April 1996 Bulletin

How to save time for 'power reading'

Ask others to sort mail; weed out junk

by Janice G. Cunningham

Janice G. Cunningham is a consultant and attorney with The Health Care Group and Health Care Law Associates, P.C., based in Plymouth Meeting, Pa.

No orthopaedic surgeon has time to waste. Read this and it may help you save some time. That's not a waste; it's an investment.

If you are setting aside time to sort through your mail and prioritize the material that crosses your desk, these few simple guidelines can help you gain and maintain control of your mail.

The take-home lesson is quick and easy: get somebody else to do most of the time-consuming preliminary work, so you can do "power reading" of the essentials.

There is, of course, one exception to this rule. No one but you should open any mail that is marked "personal" or "confidential," or is otherwise obviously for your eyes only. Asking someone to violate this rule could cause trouble.

Establish guidelines

With only a few common sense guidelines, any intelligent individual can assess and categorize every piece of mail you receive and send each piece to its next destination. Chances are that much of this mail will find its way into the circular file marked "recycle." The rest of it may go to another gatekeeper, a nonphysician practice employee (e.g., business manager, accountant, or administrator), or you.

You should receive all mail that you must see and only those pieces you must see. Further, the mail that does reach you should be sorted logically, so you can budget your mail-reading time efficiently.

Your gatekeeper will make crucial but relatively easy decisions about the mail, based on your guidance. His or her first job will be to throw out the "junk mail." Your job will be to define "junk," but you need do this only once. Suggestions: any material you did not request and has nothing to do with your practice; anything addressed to "occupant" or "resident;" and anything marked "carrier pre-sort" is considered junk. You also must advise the gatekeeper to:

If your practice has a business manager or accountant, you may want to instruct your gatekeeper to send all money-related items-accounts payable, accounts receivable, etc.-to that individual. Anything that looks "official" should end up on the practice administrator's desk.

In some cases, it may be necessary for material to be routed to multiple individuals simultaneously. For example, if a set of CPT codes is bundled, all the practice physicians and the billing department personnel need to know as soon as possible.

In a large practice, another employee, perhaps your personal secretary, will act as a second gatekeeper, scanning your mail and categorizing it.

"Power reading" means reading only those things you must read. For example, a 60-page magazine has one two-page article you must see. The gatekeeper forwards you a photocopy of the article. You have two pages to read and no pages to flip through. You can scan the entire magazine later, if you choose.

Get reports

The same principle applies to brochures, pamphlets, and fliers. Rather than pouring through stacks of these materials, your gatekeeper can report meeting, seminar, and conference topics, times, sponsors, and dates to you. This person can make an oral report, photocopy and highlight pertinent information, or notify you electronically.

This employee also can organize your reading materials for you, using a system of folders. For example, the employee could use color-coded folders to hold:

Alternatively, or in addition to these folders, you can establish a folder for "hot" items, such as photocopies of meetings you want to attend and/or articles you want to read as soon as they arrive, and one for "cold" items you can take home with you and read at your leisure.

Before someone else can make decisions about what to do with some previously unseen type of mail (for example, a new orthopaedics magazine), you must assess it. Review anything new, at least the first time, so you can tell your gatekeeper what to do with it. Only you can make the initial call.

After you install your system, you will be receiving mail you must deal with as soon as you receive it, and mail you can read at leisure. Find time to read and make time to read. Be prepared to read.

Read in down time

At the office, if a patient cancels an appointment, read. Take home the mail you are not absolutely forced to deal with at the office. Set aside a few moments each day in a quiet spot where you will not be interrupted; designate that time and place your "reading time" and "reading room." Carry your mail with you on the commuter train to work. Take it to meetings, conferences, and seminars. Read on the plane. Carry it in your briefcase to read whenever you have a few moments of downtime, in the office or on the road. Take 10 minutes to read before turning in; make it a part of your routine, like brushing your teeth. Consider having your secretary tape record material you can play back in your car.

If you find that you still have too little time to read and no way to make more time, then eliminate some reading material. You may wish to start with the local newspapers. Ask your gatekeeper to read the newspapers and keep you advised of important events. Get the weather report from the TV or radio; talk sports with your patients, staff, and colleagues. If worse comes to worst, jettison everything but the most essential journals, and the Wall Street Journal. Skim those; have your gatekeeper read everything else and send you summaries.

If you still have time management problems, hire a consultant. You may need to reassess your office staff and/or consider adding an associate.

Using this system, you can catch up on your reading using time that you otherwise would have wasted. You also will save time and money by having someone else sort your mail.

Consider a hypothetical situation. You spend 12 minutes a day sorting your mail. You transfer that work-and those 12 minutes-to your gatekeeper's schedule. Every five working days, your gatekeeper does an hour's worth of work you formerly did. Over the course of one year, assuming you work a five-day week, you transfer 52 hours of work from your schedule to your gatekeeper's schedule. Your practice charges $210 an hour for your services and pays your gatekeeper $10 an hour; the difference: $200. Your practice saves $104,000 a year.

If your gatekeeper spends less than six minutes daily reviewing your mail, you save even more. If you now take more than 12 minutes a day to sort your mail, you save more. If you charge more per hour, you save more.

Any system that saves your time saves your practice money. In the long run, implementing this system will save substantial amounts of money.

©1996 The Health Care Group

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