A new patient stands before you, intake paperwork in hand. The phone is ringing. Your DC has a question. Another patient’s child is crying in the reception area. Your stomach rumbles—you didn’t have time for breakfast. You wonder when you’re going to get to those reach-outs to patients with outstanding balances. The UPS guy walks in.
And so it goes, day after day, for many chiropractic assistants. Because it’s not uncommon for CAs to wear more than one hat, tasks and responsibilities overlap, sometimes crashing together in a perfect storm of distraction. Gloria Mark, a professor in the Department of Informatics at the University of California, Irvine, says that when an interruption matches the topic of the current task at hand, it can actually be helpful. If you’re working on task A and somebody comes in and interrupts you about exactly that task, people report that is very positive and helps them think about task A.
Even off-task interruptions can feel okay if they’re short. Say you’re working on a patient’s insurance information and someone comes up to you and asks you to sign an unrelated form. You sign it; you go on. No big deal. But what about when you’re on task and something larger and more distracting comes winging out of nowhere? Here’s where interruptions not only stress us out, they also eat up a surprising amount of time. Mark and her researchers found that it takes an average of 23 minutes and 15 seconds to get back on task after being interrupted. That adds up to a big chunk of time over the course of a day!
So, what’s a multitasking CA to do?
One place to start is by performing your own informal time study by tracking the amount of time it takes, uninterrupted, to do each of your tasks. Sometimes, our doctors might not be aware of how long each of your tasks actually takes–especially if they haven’t done them themselves. They’re also likely not to have figured in the toll that interruptions take and may have unrealistic expectations of how much you can get done in a day.
Once you know how long each task takes, it’s time to plan your workday, interruptions included. Time-management experts recommend that you plan out 60% of your time, leaving 40% of your day for the inevitable interruptions and emergencies. This could be as high-tech as scheduling software that includes task lists or as simple as an index card system with cards for each day of the month.
As you prioritize your task list, consider putting the ones you like doing the least up front with the high priority task phone calls to third-party payers and patients with outstanding balances—so you have the rest of the day to hear back from them. When we get the things we don’t love doing out of the way, we feel more accomplished and have more enthusiasm to do the other stuff.
Finally, don’t forget to go over your task lists with your doctor. That way, you both have agreed-upon expectations for what you can reasonably get done in any given day.
As for the initial scenario?
Take the paperwork and kindly ask the patient to have a seat until you can go over it with them. Answer the phone while signing for the UPS delivery. Tune out the crying child – assuming there is a parent on hand who is on the job – and smile at your doctor as you finish your phone call and turn to answer the question. Oh, and for goodness sake, eat some breakfast next time. You’ve got important work to do!