New Year’s resolutions


The holiday season has come and gone with alarming speed; and now, ’tis the season for resolutions, turning over a new leaf, promising – yet again – to break all those bad habits once and for all.

I can’t presume to know what your professional bad habits are, but I do know the ones I get asked about the most. The following "top ten list" might provide some inspiration for assembling a list of your own:

1. Start on time. So many doctors complain of running behind. Guess what? Your patients complain about that too. Waiting is the most common patient complaint, and you can’t hope to run on time if you don’t start on time. No single change will improve your efficiency more than this.

2. Organize your Internet time. I confess, this one is on my own list most years. E-mail needs to be answered, and your office’s Twitter feed and Facebook page need updating; but do it before or after office hours. It’s just too easy to start clicking that mouse, and suddenly you’re half an hour behind.

3. Permit fewer interruptions. Phone calls and pharmaceutical reps seem to be the big interrupters in most offices. Make some rules, and stick to them. I’ll stop to take an emergency call, or one from an immediate family member; all others get routed to the nurses or are returned at lunch or after hours. Reps make appointments, like everybody else – and only if they have something new to talk about.

4. Organize samples. See my column on this subject. We strip all the space-wasting packaging off our samples and store them, alphabetically, in cardboard "parts" bins, available in many industrial catalogs. Besides always knowing what you have, you’ll always know what you’re out of; and your staff will waste far less time tracking samples down. Also, a bin system makes logging samples in and out much easier, should that become a requirement – as the FDA keeps promising.

5. Clear your "horizontal file cabinet." That’s the mess on your desk, all the paperwork you never seem to get to (probably because you’re tweeting or answering e-mail). Set aside an hour or two and get it all done. You’ll find some interesting stuff in there. Then, for every piece of paper that arrives on your desk from now on, follow the DDD Rule: Do it, Delegate it, or Destroy it. Don’t start a new mess.

6. Keep a closer eye on your office finances. Most physicians delegate the bookkeeping, and that’s fine. But ignoring the financial side creates an atmosphere that facilitates embezzlement. Set aside a couple of hours each month to review the books personally. And make sure your employees know you’re doing it.

7. Make sure your long-range financial planning is on track. This is another task physicians tend to "set and forget," but the Great Recession was an eye-opener for many of us. Once a year, sit down with your accountant and planner, and make sure your investments are well diversified and all other aspects of your finances – budgets, credit ratings, insurance coverage, tax situations, college savings, estate plans, and retirement accounts – are in the best shape possible. Now would be a good time.

8. Pay down your debt. Debt can destroy the best-laid retirement plans; many learned this the hard way when the "bubble" burst. If you carry significant debt, set up a plan to pay it off as soon as you can.

9. Take more vacations. Remember Eastern’s First Law: Your last words will NOT be, "I wish I had spent more time in the office." This is the year to start spending more time enjoying your life, your friends and family, and the world. As John Lennon said, "Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans."

10. Look at yourself. A private practice lives or dies on the personalities of its physicians, and your staff copies your personality and style. Take a hard, honest look at yourself. Identify your negative personality traits and work to eliminate them. If you have any difficulty finding the things that need changing . . . ask your spouse. He or she will be happy to outline them for you, in great detail.

Dr. Eastern practices dermatology and dermatologic surgery in Belleville, N.J. T

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