“While taking the history, I can place the computer between myself and the patient,” Dr. Benninger explained. “But when I need to have a serious conversation, I can push it out of the way, remain seated so the patient is eye to eye, and not have the real or perceived barrier of the computer between us.”
Explore This IssueOctober 2011
In a practice with high-volume procedures, having redundant equipment in the exam rooms, two scopes that can be cleaned and sterilized in each room, for instance, also improves efficiency, Dr. Benninger said.
Use Technology to Communicate
Scheduling and technology should support, not hinder, a physician’s efficiency. Instead of standing outside an exam room and waiting for the physician, MAs should be prepping the next patient, according to Haines. To facilitate this process, physicians and MAs need to communicate without face-to-face contact. Low-tech tools such as check-off lists and light signals “keep physicians moving from room to room in the proper sequence,” he said.
In contrast, electronic medical record (EMR) systems can drastically reduce physician productivity when they’re first introduced. “Many EMRs are cumbersome, so the documentation takes a lot longer than when you jotted quick notes and filed them,” Dr. Benninger said. He advises otolaryngologists using EMRs to adopt mechanisms like templating, voice-activated dictation and systems that retrieve and incorporate other chart data, such as family and social history.
Ramp Up Staffing
Inadequate staffing is the single biggest problem Haines sees in physician practices. To maximize a physician’s productivity, a practice should actually have excess capacity in its staffing levels. “In order for the doctor to be fully engaged, you want the staff always to be ahead of the doctor,” Haines said.
If an otolaryngologist can see six patients per hour and a medical assistant can prepare six patients per hour, the practice seems in balance, Haines explained. “But that system only works when everything is perfect. To maximize the physician’s effectiveness, the practice should have enough staff to prepare seven patients per hour so the doctor never waits between exams.”