7 Ways to Increase Efficiency in Your Private Practice

You’ve surely heard the saying, “Time is money.” And as a physical therapist, you experience it first-hand when you bill for your timed services. But what about your non-billable hours? Are you using that time efficiently? In this Entrepreneur article, author Michael Moroney writes that “employees spend about 31 hours per month in meetings and spend less than 60% of [work] time actually working productively.” According to the infographic Maroney references in his article, the salary cost of unnecessary meetings for US businesses is $37 billion. Talk about inefficiency.

Even if your practice’s stats aren’t quite that shocking, there’s a good chance that you’re spending time on things that aren’t helping your patients, your staff members, or your bottom line. Luckily, you don’t need to overhaul your entire clinic to increase your efficiency—and you certainly don’t need to sacrifice patient care. Instead, try these seven small things to get the most out of every minute:

  1. Create and share processes. Whenever you identify a best practice—whether it be an efficient way to verify patient information or communicate instructions for a particular exercise—document it. Then, educate your staff and—when appropriate—your patients. Additionally, empower your staff members to become experts of their own domains by identifying, documenting, and sharing their own best practices—all in the name of efficiency.
  2. Keep things moving. While we definitely don’t recommend barking orders at your patients or your staff members drill sergeant-style, there may be opportunities to help everyone pick up the pace without rushing. Start paying attention to your patients’ experiences from the minute they walk into your clinic to the minute they leave. Are they spending a lot of time waiting on you or your front desk staff? If so, establish a process (see number one above) that helps speed things along at check-in. And consider prepping your therapy areas before patients arrive, so everything you need is easily accessible and ready to go. You also could enlist the help of an assistant or aide to start patients off with ultrasound, heat therapy, or warm-up exercises.
  3. See things through. As this article’s title points out, “Hand-offs are bad (but unavoidable).” Now, this doesn’t mean you shouldn’t delegate tasks when appropriate, but passing around to-dos without cause can lead to mistakes and a lot of wasted time. Unless you have good reason to involve multiple people in a particular task, designate a lead and let that person take the reigns and see it through.
  4. Hold morning standups. Start each day with a super brief team meeting—a standing meeting ensures it won’t drag on—to review the appointment schedule and discuss any questions or concerns. Some potential topics to cover might be patients who require extra time or assistance; cancellations or open appointment slots; or changes to staff schedules. By proactively addressing these items—and others that are pertinent to your clinic—you won’t have have to deal with them in the middle of a busy day when you have a waiting room full of patients.
  5. Build promptness into your culture. If you maintain a lax attitude about timeliness in your clinic, your staff members and patients will do the same—and that can lead to dawdling employees and lots of missed appointments. Instead, lead by example: show everyone you respect your time and theirs by doing your best to stick to the schedule.
  6. Work to your strengths. Everyone has a different working style, so experiment until you find one that enhances your productivity and efficiency—rather than diminishing it. Do you enjoy back-to-back appointments in the early morning; need a two-hour break midday to catch-up on notes; or perform your best work after the sun sets? Consider your personal preferences, and whenever possible, take advantage of the times when you’re in the zone.
  7. Make friends with technology. Using the right PT-specific EMR can drastically improve your clinic’s efficiency. (Choose one that offers integrated billing and outcomes tracking tools, and your clinic will be so efficient you may find yourself with extra time on your hands.) Speaking of extra, if you’ve got some extra money in your budget this year, you also may want to consider investing in an iPad or two so your staff can access patient charts and exercise flowsheets anytime, anywhere. You could even use the tablet to pull up one of these nifty iPad apps to help patients better understand their injuries.

What steps does your clinic take to improve efficiency? Tell us in the comment section below.

How Much Downtime Should Your Physical Therapy Software Actually Experience?

In your personal life, downtime is great: sitting on a beach, sipping a fruity drink, and doing absolutely nothing. But when it comes to the physical therapy software you use in your professional life as a PT, the last thing you want is downtime. Yet, the sinking feeling of receiving an email from your vendor alerting you to yet another downtime—or worse, logging in to see that the system is down—may be all too familiar. You need your software to work—or else you can’t. And that begs the question, “How much downtime should your physical therapy software actually experience?”

Some companies experience frequent—yet brief—periods of downtime. Others experience chunks of sustained downtime—like Epic EMR, which was out for nearly two days in 2014. In fact, the issue of downtime is so prevalent in the healthcare industry that For the Record magazine even created an emergency downtime plan. But, when it comes “down” to it, system-wide downtime in a web­-based EMR shouldn’t happen very often at all. In fact, some EMR vendors—like WebPT—pride themselves on an uptime rate of over 99%.

And that statistic certainly shouldn’t come as a surprise. According to Fortune magazine, “There is a phrase in information technology called “five nines,” referring to 99.999% uptime, or about 5.26 minutes of downtime per year. Some have called it the “holy grail” of service availability; others have have called it only a myth. (It is not.).” Keep in mind that this rate does indicate a small amount of downtime—and that’s to be expected. Vendors have to perform maintenance, after all, and that requires downtime. But your vendor should always alert you to any maintenance downtime before it happens. Moreover, planned downtime should be set during low-use hours.

While we’re at it, I should mention that not all downtime is your vendor’s fault. Although modern Internet speeds are speedy enough to fit your EMR’s ideal configuration, issues with your individual Internet provider can cause outages. If you experience this type of downtime, take steps to prevent it by installing a backup Internet solution, like a mobile hotspot device. However, if your Internet connection is just fine, it probably isn’t responsible for all that downtime you’re experiencing.

Ultimately, healthcare providers have a choice. As using an EMR becomes the norm and not the exception, downtime will become an important—and pronounced—distinction between vendors. Don’t settle for prolonged downtime (like this unfortunate practice did) when you could be working with an EMR that anticipates—and adjusts for—your needs.