in the day

    Even experienced practitioners acknowledge that one of the greatest challenges you will face in private practice will be finding enough hours in the day. Time consulting with patients is obviously paramount, but liaising with other health professionals and conforming to the many bureaucratic impositions faced in everyday practice can take considerable time. On top of this, you will also have the responsibilities of ensuring your practice runs smoothly and effectively.

    Time management in the consultation is a common problem voiced by all doctors, and doctors often run behind time for a variety of reasons, at least some of which can be addressed (please refer module on Patient consultations), for example by choosing slightly longer appointment times, reviewing the patient's notes as they come into the room and by stopping all non-emergency interruptions.

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    Tools and Resources

    Mind Tools - a useful site with hints and tools for improving time management, stress, creativity and performance.

    Australian Medical Association - halving red tape. 

    Time management is a crucial skill and can have a significant impact on the practice by affecting the number of patients the doctor can treat, and the level of service that doctor can provide to each patient. Even just 30 minutes per day of 'wasted' time can add up to more than two weeks of lost consulting time over a 12-month period. This is particularly important in the context that much of a doctor's time can be spent on paperwork rather than direct consultations. The AMA Red Tape Survey 2011 found that almost 10% of GPs are spending more than nine hours of their working week dealing with government red tape, more than one-third of GPs (37.1%) were tied up with red tape for between 3-6 hours a week, and 31.1% spent up to three hours a week on red tape. The average red tape burden was 4.62 hours a week.

    Appropriate staff selection is of the utmost importance, but no matter how much your staff is able to support you, the ultimate accountability for the reputation and professionalism of your practice, as well as its economic viability, rests with you (and other principals if there are any). In terms of time management, these are some of the additional activities you need to attend to:

    • Regularly monitoring your business plan
    • Implementing an appropriate marketing plan for each cycle of your business
    • Attending professional meetings and functions, both in the medical sector and generally
    • Attending to, or supervising staff needs
    • Monitoring of compliance systems
    • Quality of service, i.e. ensuring patient care meets or exceeds the required level
    • Your own professional development
    • Your own health and balance of lifestyle.

    All this can be done without creating unhealthy levels of stress, even if you do not have a full time practice manager.

    However doing a cost benefit analysis on employing a practice manager may highlight the advantage in time management and financial management. If the practice manager is in control of the administration process, it releases the practitioner to focus on the clinical aspects of the practice. Delegation is an art and involves employing appropriate staff and training and empowering them in their roles.

    It is important to balance out the responsibilities of business ownership that cannot be delegated, and with the many functions that can be delegated to a practice manager.

    Best practice hints

    • The practice spends time meeting and planning as a team on a regular basis
    • Use the rule 'handle documents once - i.e. don't 'paper shuffle'. ACTION (and notate) documents and tasks as soon as they are known.
    • The practice records all clinical appointments in a diary (electronic or paper)
    • Consultations are never interrupted unless an emergency
    • Practitioners record all non-clinical appointments related to the business in a diary (electronic or paper)
    • Management tasks and functions are delegated where possible.
    • 'Time intensive' activities such as meeting with pharmaceutical and other company representatives are well defined in terms of how often, who and when they are seen.
    • Team members have the opportunity to attend management courses.
    • Encourage the team to think about quicker and better ways of running the business and meet regularly to 'brainstorm'.
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    References

    Cole, K., Make Time, Australia, Prentice Hall, 2001.

    Collis, J. 1995, Work Smarter Not Harder, HarperCollins.

    Robbins, S., Bergman, R., Staff, I. and Coulter, M., Management, 3rd edition, Australia, Prentice Hall, 2003.

    Whiteley and Hessan, Customer Centred Growth - Five proven strategies for building competitive advantage, New York, Addison-Wesley, 1996