Making an office more productive “isn’t sexy,” says Debra Wiggs, Vice President of Physician’s Services at St. Joseph Regional Medical Center in Lewiston, Idaho. Technology can help, but increasing productivity is often a low-tech process requiring just a little bit of dedicated time and energy.

The first thing you have to do to fix your problems is know what they are. You do not need to take on the entire practice at once, Wiggs said. If you ask around, the staff will identify problem areas.


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Simple solutions

The answers to a few simple questions can make a big difference. “Are patients not showing up on time? Are doctors not showing up on time? Are there blocks at the checkout counter?” If you have a flow issue, Wiggs recommends tying a string around the finger of a nurse and having her simulate where she goes while taking care of a patient. Likely, you will end up with a huge spider web. This might help you understand how to rearrange what she does to reduce unnecessary steps.

Another option is to place a box by everyone’s desk and have them collect each piece of paper they touch. At the end of a day or week, you will see who uses what and how much overlap there is.

One simple tactic is to make sure no one is doing things that can be done better by somebody else. For instance, it is important for doctors to document their work, but some of this can be done by others so physicians can spend time with patients. 

“There is a lot of work that physicians shouldn’t be doing but they do because it’s what they’ve always done,” she said. “You need people working at the highest level of their certification or training.”


A major time suck at doctor’s offices is the telephone, Wiggs said. It is almost always worth the effort to keep track of how much time people are spending on the phone and why. Many things that are done by phone can just as easily be automated.

“There really isn’t an excuse not to use these systems,” she said. “My own 89-year-old father makes his own physician appointments online. Having someone fill out their information online before coming to the office can save five to seven minutes alone.”