There are doctors, and then there are rock star doctors who seem to do it all and have it all. They may not have long hair, shiny guitars and screaming fans in hot pursuit, but they do have a consistently growing practice, a nice office, a motivated staff and satisfied patients.
Not you? It can be, says Rebekah Bernard, M.D., of Gulf Coast Primary Care in Fort Myers, Florida. With 54 purpose-filled chapters and almost a dozen highly-efficient forms templates, her book Rock Star Doctor: The Complete Guide to Taking Back Control of Your Life and Your Profession is designed to shave years off your professional life — in good ways. Remember that anytime you are with a patient, you are “on stage.”
Dr. Bernard was 13 years out of her residency when colleagues began to notice something. They’d say, “You're pretty successful. How are you seeing the volume you do and getting these great patient satisfaction scores at the same time?” Her answer later became the book.
“When it was done, I was actually afraid other doctors would say, ‘Who does she think she is to tell us what to do?” recalls Dr. Bernard. Instead, she was pleasantly surprised by positive comments. Readers liked that she delivered so many useful takeaways, like the following.
7 Steps to Becoming a Rock Star Doc
1. Convey the qualities that are most important to patients, leading to clinical success.
That means cultivating a genuine bedside manner, because it really is important to your patients. “Most patients already assume you graduated from medical school, did your residency and that you know what you're doing,” she says. “So, display the attributes that will make your patients love you.”
A 2006 study from the journal Mayo Clinic Proceedings showed that interviews with 192 patients receiving medical care within 14 medical specialties reveal a profile of seven ideal physician descriptors: confident, empathetic, humane, personal, forthright, respectful and thorough. These behaviors are not hypothetical; they come straight from the mouth of patients.
Or, to put it in rock star terms, remember that any time you are with a patient, you are “on stage.”
2. Organize and control the office visit to maximize the patient and physician agendas.
“My colleagues want to know how patients feel satisfied if they see them for such short periods of time,” Dr. Bernard says. “That time feels much longer when you give them your complete attention. Establish a rapport the moment they walk in when you smile, make eye contact and sit down at their level.”
Those few seconds can set the stage for a productive visit. “Studies show most patients will share the reason that brought them in within 29 seconds,” she says. “Doctors tend to interrupt patients at about 18 to 23 seconds, but just listen for 6 more seconds and you’ll create a much better overall experience.”
3. Optimize time management with the use of clinical tools such as the “Problem List” form and Evidence-based Medicine.
a) Check out Dr. Bernard’s “Problem List” template that follows her chapters. She likes to call it “the way the doctor organizes everything going on with a patient.” That can range from obvious chronic medical issues such as hypertension, to a very strong family history, to psychosocial factors such as family dynamic, she says. “This requires what I call ‘cultivation,’ and most computers have a problem-list section for it in the Electronic Health Record. From screen to screen, all critical information is kept in list form and updated, instead of clicking all over the chart. Create and then update it to save precious time later.”
b) Evidence-based medicine is always evolving, Bernard says. “We’re supposed to practice medicine based upon the latest science, so you must be vigilant about staying on top of it. You can’t just say, ‘This is the way I’ve always done it,’ and keep doing it that way. Keep studying.”
Or to put it another way: “In God we trust. All others must bring (randomized, double-blind, controlled) data.”
4. Focus on physician-patient “face-to-face” time to maximize profitability.
Doctors spend more time on paperwork than with patients, says Dr. Bernard. (And a recent study backs that stat up.) “Try to delegate as much as possible to your assistants so you have more one-on-one time to devote to patients. If you don’t have all the accurate details you need from patients to fill in all the blanks — maybe for a time-killing prior authorization to prescribe medication, for example — ask that patient to come in personally to talk to your nurse or you.”
5. Overcome the challenges of the EMR that impact the physician-patient relationship by using time-saving methods such as customizable forms.
You and your peers probably think the electronic medical record is a culprit instead of a time-saver and that you’ve all been pressured into using it. “But it’s a beast you must tame for your own good,” Bernard says. “Create your own templates or use dictation or a scribe to lighten the load. Otherwise, this kind of work is the highest cause of physician burnout.”
Bonus: People can now actually read what you write!
6. Cope with emotionally challenging patients by learning to show empathy, even when you don’t feel it.
You already know that listening is an integral piece of being a good doctor. Maybe you have patients who have emotional problems or challenges with the current health system. Maybe they feel that no one’s really listened to them, Dr. Bernard says. “Even if they say something outlandish, they need to tell their story to feel they’ve been heard. Try to avoid judgment.”
7. Use psychology to maintain your mental health and find work-life balance.
Medscape recently reported that approximately 300–400 physicians a year, about a doctor a day, commit suicide in this country. “Of all occupations and professions, the medical profession consistently hovers near the top of occupations with the highest risk of death by suicide,” the paper confirms.
Cases of burnout are on the rise, Dr. Bernard says, and physicians need to remember that you’re not immune from mental or emotional problems observed in patients. You also hate mistakes and not “knowing it all,” and that adds pressure.
“Maintaining your own mental and physical health to find work-life balance is absolutely essential and is the core of the Rock Star physician,” says Dr. Bernard. “Use the physician-only social network Sermo for support. Find a good mental health counselor or psychologist when you need help. Make your own mental health a priority.”