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Streamlining Your Office Operations

by Corporate Relations/Business Strategy and Communications Staff

When it comes to office operations, you can achieve more by doing less. By reducing the complexity and number of steps you take to operate your practice, you can get more done in a shorter time and with less effort. While no one strategy works for everyone, streamlining is helping some psychologists work smarter, not harder.

Working smarter might include delegating organizational responsibilities to your staff. If you spend six hours per week on administrative tasks and typically charge $100 per hour for your clinical services, the cost of doing the administrative tasks yourself is $600 per week.

If you delegate those tasks to an office assistant whose wages and benefits average $15 per hour and you use those extra hours to provide clinical services, you can generate an additional $510 per week. Or, you could hire a full-time office assistant (for 40 hours per week at total compensation of $15 per hour) and still break even.

Time really is money.

Below are some other tips to help streamline your practice:

Organize Your Space

Ergonomics experts recommend putting the items you need closest to you. And this suggestion goes beyond computers, phones and appointment books to the way your entire office is laid out. Think through — and then walk through — all the various functions of a day in your office to identify inefficient layout.

Consider patient flow. Do your clients need to walk past your office to check in with your staff and then go back past the desk on their way to pay or fill out forms before they can exit? One or two extra minutes per client add up by the end of a work day. Fixes can be as small as moving the location of your administrator’s desk or as large as knocking out a wall to make for more efficient flow.

How well does the layout work for your staff? Is the photocopying machine down the hall from the assistant who does the bulk of your copying? Resettling it adjacent or in his or her work area will save time.

How about your own work habits? For example, do you store testing materials in a closet down the hall but perform testing in your office? Think about swapping lesser used items from the closet in your office to the closet down the hall so the testing materials can be close at hand.

Most of us are busy at work, but some of us are literally swamped by the items on our desks. Reducing or, even better, eliminating clutter will save you time in terms of finding what you need as well as help keep your head clear.

Organize Your Time

The February 2005 APA Monitor reported on a study that found people overestimate their future free time. Don’t organize with the mission of fitting even more into a jam-packed schedule. Streamlining isn’t about adding more sessions to your day; it’s about increasing productivity by being more efficient and crafting a manageable workload — both physically and emotionally.

Are you or a staff member performing small tasks several times a day? Instead of walking back and forth to a chart room to add information after each session with a client, consider devoting a block of time per day to accomplish such work all at once. You can also save time by having your staff assistant pull all the day’s needed files the night before and leave them for you in a secure area, rather than leaving you to hunt for each chart as it is needed. Establishing a ‘To File’ area in your chart room can help staff to easily spot and store charts when you are finished with them.

You can also find time by tracking your no-show or cancellation rate and charting the patterns. If you find that you often have a large number of no-shows on Friday afternoons, for example, you may need to move some of those session hours to other days as well as plan to send e-mails, make calls or perform other tasks during that time.

Same Time Every Time

You lose efficiency every time work flow is interrupted by an administrative task. Rather than getting sidelined repeatedly throughout the day every time one of these tasks comes up, have staff set up blocks of time daily, weekly and monthly to complete them. Some psychologists have staff set aside certain hours or days to record insurance payments, call insurance companies to check on benefits, type reports and pay bills. For example, if your staff submits claims every Friday from 2:00 to 4:00 pm, they will be less likely to forget to mail them than if they just complete the task whenever time is available, as other tasks will surely keep cropping up.

Some practitioners bill weekly, while others find their time is better spent billing daily, between sessions or at the start or end of the day. Determine the timing that works best for you or your staff. The main point is to establish a schedule and follow it.

Know Yourself

Just as some of us are night owls and others are early birds, each of us performs better at certain times of the day. Structure your work flow with your energy peaks and valleys in mind. Schedule those tasks that require your best focus when you expect to be at your most productive. If you find, for example, that you concentrate best on demanding tasks in the morning, be sure to write your consultation reports at that time.

If you know that your best writing is done during the morning, you may want to rethink a schedule of back-to-back client sessions from 7:00 until 11:00 am. You may inadvertently be spending twice and long and turning out reports that don’t meet your typical standards. Instead, you may wish to move some sessions to the early afternoon or evening and leave mornings for writing.

Make Good Use of Technology

Use your computer. To avoid losing face-to-face time to paperwork, e-mail intake forms to clients or have them available on your practice website so clients can download them ahead of time and bring the forms to their first appointment. Some practitioners invest in patient reminder software that automatically calls clients with a pre-recorded message reminding them of the time and date of an upcoming appointment as well as the paperwork and payment they need to bring. Make sure to discuss such calls with patients at their first appointment. It is important to be sure any voicemails are left on a confidential line. In addition, messages should provide only the most basic information — for example, appointment time; confidential or protected information should not be left on a voicemail or with a message taker.

Other options include using practice management software, using online billing, allowing clients to set up appointments online, switching to electronic client records instead of paper files or submitting claims electronically.

Be sure to comply with HIPAA and take other precautions as appropriate to safeguard against unauthorized access to protected health information.

Standardize

Rather than having to solve administrative issues on a case-by-case basis, develop appropriate standard operating procedures. With rules in place, you’ll not only save time and effort, but you’ll also have a template available for training your staff. Having written policies can also help you comply with requirements from third-party payers while avoiding potential misunderstandings with clients.

For example, stipulate your policy about missed appointments in writing and share it as part of your new client information packet during your first meeting. The Medicare program now allows participating providers to bill patients for missed appointments, provided they have a policy in place governing no-shows that applies to all patients.

 

Date created: 2007