All day, technology dings and beeps, phones buzz, staff members need just a moment of your time, and personal issues linger in the back of your mind. With all of the interruptions and potential distractions that occur throughout a day, how do rheumatologists stay focused on patient encounters and work responsibilities?
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“Arriving at work early to address any outstanding messages or overnight concerns helps me start the day ahead of things,” says Margaret Tsai, MD, rheumatologist, Cleveland Clinic Foundation, Lorain, Ohio. “Then, when patients arrive, I can fully focus on them.”
Dr. Tsai’s office staff takes and triages all of her messages, eliminating the constant flow of messages that may interrupt patient visits. She has educated staff on the appropriate levels of urgency for patient concerns, which helps them notify her appropriately via text, phone or email.
For urgent and time-sensitive issues, such as a patient being sent to the emergency department or needing to be seen immediately or another provider calling, staff will knock on the exam room door or send her a text message. “The office staff assists me in addressing urgent patient issues in between patient office visits,” she says.
For less urgent matters, such as requests for medication refills and medication questions, staff members email her.
Elena Schiopu, MD, associate professor, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, says it’s important to keep her smartphone in her pocket on silent. As a mother of three young children, she doesn’t want to miss a call from her children’s school about illness or injury. “To make sure I don’t miss a message, I’ll briefly look at [my phone] when the patient moves from the chair to the table, while also observing the patient’s movement pattern,” she says. “I have to look at my pager when it beeps, so I don’t miss a patient emergency.” Whenever an interruption occurs, she apologizes to the patient and tries to resume the interaction with the patient as quickly as possible.
Other disruptions may occur when personal issues mentally distract you.
“When I’m going through a difficult time, I’ll briefly stop in front of the patient exam room door before entering, take a big breath in and force my face into a wide smile to uplift my spirits,” Dr. Schiopu says. Maintaining this positive attitude during patient encounters helps sharpen her focus.
“It is a conscious effort. When a patient asks about my family, I’ll smile and say, ‘Thank you for asking. Everyone is doing great’—even if that’s not the case. Divulging details about a family issue is a slippery slope and [may] take time away from the patient’s time. Therefore, I turn the conversation back to them.”