Organize to Capitalize

By Elizabeth Woodcock, Woodcock & Associates, Inc.

Elizabeth Woodcock will be a featured speaker at the NCMGMA-NCHFMA Roadshow in New Bern, held October 14th at the New Bern River Front Convention Center.  Learn more at


Elizabeth Woodcock

Is your practice running like a well-oiled machine? Imagine an operating room: When the surgeon enters, the instruments, techs, and nurses are all prepared. The surgeon, who never needs to leave the room or call for help, can perform the procedure efficiently.

Now, think about the average in-office patient encounter. How many times a day does a physician leave an exam room in search of a piece of equipment, information, or form that’s needed for the visit? Some days, physicians feel like they spend more time hunting down supplies or paperwork than seeing patients. That’s bad for morale and the bottom line.

Treat your exam room like an operating room. Use these tips to prepare for the day so you can focus on the patient.

  • Stock the room. Someone (such as a medical assistant, nurse or other clinical associate) should stock each exam room with all supplies you will need at the start of the day and in between patient visits. Establish protocols based on the patient’s chief complaint to determine how the room should be equipped. If you are scheduled to perform a well-woman visit, for example, have the associate prepare everything you’ll need for the exam. Supplies should be in the same place in each exam room so you never have to slow down to search the room for something you need.
  • Preview your charts. Ask your clinical associate to preview charts for the next day. Make sure they include everything you need to complete the visit, including lab results, radiologic interpretations, referring physician correspondence or operative reports.
  • “Huddle.” Before each morning and afternoon clinic, hold a three- to five-minute “huddle” — an informal chat – with your clinical associate to review the appointment schedule for that day. Decide if there are issues that can be resolved immediately. For example, if three new patients were accidentally booked for the same slot, determine which patients can be rescheduled, and prepare accordingly. Use this time to anticipate things that otherwise throw off the whole day — like a mom who schedules an appointment for one child but always asks you to examine his brother, too, “as long as he’s here.” Invite your scheduler to the huddle to improve communication.
  • Get to the real reason for the visit. Too often, a physician expects to see a patient for a particular problem or condition and is ill-prepared when the patient presents with something else altogether. When patients call for an appointment, have them explain their symptoms so you can prepare accordingly. Your schedulers can say, “The doctor really wants to have enough time for you; can you tell us why you’re coming in?” Also, keep your phones open during lunch — that’s often the only time a patient can call. It’s difficult for them to discuss a confidential problem in front of co-workers.

Stocking exam rooms, previewing charts, huddling twice a day, and establishing the reason for the visit will help make your practice function as smoothly as an operating room. Just like the surgeon in the OR, the most efficient physician never leaves the exam room during the encounter. Why? He or she has the tools needed to get the job done!

©Woodcock & Associates, Inc., 2013, reprinted with permission. Learn more about Elizabeth at

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