4 tips to use technology to gain work-life balance

April 14, 2020

To take good care of patients, themselves, and loved ones, providers need to strike work-life balance. 

Physicians are some of the hardest working professionals on the planet. Between patient care, documentation, meetings, education, research, teaching, and outreach activities, practicing medicine has no shortfall of duties. Independent physicians also need time to make informed business decisions that accompany practice ownership. Most physicians work between 40 and 60 hours per week, while nearly 20% work 61 to 80 hours.

No wonder doctors struggle to keep up with activities that promote personal fulfillment in life. To take good care of patients, themselves, and loved ones, providers need to strike work-life balance. In a recent survey of millennial physicians, 92% of respondents felt that work-life balance was important, while only 65% said they’ve found a balance between work and personal and family responsibilities.

How can physicians develop the right mix of work-life ingredients to discover and maintain personal fulfillment? While the specifics of this pursuit are unique to each person, there are certain ways to gain efficiencies within the workday to free up some time. Technology can help them do more with less. I asked successful practitioners for advice on how to use technology to maximize efficiency in a thriving practice. Their experiences show that managing a work-life balance includes optimizing the right tools for the right task at the right time.

1.    Optimize mobile technology

In 2011, just 35% of Americans owned a smartphone; today, 81% do. In the medical practice, nearly all physicians and nurses use smartphones-a trend that has become the norm in the past decade. Mobile applications provide a HIPAA-compliant, safe way to communicate with patients and access medical information from anywhere: hospital, clinic, home and even while on vacation. Physicians can notify patients with information specific to their condition and send care instructions and health reminders. With a cloud-based medical office platform, providers are not limited by time or place to complete and document clinical tasks.

John Ray, MD, orthopedic spine surgeon in Fort Collins, Colo., says the anytime, anywhere access to patient medical data and office analytics enables him to make better use of open pockets of time through on-the-go decision-making, increasing efficiencies for the practice. “It’s nice to have your office on your phone or laptop. No matter where I am, if a patient has a question or needs a refill, I can respond and document that response,” Dr. Ray says. “So [I provide] better service.”

Daniel Shurman, MD, with Pennsylvania Dermatology Partners in Amity Township, Pa., notes the benefits of optimizing cloud-based mobile technology over paper. “With 12 practices across the state, it can be hectic and difficult to keep track of, but with good software, we can have efficiency, and the dynamic ability to monitor and help our providers and patients,” he says. “We communicate effectively and access data from different locations when we need it.”

Kimberly Jackson, MD, who runs JPL Family Medicine in Phenix City, Ala., also says having a portable, easy to access system is a key to success. “To have everything on our phones allows us to make more expedient decisions,” she says. “We can make it happen on the go from laptop to desktop to phone.”

Implementing mobile friendly technology also allows practices to offer patients an electronic payment option where they can receive a text and securely pay on the spot through their phone.

2.    Prioritize customization

Regardless of specialty, physicians can shape the technology they use around their needs versus molding the processes of the practice to fit the technology that vendor offers. Physicians doing the latter are surely wasting precious time and energy and compromising on their needs. Selecting technology that can be customized for the practice is one of the best ways to optimize clinical and administrative workflows.

“I make all my own templates and when the customized notes are done, they are easier to read and easier to digest,” says Dr. Ray. “I feel better about submitting them to referring docs and sharing them with patients and providers. I’m efficient, I’m able to maintain better control over the services I offer and am able to take more pride in what I offer.”

By choosing a practice platform and EHR that has flexible notes, reports, tabs and dashboards, physicians can experience true flexibility that cuts down on clicks and gets to the heart of what’s needed for documentation faster and with ease. Fewer manual tasks means more time for the higher-level actions that make practicing medicine so rewarding.

3.    Be proactive about financials

To succeed, independent physicians need to pay keen attention not only to clinical care but also to the business side of the practice. It is vital to regularly monitor accounts receivable and claims denials to have a solid understanding of where practice improvements can be realized, and how the process can be tweaked to be more proactive. Reacting to challenges in this department is often the cause of significant stress.

“I use a report center every day that has lots of pre-billed reports that are easy to customize,” explains Dr. Thomas Miller, a family practitioner from Arlington, Texas. “I can get it as a detailed report into my accounts receivable both by patient or by insurance company and it really lets me know what’s going on with my practice,” he says, which helps him prioritize resource allocation for higher efficiency.

Likewise, Dr. Shurman looks at financial data daily, creating various reports that help his staff understand the big picture. “It’s powerful data packaged on one screen that’s very helpful: to use analytics to pinpoint where we need to do better,” he says. Dr. Shurman recommends utilizing a software platform that routinely and succinctly shows whether your billing and reimbursement processes are efficient.

Deidra Jacobs-Manning of SAAFE Behavioral Services in Central Florida says using a claims scrubbing technology allows clinicians to stay on top of their business. “It’s definitely increased our ability to have fewer denials. Now we’re in the high 90s with our collection rate,” she says, adding that she knows which claims have problems today, not 45 days from now, which leads to fewer headaches later.

4.    Increase patient satisfaction

One of the most noteworthy benefits of technology optimization at a practice is its ability to acheive higher rates of patient satisfaction. Happier patients mean happier practitioners-it’s a win-win. Birken Olson, CEO and Co-founder of CommunityMed Urgent Care in Dallas, says his technology platform has helped their practice achieve this.

“Automated infrastructure has made the customer service experience better, adding more time for practitioners to spend with patients,” he says, noting that it’s also made billing faster and more efficient.

Dr. Jackson says her patients really appreciate using their own mobile and at-home devices to communicate with her office through the portal. “Patients can send in questions in an email, and they don’t have to go through the phone lines. Our patient satisfaction has improved with different ways of getting in touch,” she adds, noting her technology enables setting of a preferred language right in the system, improving the practice’s ability to communicate with and educate patients.

During face-to-face patient interactions, technology can help physicians to review medical information, enhance education and understanding, and generate more meaningful time together. As digital didactic tools enhance the interaction, both the clinician and patient have a more fulfilling experience.

A number of the practitioners interviewed also use technology platforms to send patient surveys about their practice experience. This allows physicians and other decision-makers to respond to patient feedback and make the necessary adjustments for improvements in process and interaction.

Finding balance is work in progress

Achieving efficiencies within the practice will help physicians both with delivering successful patient care as well as free up time for their personal lives. When technology enables clinicians to provide the best care possible, the harmony between work-life becomes cyclical.

“I’m efficient, and I’m able to maintain better control over the services I offer. I’m able to take more pride in what I offer so it’s more enjoyable,” Dr. Ray says. It’s made me more successful on a variety of fronts, and it’s made me happier in general.”

“It’s a balance: you work hard, play hard. That helps us be more efficient,” Dr. Jackson concludes.

Tim Costantino is vice presdient and head of product at AdvancedMD.

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