Running on Time: 5 Tips for Creating a Culture Where Time is Respected

Operating a pediatric practice that runs on time has always been important. During the current global pandemic, however, staying on schedule is even more essential because it affects efficiency and safety.

Many practices have eliminated waiting rooms, opted for curbside check-in, and converted some appointments to telehealth. In addition, a recent study found the majority of practices in the U.S. reported patient volume had been cut in half at some point during the early part of the pandemic.

During this public health emergency, it’s critical that your office optimizes the visits that are occurring, both in person and via telemedicine. But how do you create a culture where time is respected — one that will help you now during the pandemic but also well into the future? Here are five tips for fostering an environment where everyone runs on time.

Have an honest baseline

It’s important to be honest and realistic with yourself. Start by measuring your baseline. Look through your data, appointment by appointment. For example, perhaps you’ve been scheduling all ADHD rechecks as 20-minute visits, but you occasionally conduct those appointments and notice patients who are not stable on their medications. This means encounters take longer than planned.

Ask yourself, “How long is it really taking for ADHD rechecks? For ear infections? For well visits?” If they’re running longer than intended, figure out why and what you can do to keep them at the scheduled length. Or readjust and allow more time for certain types of appointments.

After you establish your baseline, re-measure on a regular basis. Then, reward yourselves, set a new goal, and continue improving.

Leave wiggle room in the schedule

If you schedule 60 minutes for everything, you leave yourself no wiggle room. Who lives in a world with no wiggle room? Instead, implement the 50-minute hour.

When you build in that 10-minute cushion every hour, you have time to comfort a patient’s mother who is crying because her husband lost his job. You can do diagnostic test reviews, return a phone call, and look at portal messages.

If you over-schedule yourself, you won’t even have time to go to the bathroom. You’ve got to put those breaks in your schedule because nobody’s day runs perfectly, especially in pediatrics.

Expect everyone to be respectful

Running on time shows respect for everyone. Providers and all team members deserve to be respected, and so do patients and their families. We might think, as physicians, others should wait for us, and that’s been the traditional model. But parents are often juggling multiple children, drop-offs, and now remote learning.

Operating on schedule matters during telehealth visits, too. Just because families are home doesn’t mean they’ve got an abundance of free time. Many parents are scheduling appointments between their children’s distance learning meetings, and they have limited devices and internet access. Everybody is doing more with less and using uncomfortable tools.

If you can create a culture where you run on time, it’s valuable in many ways. An efficient practice accomplishes high-quality patient care and awesome patient service. When that happens, you will be the talk of the town, and everybody will want to come to you. Running on time is probably the best advertisement you can give the community because they want their time respected.

Listen and collaborate

Have a meeting about being on time and give everyone a voice. Create buy-in by letting everyone know about the wins. Some important benefits of running on time are that patients receive better care and team morale is higher. You are less frazzled and distracted, and you don’t have to start every encounter by saying, “I apologize for running behind.”

Have an honest, respectful, listening culture where someone can say, “I want to be on time, but I can’t. Here’s my barrier. Can we come up with a mutually acceptable solution?” Instead of punishing employees who are trying their best, collaborate to keep patients and families at the center.

Commit to the process

It’s important to have procedures in place to hold teams accountable, but you have to stick to your policies. There’s no reason to have policies if you don’t follow the rules. And you have to apply them across the board.

Still, creating this culture is not something you’re not going to accomplish in 30 days. It’s a continual process. You will pivot, re-plan, and shift. As your numbers grow, you’ll have to continually work and commit to the process.

Think of it as a “value improvement”. This is valuing people — your team members, patients, and families. Commit to respecting them and running on time as a value improvement process for your practice.

Guest blog submitted by Alisa Vaughn, CMPE & Sue Kressly, MD, FAAP

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