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Multitasking: Boon or bane


Does your practice have a busy signal problem?

Here's the issue: You may not have enough ears to answer the volume of calls you have. If your staff cannot get to the calls the first time, how will they have time to call back (a disappointed caller) while they are supposed to be available to answer the new incoming calls?

Two ears can generally handle two lines simultaneously and give acceptable service. Adding more lines into infinity with the voice mail system gives you the opportunity to irritate more callers simultaneously. It also accounts for front desk/phone burnout and staff turnover.

The doctor who is knee-deep in a complex medical case and stops to review emails, text messages, or take phone calls might think that he or she is an all-star multitasker, but this scenario should be avoided whenever possible. Distractions from the case at hand jeopardize the outcome. Even though it's okay to allow a reasonable amount of personal calls for staff, a team member should never be distracted when working with patients and physicians.

These days, many people think that they can multitask while using the computer, driving, and while working. I am not convinced (and using technology while driving is downright unsafe-to the user and others on the road). I recommend that pagers, phones, iPods, or other electronic gear be stored away from staff work areas, placed on silent mode, and accessed only at breaks or mealtimes. Some practices provide a laptop that is not on the practice network for the staff to use while on break.

Technology is an amazing thing, and a well-run practice should embrace it. However, just because you can use technology to cure every ill doesn't mean you always should.

The author is a Medical Economics editorial consultant and a medical practice management consultant with the Practice Performance Group, La Jolla, California. Read her blog at: Send your feedback to

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Jennifer N. Lee, MD, FAAFP
© National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health
© National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health