Tips That Will Make You a Rockstar at Clinic Time Management

Advice to avoid getting behind schedule

Getting behind schedule is a constant battle for many nurse practitioners. Patients arrive like clockwork for appointments, piling up in the lobby, as you struggle to get those currently in the exam room treated and out the door. Unexpected paperwork piles up. Answering patient calls eats up precious minutes. Your printer malfunctioning requires time to fix.

The nurse practitioner workday can quickly go awry. Soon, you find yourself leaving the clinic late on a daily basis only to complete documentation at home.

Falling behind is bound to happen as a nurse practitioner. But, remaining chronically behind schedule is a major problem. It leaves patients dissatisfied with your service not to mention leaves you prone to burnout. Fortunately, implementing a few time management skills is often enough to solve the problem. The following tried and true tricks help keep nurse practitioners on track.

1. Answer and return calls, messages, and emails only at designated times

As a nurse practitioner, you must schedule your day to address patient concerns proactively rather than reactively. Most calls and messages you receive are not emergencies. Set aside one to two times each day to respond to messages, return patient phone calls, and answer emails. Post these times for your patients so their expectations are set accordingly. Do not check these modes of communication at any other time during the day. Switching back and forth between answering calls, responding to emails, and patient care makes for a frantic workday and leaving you less efficient at the task on hand.

2. Create a systematized workflow

Observe the practice where you work. How can patient visits and documentation be accomplished most efficiently? Once you identify a process that makes sense, stick to it each and every time. This way, you make the most of every minute of your day. Having a system also helps your support staff know what to expect improving patient flow.

In the emergency department, for example, I print discharge instructions and prescriptions immediately after I finish talking with the patient. This way, nurses can deliver these documents while I complete the patient’s chart. Completing these tasks in the opposite order left my assigned nurse idle for a few minutes, setting us back when it came to our efficiency.

3. Complete documentation immediately

As difficult as it might be, completing patient charts immediately after the patient encounter is the most effective and efficient method of documentation. Saving charts for the end of the day makes mistakes likely. It also may mean you need to revisit lab or imaging results, or reread the patient’s prior records a second time. Avoid doing double duty by charting while information is fresh. 

4. Stay off your cell phone

Handling personal issues, or using downtime to check out the latest on Instagram is a sure way to find yourself staying late at work. Taking personal time midday disrupts patient flow and means you aren’t focusing on work-related tasks. Is spending 5 minutes here and there scrolling through your Facebook feed during the day really worth exiting the office 30 minutes late?

5. Consider losing your lunch break

If you find yourself chronically behind schedule and leaving work late, use your lunch break for administrative tasks. Working through lunch far outweighs missing dinner at home or your evening gym sweat session.

6. Get coworkers on board with your plan

As nurse practitioners, we don’t work in a vacuum. Medical assistants help take vital signs and administer injections for our patients. Physicians may need to sign off on our charts. Receptionists welcome our patients and help direct patient flow. Many times NPs get behind as a result of ineffective coordination among team members. If there’s a weak spot in the way your team operates, schedule a meeting to get coworkers on board with your plan. Ask if there is anything you can do to help coworkers work more efficiently. Maximizing each team member’s productivity will help you all stay on track with the clinic’s schedule.

7. Innovate inter-office communication

How do you and your team communicate? Time spent waiting for a nurse to exit a room to delegate a task, or walking back and forth to the lab to give special instructions, may get you more steps on your fitness tracker, however it wastes precious time. Get a system for inter-office communication. Chatting programs that hang out on the bottom of your computer screen are a huge help.

8. Schedule patient visits with intentionality

The patients most likely to cancel a visit are often those scheduled for an acute visit. Perhaps the patient’s cough clears spontaneously, or, after 24 hours the dreaded gastroenteritis has resolved on its own. Not to mention, when these patients do show, their visits tend to be more straightforward than those for chronic disease. Schedule acute visits at the end of the day. This way, if patients cancel, you can head home early or, at the very least, end your day on an easier note allowing time for catch up.

What tricks do you use to stay on schedule in your practice?