Five Time Management Tips for Your Eye Care Practice

By Kate Gettinger, OD June 09, 2021

As anyone who has ever actively practiced optometry likely knows, what your schedule looks like on paper is often not reflected in reality. We often sit down and try to calculate how many patients need to be seen per day in order to maximize profits and then set out to create the perfect schedule. However, more often than not, for beginning (and even some established) ODs, that schedule crumbles within the first two hours of the morning. The first patient shows up a half-hour late and demands to be seen, complaining that they couldn’t find parking and so it isn’t their fault they missed the appointment. The 10 am patient decided she wanted to try multifocal contacts for the first time. Your family of five no-call no-shows. And of course, there is always the last-minute patient who calls in and is four years overdue for an exam but ran out of contacts, is going on vacation tomorrow, and needs to be seen ASAP. You may have the best-laid plans for a patient schedule; but if your schedule isn't based in reality, your efforts will be in vain. 

In addition, if we focus all our efforts on booking and seeing patients, there is little time left for the day-to-day office tasks such as managing staff, paying bills, answering emails, writing referrals, and various meetings. It is necessary to strike the right balance that allows for maximum efficiency and best time management. How do we establish a flow that can account for the unpredictable patients, keep the practice busy, and let you leave at a reasonable hour and have time for maybe a hobby or spending time with your family?

Often, this isn’t an exact formula. The balance will vary based on the office. However, by keeping some general tips in mind, you can find the strategy that works best for your practice.

1.      Have a Solid Staff That You Can Rely Upon

Very rarely do we luck into hiring the perfect staff member who is an amazing fit right from the get-go. More often, you hire someone who has a good personality, and then you can expect to spend a good amount of time training them. By appropriately training staff to meet your standards, you can be assured that they will increase efficiency without sacrificing care. If you don’t have the time to train staff or don’t even know where to start, there are many training programs offered by organizations such as the American Optometric Association, in which staff can progress through a series of courses and skill-checks to verify comprehension. Some ODs offer staff incentives for finishing the training programs, such as a small bonus.

If you can confidently delegate tasks to your well-trained staff, you’ll find yourself with more time to complete other tasks around the office.

2.      Know When to Delegate

Sometimes, it can be tempting to micromanage every aspect of the office. However, if you have a staff that you know is reliable, as mentioned above, you should feel comfortable handing off certain tasks. 

For example, one of the biggest limiting factors controlling how many patients you see per day is simply how much time you spend with each patient. If you have staff that are trained in how to educate patients, teach contact lens insertion and removal, dispense glasses, and perform basic testing and screening procedures (as permitted by your state’s laws,) then this is all time that you can use seeing other patients or handling other business.

The key is to ensure your staff is properly trained for the tasks you are entrusting to them. Also, don’t rely on staff to perform procedures that truly require an optometrist’s expertise, such as refraction or medical evaluation. In this way, you won’t be short-changing the patient or compromising on care. Instead, you are simply being more efficient with the resources you have available. 

3.      Keep a Log of Your Time Use

If you feel like the minutes keep slipping away no matter what you do, it can be helpful to create a log of how much time you spend on each task. Many EHR/EMR systems have clock-in and clock-out options for every phase of the exam, so you can see what part of the process is being a time vampire. Have staff start the clock when a patient first checks in, and then note when the patient completes paperwork. Continue to clock every portion of the exam process, start to finish. Does the patient wait for too long in the waiting room before the exam begins? Is an especially chatty technician slowing down the pre-test procedure? Or are you the one who is the major culprit in slowing the process? By recording exactly how time is allocated for every patient, it can help you see where efficiency can be improved, reduce office bottlenecks, and also help plan how a patient schedule should be laid out.

4.      Don’t Be Afraid to Utilize Technology

Anyone needing a reminder of how technology can be the ultimate timesaver in the office need look no further than the auto-refractor. Manual refraction will take you at least a few minutes, while auto-refraction can be performed within seconds. An auto-keratometer can similarly shed precious minutes off your exam time.

Electronic medical records are another way to use technology to save time, but may require a bit of up-front effort in order to maximize its efficiency. Most EHR/EMR systems have options to customize the layout of tabs and rearrange the order in which they appear. Create a tailored layout that matches your exam flow, so you won’t be wasting time searching and scrolling.

You can also take advantage of auto-prompting and auto-fill features, which can help complete forms in seconds. These auto-fill options can also often be customized to match your preferred charting terminology.

Having electronic charting also saves time in regards to pulling charts and passing a chart around the office. If every staff member and the doctor have the ability to simultaneously access a patient’s information, it means that you aren’t losing time while someone is waiting to see the chart itself.

5.      Be Proactive

A final way to keep your practice ticking along efficiently is to anticipate some of the areas that may drain time and address them before they become an issue. For example, if you think that patient check-in may be overly time-consuming, consider offering online check-in forms. This can allow patients to update their personal information and upload insurance information, allowing for a much smoother check-in on the day of the appointment.

You can also be proactive by having staff prep exam rooms before you encounter the patient. This can be as simple as cleaning off all the equipment for you between patients or leaving important tools or testing devices clean and ready. If you utilize electronic charting, you can also have staff pull up the records as well as any pertinent test results and have them waiting for when you enter the exam room.

If you know you have a significant no-show or cancellation rate, don’t be afraid to double-book some appointment slots. Be strategic about when and how many exam slots you double-book, however. There is always the potential for both patients to show up, and so you need to be confident that if this occurs it won’t set your entire day behind.

By keeping these tips in mind and being conscious of how time is used in your practice, you can be on your way to establishing a more productive and efficient practice in no time at all. 

Kate Gettinger, OD

Dr. Kate Gettinger grew up in upstate Illinois and obtained her Bachelor’s in Biology from Truman State University. She worked throughout her undergraduate career at an optometrist’s office and fell in love with the profession. She received her Doctorate in Optometry from University of Missouri-St. Louis Optometry School and received honors for specialization in low vision, including the William Feinbloom Low Vision Award. Dr. Gettinger enjoys treating and managing dry eye, macular degeneration, glaucoma, and diabetes. Her professional interests include ways to improve healthcare access to at-risk communities and improving public health. Dr. Gettinger routinely contributes to optometry publications and writes both educational and advocacy articles. Currently residing in St. Louis, Dr. Gettinger enjoys spending time outdoors with her dog, trying new foods and dining out at local restaurants, playing trivia, brushing up on her French language skills, and exploring new challenges.

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