Updated January 2023
Medical office assistants often find themselves pulled in many different directions. Picture this: The phone is ringing, frustrated patients are demanding to see the doctor immediately, a pile of voice recordings is waiting to be transcribed, and you still need to collect a blood sample from the patient in room two.
In a busy hospital or clinic, it might seem like you don’t have much say over how you organize your time. Fortunately, there are things you can do to keep the chaos under control.
Read on to learn why time management is so crucial in healthcare settings and what practical tips you can follow to improve your skills in this area.
WHY IS TIME MANAGEMENT IMPORTANT?
Time is a finite and irreplaceable resource. You can’t get more of it and once it’s gone, it’s gone. So if you want to accomplish more in a limited number of hours, you need to organize and manage your time as efficiently as possible.
In the healthcare industry, time management is crucially important because you’re dealing with people’s well-being. Emergencies can happen, and you have to be able to pivot as things come up while not losing sight of the other clerical and clinical tasks that still need to get done.
Using time efficiently is key not only to keeping a medical office running smoothly, but also to boosting patient satisfaction. Sticking to the appointment schedule and keeping wait times to a minimum (or at least providing updates when emergencies or delays happen) makes for happier, less-stressed patients.
Managing your time well can also lower your own stress and help you gain a sense of control. When you have a plan and a strategy for accomplishing your goals, you’re less likely to become frazzled and forgetful—and less likely to make careless mistakes that impact patients and providers.
Good time management can help make sure patients aren’t kept waiting too long
TIME MANAGEMENT SKILLS FOR THE MEDICAL ASSISTANT: TIPS AND TRICKS
As a medical office assistant, you’re responsible for everything from scheduling appointments and preparing charts to processing billing and helping with minor medical procedures. But there are only so many hours in a day, and it’s up to you to use them wisely. If you're wondering how to improve time management skills, here are some tips to help you stay on track.
Good time management starts with a plan. While you can’t know for sure how your workday will unfold, you can help ensure that you’re prepared. Have a look at the appointment schedule for the next day or the next week. Think about what each visit will involve so you can anticipate what might be needed. How should the exam room be set up? What tests might have to be run?
Planning ahead to ensure that all the necessary equipment, supplies, and records are in place will save you from trying to track those things down when patients are waiting and phones are ringing. Enduring the latter is indicative of comparatively poor time management.
Expect the Unexpected
When you work in a medical office, you will find yourself dealing with unexpected events. Perhaps an unscheduled patient comes in with an emergency. Or what if a routine appointment runs long when a serious issue is discovered? A patient could even show up 20 minutes late but demand to be seen anyway. These are just some examples of scenarios that can occur at any time in the healthcare industry.
You need to give yourself some wiggle room to accommodate these kinds of events. One common trick is blocking off half an hour at the start and/or end of the day. That gives you a buffer in case things don’t go as planned. Alternatively, some clinics build in flexibility using the wave system of scheduling. In this system, a few patients are scheduled in the first 30 minutes of each hour (on a first come, first serve basis) while the remaining 30 minutes are left open for walk-ins or emergencies.
Be sure to check with your supervisor to see if they have a method that they prefer.
Medical office assistants need a flexible plan that can accommodate unexpected changes
Bundle Related Tasks
When you jump between unrelated tasks, it takes time for your brain to switch gears. In fact, research has found that it takes people an average of about 23 minutes to refocus after an interruption.
So how can you work more efficiently? By completing similar tasks at once. This lets you minimize transition time and maximize your mental energy. For medical office assistants, that can mean grouping tasks like:
- Responding to emails and booking appointments
- Processing referrals to other physicians
- Preparing blood, urine, and other samples for testing
In some cases, it might be more efficient to group tasks based on location. For instance, if you work in a hospital, you can save time by completing all tasks in a certain area or wing at once.
Triaging is an important skill for medical assistants. You have to decide which tasks—or patients—need to be dealt with first. What’s most important? Obviously, a patient who suffers a sudden heart attack takes priority over one who just wants to book a routine follow-up appointment. But decisions about priority are not always so clear cut.
For example, suppose there are two patients in the waiting room who are trying to get your attention. One is a new patient who needs help filling out the registration form. The other just finished his appointment but has a billing question related to a previous visit. In this case, you should first assist the patient who is checking in. That’s because any delays in getting to the appointment will affect the rest of the day’s schedule.
Getting new patients registered as quickly as possible is key to staying on schedule
It's common for doctors and nurses to offload tasks to medical office assistants, but remember that you don't necessarily have to do everything yourself. When things get really hectic, you could try asking an available team member to split some duties with you in order to be more efficient and productive. Remember: teamwork makes the dream work.
Take Advantage of Technology
From your training, you should be well-acquainted with software programs for medical office scheduling, billing, word processing, and messaging. The more familiar you are with these, the more efficiently you can work. Simple acts like setting up filters for your email or creating templates for messages you send often can save you valuable minutes every day.
In some cases, you may want to suggest ways that technology can alleviate poor time management in the office. For example, if your clinic has you phoning patients to remind them of appointments, maybe ask your supervisor about the possibility of setting up automatic text or email reminders.
Schedule Patient Appointments Strategically
Taking a strategic approach to scheduling can help you keep things moving along efficiently. For example, if your experience has shown that certain patients are often late, schedule them near the end of the day so they don’t keep others waiting. If a doctor in your clinic tends to run behind schedule, see if you can adjust the appointment times accordingly.
Some clinics like to cluster similar kinds of cases together for efficiency. Maybe one afternoon a week in the fall months is devoted to flu shots, for instance. Or maybe all routine physicals are scheduled in the early afternoon. Once you learn how things flow in your facility, you can design a schedule that makes the best use of everyone’s time.
In a medical office, you can’t avoid interruptions like phones ringing or patients asking questions. But you can do your best to minimize distractions by closing doors to block noise (if possible) and/or discreetly asking co-workers to turn down the volume on their conversations.
One of the biggest threats to effective time management is your cell phone. Be sure to turn off all non-urgent notifications, like Facebook and Instagram. Even better, stick your phone in a locker, drawer, or somewhere else that’s out of reach. A study from the University of Texas at Austin showed that just having a cell phone nearby impacts a person’s ability to focus, even when the phone is turned off.
DEVELOP THE TIME MANAGEMENT SKILLS YOU NEED TO THRIVE AS A MEDICAL OFFICE ASSISTANT
Good time management is one of the most critical skills for a medical office assistant. Following the tips outlined above can help you ensure more patients get the care they need when they need it, all while keeping your stress level down and giving you a better sense of control.
If you’re considering this career, have a look at Herzing’s MOA program, available at the Winnipeg, Ottawa, and Toronto campuses. It provides comprehensive training in scheduling, billing, lab procedures, clinical skills, and more. It also provides real-world experience through an included internship.
Click below to get more details on the program and chat live with an admissions advisor.