What’s Wrong with Multitasking?
Multitasking is a necessity of every dental Business Coordinator. It is difficult sometimes and always unpredictable. The moment she/he enters the office, the phone is ringing with patients wanting appointments or questions to answer about billing or insurance. The computers need to be turned on, email and phone messages must be retrieved and cancellations dealt with immediately.The team members show up one at a time and want to be greeted or have a question to answer. The morning huddle is about to begin and he/she needs that first cup of coffee. Who has time to make it? It is another task for the already frazzled Business Coordinator.
According to a study done by University of Michigan psychologist David E. Meyer, PhD., multitasking does not increase efficiency, but actually slows you down and adds as much as 40 percent to the completion time compared to finishing one job at a time and then beginning another. Switching among tasks creates stress and divides your attention. Plus, it’s harder to remember where you left off and time is necessary to shift brain gears. With practice, the brain can become somewhat more efficient at handling multiple tasks, but usually performance suffers compared with doing one task to completion at a time.
According to Dr. Meyer, the brain is not designed to multitask. Computers, where the term “multitasking” originated, seem to process information simultaneously, but the brain appears to do it sequentially. Scientific studies show that the brain can’t double its processing capacity when it is multitasking. Multitasking is easier if one of the chores is automatic like listening to music while folding laundry. If a person is attempting to do two complicated tasks at once, success at either is not as good as it would have been when doing one at a time.
To work more productively, Dr. Meyer recommends that the multitasked take breaks between difficult tasks for a short walk or a deep breathing exercise. He also suggests intelligent time management, like scheduling difficult tasks during times when you can concentrate and saving routing duties for when interruptions may occur.
Time management is the key to successful multitasking as is delegation of tasks to other team members. Creating written job descriptions is a way to fairly disperse duties so that one team member is not overburdened with more than one task that requires uninterrupted concentration during the workday. For instance, the person posting the insurance checks daily should not be doing this chore while answering the phone and entering new patient data.
Treatment Coordinators or Business Coordinators who must present treatment to patients must not be checking other patients out or answering the phone simultaneously. Unfortunately, it is common to see one or two frantic front office people trying to do it all at once. Studies have shown that this method results in poor customer service, errors in scheduling, posting, billing and low treatment acceptance figures.
For example, Mary is making an appointment for Mrs. Bonnie Jones at the front desk and is also about to enter her credit card payment. The phone rings and it is Brian Jones, who wants to discuss the balance of his account. Bringing up Brian Jones’s account, Mary accidentally enters Mrs. Bonnie Jones payment on his ledger. These mistakes are all too common in offices where operating systems are not efficiently managed and team members must multitask to get things done.
The preferable scenario would be for Mary to tell Brian Jones: “Mr. Jones, I will be happy to discuss your account balance with you; however, I must research it and give you a call back. Can I call you back between 2:30 and 3:00 pm today? What is the best phone number to reach you at?” The patient checking out at the desk takes priority over the patient calling in regard to his account balance.
Presenting treatment requires uninterrupted time with the patient. It takes time to know the patient’s style of communication, time to educate the patient on different treatment options and time to answer questions. Making good business decisions about the priorities of the work day would be to create a window of opportunity without the chaos of multitasking to address the most important purpose of the dental practice--to treat patients. So often in dental practices, the focus comes off of the patient in favor of daily tasks.
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