Interruptions — How to Manage the Pain

By Rosemarie Nelson

A typical day in a medical practice is filled with interruptions. In addition to the occasional drop-in patient who needs a prescription re-issue or a back-to-work letter or an answer for “just a quick question,” the practice has many other business visitors who stop in without an appointment.

The local medical supply representative may drop by to be sure your supply closet is fully stocked. A new physician in town will often make the rounds to introduce herself. And one or two pharmaceutical representatives will pop in to detail medications.

All of these types of interruptions are essential to your business. You just have to know how to handle them so that they cause as few problems as possible.

The patient is the customer, and because the customer is always right, it’s essential that you manage the unscheduled drop-in with sensitivity to the needs of that individual patient. Although every office should have a policy manual that sets guidelines for handling unscheduled visits, the guidelines should be service-oriented and your staff should bend the policy when individual needs dictate. To help them do that, consider spelling out some scenarios and how you’d like such incidents handled.

Without the service provided by the medical supply company, the office operation would come off its tracks. If the local distributor representative had gone the way of the milkman, medical offices would need to hire additional staff to get the shopping done — highly inefficient!

The medical supply sales representative is as interested in making his visit as short as possible as you are — he has other clients, after all. So try to establish a regular time for those visits, and post a list near the supply cabinet so that staff can make notations when certain items are low. Then all your office manager will need to do is hand it to the supplier and he’ll be out the door.

As for Dr. Newcomer, there is no Welcome Wagon for the professional neighborhood, so it’s essential for new physicians to make the meet-and-greet rounds. And the visits usually benefit both the new physician and the established one. Primary care providers can better serve their patients if they know the care options available within their own community. And specialists need to know both their referral base and who’s available for them to refer to. Face-to-face contact with the office staff as well as professional peers can’t be beat by a newsletter or a phone call or an email blast.

These, too, are usually quick visits and can generally be managed effectively, moving the doctor among the physicians in the group and the key staff members. Consider having the office manager serve as guide and shepherd to keep the meet-and-greet moving.

The visit from a pharmaceutical rep, on the other hand, is not often as short. I’ve known reps who’ve spent several hours in the office talking with the nurses and medical assistants while waiting to detail a particular product with the physicians. The nursing time consumed by these visitors is time not spent doing things like patient and pharmacy call-backs, chart review and preparation, referral management, order tracking, checking to see if test results are in.

But, although much maligned, the pharmaceutical representative’s services provide great value to the practice and to your patients.

The education and information they provide for physicians and mid-level providers can be essential. In an era of information overload, the personal visit can make the connection and deliver the content in a way no other medium can.

The benefit to patients is obvious. Having samples available at the point of care can make the difference in compliance and follow-through of the physician’s care plan.

To solve the interruptions and wasted staff time managing the rep visit and still get the much needed information and highly valued samples, schedule the pharmaceutical representative time. A free web-based scheduling tool, like can free up your administrative staff time as well!

The tool is free to medical practices and easy to use. The practice assigns those times on the calendar that are available for representative visits and instructs the reps to schedule all visits on that Internet site. The end result is a focused visit for the physician, no wasted nursing time, and reduced down time for the pharmaceutical representative — a win-win for all.
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