The Hospitalist Shift From Hell, and How to Fix It

I came home from my last 12 hour hospitalist shift exhausted.  My eyes were bleary eyed from staring at the EMR , and I was in the state of beatendownness where you have been totally crushed by admissions, cross cover, your coworkers, staff and patients.  Owning a coffee shop was looking better and better, and hey, I love coffee.  However, looking back at the shift from hell is helpful.

Here is a list of what went wrong,and how I will fix it:

  1. I didn’t have a check list in front of me.  I was rushed and frazzled, and didn’t go through my usual mental check list.
  2. I didn’t take a break.  I should have handed the shock box, I mean pager, to one of my co-workers and walked outside for a moment of peace.
  3. I ate too much crap.  Yes, crap. In my frustration I just put my face in to the fridge in the physician lounge and went for it.  Sigh.  I should have brought something from home.
  4. I doubted myself.  I spent a lot of time justifying my thinking to myself.  (I had just finished reading How Doctors Think, and was trying to double check my thinking.)  Doubt slowed me down to the point where I began to question everything.  Solution: hmm, brain transplant?
  5. I wasn’t wearing my scrubs.  I was trying to look more doctor like, so I had on a nice sweater, pressed pants, and the white coat.  (You men wouldn’t understand…)  Next time, forget fashion, I’m wearing scrubs.
  6. I let my colleagues get to me.  We were all crabby from the heavy workload.  Next time I will take a deep breath and remember we are all getting crushed, and put on the lens of perspective.
  7. I was quick to anger.  I got mad when a patient didn’t have a call button close to him, and I found it on top of the sharps box.  He had just had a total knee replacement, for pity’s sake!  I asked the nurse if the staff had a check list they followed when they cleaned the room, so this wouldn’t happen.  She indicated that “they’re pretty good at putting the call light where it should go.  I don’t think they need a check list…”  Ha I say!  How many times am I trying to find the blankety-blank call light for the patient?!  Time for another big breath!  (BTW, check out If Disney Ran Your Hospital.  Good ol’  Walt would see it my way!)
  8. I was exhausted from the get go.  My own mom was in the hospital recently and I spent a lot of time with her, which was good but tiring.  It was eye opening to be on the other side of the bed.  I tried to do too much, and should have gotten help from friends and family, AND NOT FELT GUILTY FOR ASKING!  (Yes, this is a woman thing,doctor thing,  mother thing, brought up Catholic thing.  I’m working on it.)
  9. I wasn’t wearing the no complaining bracelet.  I have a bracelet that I wear to remind me not to complain.  If I do complain, I move it to the other wrist as a reminder to stop carping.  I will wear it today.
  10. I worried too much.  I was worried about patients, my daughter, my dog being in a cold dog house, the dinner in the oven that would be waiting for me when I got home at 9:00 p.m.  And yes, I forgot to set the oven.   By focusing on worry, it was harder to place the focus where it belonged: on the patients.  The daughter and dog were fine, my husband turned on the oven, and the patients were okay.  Today I will leave my home worries at the door of the hospital when I go in.  They will be there waiting for me when I walk out late tonight.

By the way, the ED docs I worked with were great!  They knew we were getting crushed, and were kind and gracious in the face of the united hospitalist of grump coalition they faced.  Today will be better, I’m sure!

And lastly, I’m only human.

Disclaimer: I have no association with the authors mentioned above, and recieve no financial gain in mentioning their books.

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And the winner is… Dr. Bobb!

In the contest to describe a goal and a plan to meet that goal for a medical practice, Dr. Bobb is the winner (and the ONLY contestant!)!  Now, I don’t know exactly how well his plan will work, but I’m loving the idea of the vacuum.   He notes that they will take turns cleaning the bathroom.  Hmmm, we’ll see how that works out!  Visit his blog for more fun!

Here is his plan for his practice:

The Goal:
Cut nearly $5000 a year from the practice’s operating expenses.

The Method:
Terminate the practice’s contract with its janitorial service.

The Timeline:
As soon as current janitorial service contract is up, sooner if it is an “at will” contract.

The Plan:
Purchase an iRobot Roomba to vacuum the office building’s carpeted surfaces and a Scooba to clean the tiled floor areas. Cost: about $370.
Office staff will take turns cleaning the office’s bathrooms.

The Personnel:
Office Manager will purchase the cleaning robots. All office staff (including the doctor) will take part in keeping the office clean.

Dr. Bobb is the recipient of  a $15.00 Amazon gift card from PookieMD.  Don’t spend it all at once, and keep us posted, Dr. Bobb!

10 Things Patients Love To Hate About Their Doctors

Patients have a love/hate relationship with their physicians.  They love some things and hate others.  Here is a list of things they hate, and actually take as a sign of incompetence, rather than just poor bed side skills.

  1. Being a slouch.  Patients take the lack of eye contact, hands in pockets and crossed arms as a signal your aren’t listening.  Lack of eye contact finishes it off. ( If your kid did this, would you feel they were listening?)  Lack of eye contact is the NUMBER ONE behavior that patients hate the most.
  2. Standing when the patient is sitting (or laying.) Sit down and look at the patient. 
  3. Standing far from the exam table/bed.  Patients are apt to think that YOU think they smell!  Seriously!
  4. Not being available.  When calls aren’t returned, patients hold it against you.  This also goes for being available while you are in the exam room.  I try to delay answering pages while I’m examining a patient, as I need to BE present for the patient I am examining,
  5. Giving the perception that you are rushing,  Please notice the word perception.  You may be hurried (harried?) but sit down, smile, and use humor if appropriate.
  6. Using technical terms.  Patients are intimidated by the words we throw about.  Speak simply. I don’t know anything about car engines and my eyes glaze over when the mechanic mentions words like “catalytic converter” or “repack the wheel bearings”.  Patients feel similarly about words like “congestive heart failure” and “synovial fluid.”
  7. Not answering questions.  If you don’t know the answer, tell the patient you will get back to them, or ask Dr. Bigg Bux, the orthopod, to explain exactly how the hip will be replaced.
  8. Don’t automatically say no, especially with out a reason.  I am ashamed to admit that I reflexively said no to a family request this past week, thought about the request, and then came back to tell them I could do what they asked.  Why was I so quick to say no?  Arrogance, time pressure, all of the above.  It took more time to change my mind then to do what they asked!
  9. Talking down to patients.  It is difficult to hit the sweet spot.  You want your conversations to be easy to understand but not juvenile.  You never know how patients will take what you say, but being flexible is helpful. 
  10. Mistrusting the patient/type casting the patient.  The book, How Physicians Think, by Jerome Groopman, has an excellent chapter on how physicians make mistakes when they stereotype patients.

Patients will also be less likely to trust you if you are of a different ethnicity, sex or culture.  These are harder to over come, and patients perceptions can be tough to change in these areas.  I still haven’t found a way around the fact that some patients prefer a male physician.  I happen to be female, and that’s one thing that ‘s not likely to change!

Resources: How Doctors Think, and Trust and Distrust in Organizations

Power to the Punctual! How Physicians can be on Time!

Patients have a pet peeve: they hate waiting for the doctor.  I hate waiting for the doctor, and hate it when patients wait for me!  It’s very funny, but in my personal life I tend to run late, but at work, I’m usually on time.  Reflecting on what helps me be on time, I came up with some tips:

  1. Don’t check voice mail or email first thing.  Get to the clinic (or hospital, as is my case), and get started.  Checking emails/voice mails will likely take up more time than you have.  Remember, the beauty of email/voice mail is that you can respond when you are able.
  2. Give yourself extra time to get to the office/hospital.  Don’t fall in to the “well, I have three extra minutes so I will check my emails, start my latest article, read up on transplants…”  trap.  Get to work first!
  3. Set your clock or watch ahead by an uneven amount.  (It’s harder to subtract, although my fiendish little brain has become adept at subtracting odd numbers.)  Set different clocks ahead by different amounts.  (Take that, smart brain!)
  4. Estimate accurately how long something will take, then add 15 minutes.  When a nurse calls me and asks when will I see a patient, I estimate how long it will be, and then add the extra 15 minutes.  The patients and families love it because I am on time, and I really look good if I arrive in the room early!
  5. Don’t schedule meetings during peak times.  At one hospital I worked at, they wanted us to meet with the case managers at 9:00 am.  I am hitting my rounding stride around then, and having a meeting in the middle of the morning would really slow me down, (not to mention slowing discharges down!)  My group was able to get a different meeting time set up.
  6. Set a goal for what you want to accomplish ahead of time.  I try to break my day up when I’m rounding into segments.  I will set a goal of seeing 2/3rds of my patients by 1:00 pm for example.  I know I am much slower in the afternoon, so I try to have the bulk of my work done before lunch.
  7. Set up your day so you can use your peaks effectively.  I try to see my ICU patients first, when I am sharpest, and leave phone calls for late in the day, when I can sit down with a cup of tea and really listen to what the families say.
  8. Don’t dwaddle on the Internet.  There is so much to read and learn, but getting sucked into the Internet black hole is a guaranteed time drain.  Be strong!
  9. Cut the optimism.  We all have ideas that we can get “just one more thing” done.  Try doing less, and you will probably be able to do more, because  you are less stressed because you are on time!
  10. Lastly, why are you late?  Is it a rebelliousness toward the system?  Are we physicians late because we can get away with it? Better book some time on the shrink rap couch!

So what are my top reasons for being late:

  1. Exuberant optimism about how much I can get done.
  2. Perfectionism, for example trying to get my computerized note to look “just so.”  (I am desperately trying to break this habit!)
  3. My kid/family/dog.
  4. Reading when I should be in the car driving.
  5. Complaining.  (Seriously, the way we docs carry on!  I am working HARD on breaking this habit, and will post on my ‘no complaining’ bracelet later.)

And you?  What’s keeping you from your patients?  Make 2009 the year when physicians are on time!  Power to the punctual!!!

Resources:  See posts on Lifehack and MedicineNet.

Enter the YOUR plan to improve your practice and win an Amazon Gift Card!

See the December 29 post and enter your practice’s goals for 2009.  Include a plan by which your will achieve the goals.  The best plan wins a $15 gift card from Amazon.

Don’t Write Off E-prescribing

I may appear to be somewhat of a troglodyte, but I actually have  committed myself to learning to love technology.  I am the proud owner of a smart phone, have mastered my email, and actually use two different EMRs.  So, you see, this qualified me as an expert on EMRs and e-prescribing (wipe that smirk off your face!)

It was with interest that I read “Effect of Electronic Prescribing With Formulary decision Support On Medication Use and Cost” in the December 8/22 2008 issu3e of Archives Of Internal Medicineby Michael Fischer, MD, MS et al.  The authors describe a study in which physicians using e-prescribing with formulary decision support were compared with physicians using traditional paper prescriptions with respect to prescribing tier 1 medications.  When prescribing electronically, the physicians were more likely to choose the lower cost generic tier 1 medication.  There was a 3.3% increase in tier 1 prescribing, with a decrease in tier 2 and 3 prescriptions.  Fischer et al estimate that this would result in an $845,000 savings per 100,000 patients, based on the assumption that each patient filled one prescription per month.

I love saving money, but what was the cost of saving money?  According to the authors, “government estimates of approximate first year costs were $3000 per prescriber.”  In the study, Blue Cross Blue Shield supplied the software to the physicians, along with a free wireless device, access to a secure Web portal, licensing and wireless carrier.  So, the cost was not borne by the participating physicians.

I think as a first step toward an EMR, e-prescribing makes sense.  I do not think that every insurance company should provide physicians with it’s wireless device.  Can you imagine, five different devices for five different insurance companies?!

So what is to be done?  The federal government must mandate one SINGLE e-prescription system that we all should use, and insurance companies should bear the cost, based on percentage of patients enrolled in each plan.  Why should health insurance plans pay?  Because they are the ones that will enjoy the savings!  I think this would be an effective way to usher in the beginnings of an EMR.  Mr. Obama and Mr. Daschle, are you listening?

As physicians, we must look for ways that we can use e-prescribing efficiently and effectively.  We must commit to learning all the bells and whistles, and using it to our advantage.  So, stop hiding behind your prescription pad, and make way for what is inevitable.  Get out there and lobby for what should be done, rather than whining when we get handed the bill for something that will most benefit the health insurance industry!

Win an Amazon Gift Card: What Are Your Goals for Your Practice in 2009?

As a way to encourage goal setting and planning for medical practices, I am hosting a contest.  I will email a $15 Amazon gift card to the person who sends in the best plan for improving their medical practice in 2009.

Here are the rules:

  1. Under the comments section for this post, list the goal your practice will achieve in the year 2009.
  2. Write out the  step by step plan as to how your practice will reach this goal.
  3. Have a time line accompanying each step.
  4. Assign a person  (don’t use their name, but rather “office manager” or “me”  or “book keeper”) who will be responsible for each action.
  5. All goals/plans must be submitted by January 16, 2009 by 12:00 midnight.
  6. I will pick the best goal/plan/action list, and post it on the blog by January 23rd.
  7. I will email the winning entry a $15 Amazon gift card.

That’s it.  No  bull, just good ideas on how to improve medical practices!  I will post my goals for my company, ExtraMD,  by January 8th.

Here’s to some great ideas!