The Art of Time Management
We have all been to see a healthcare provider with a checklist of things we wish to accomplish during a visit. Isn't that why we go? Time management skills in medicine are essential. As providers, we have to find a nice balance that gives patients our undivided attention yet maintains efficiency and allows us to be productive.
My goal in time management is to make a patient feel as though my time is all theirs. Despite the actual time spent in the room, by using our limited time wisely, we can make 15 minutes or so feel like a lot longer. We cannot give off an impression that we are rushed, no matter how busy we might be. I worked with a physician who had the art of time management down to a science. He smiled (a lot) and somehow managed to make each and every patient leave feeling like a star. Patients may have waited a few minutes, or even longer, for him to come in the room, but those minutes spent with the doctor more than made up for it.
An obvious yet commonly forgotten practice is eye contact. Welcome a patient with your eyes and continue that contact as you listen to his or her chief complaints and history. Briefly take notes or have a medical assistant do the note taking so that your attention is on the patient.
I am also a firm believer in thorough physical exams. It's important to touch the patient. It is amazing how many providers limit their physical contact with patients. In dermatology and aesthetics, that is our job - not to just see but to feel any textural discrepancies, appreciate the tone or mobility, and even use special lighting at times to properly perform an exam.
I also use my time with each patient to educate. You will stand apart from the rest with patient education. It may take time, but it is time well spent. I have heard "no one has ever explained that to me" from patients with chronic skin conditions. Those 5 to 10 minutes of your time are priceless in showing your devotion and compassion to your patients.
Now, if a patient has seemingly endless questions or stories (we like those too), I do not find it inappropriate to ask that the visit conclude and be followed with a subsequent follow-up visit. Not every single concern (think patient with unraveling list of questions) can always be adequately addressed in an initial visit or even a follow-up. Cover what you can, in the time allowance you deem fair. I think it is important to put ourselves in the patient's shoes; no one wants to feel rushed. Sometimes keeping things more focused is less overwhelming for both parties.
With a little experience and organization, we can be assured that patients leave satisfied and the day runs smoothly. I really do believe it is an art to be mastered.