Fam Pract Manag. 2008 Feb;15(2):42.

Flag reports to aid searching in patient charts

To find information quickly in large patient files, such as those of geriatric patients with multiple chronic conditions, I use color-coded page flags. The type of flags normally used to indicate where signatures are needed (e.g., Post-it brand) work well.

I organize each chart using regular dividers labeled “orders,” “progress notes,” “labs,” “prior records,” etc. In addition, I tag reports using page flags that correspond by color and type of report. Cardiology is red, urology is yellow, GI is green, vascular is blue and neurology is purple. For example, the “prior records” divider would separate information about care delivered outside of our facility, but I would tag the colonoscopy report included in this section with a green page flag. This makes it much easier to find the information I need at the moment I need it.

Save time with preprinted labels

Every few weeks I print several sheets of self-adhering mailing labels with my name, Drug Enforcement Administration number, office address, phone and fax numbers. These are kept at the reception desk and in the lab, exam rooms and office manager's office. Instead of having to repeatedly write this information on sports physical forms, Department of Transportation forms, prescription forms, etc., we just place a label on the appropriate area of the form.

When we are behind schedule or facing a stack of documentation that needs to be completed, this simple tactic saves more time than one might think.

Minimize interruptions during office visits

Many physicians do not want any interruptions during office visits. To help your staff determine if an interruption is warranted, develop a list of callers and situations that merit an interruption (e.g., family members, other physicians). Instruct your staff to let these callers know when you are with a patient and to ask whether you should be interrupted.

Increase satisfaction by noting patient interests

Before I begin an exam, I spend a little time talking with the patient about a topic that interests him or her. Usually, these subjects are revealed during the course of the patient's first or second visit, and I jot them down on the inside jacket of the patient's chart. Something as obvious as a team sweatshirt the patient is wearing may suggest a topic of conversation. Other times I ask about patients' vacations or hobbies. Asking an avid gardener a question like, “How are your orchids doing?” and listening to the answer increases satisfaction because the patient feels I have spent more time connecting with him or her. This increases my satisfaction as well.

Organize medication handouts to maximize space

We arrange medication coupons and information sheets alphabetically using an over-the-door shoe organizer that functions as vertical shelving. This simple idea makes it quick and easy to find handouts without taking up too much space in our small sample closet.

Manage care in the patient's presence

Review any test results, consultants' letters or other reports related to a patient's care during his or her office visit. Similarly, if a consultation is needed, make the phone call with the patient present. This will give patients a better sense of how much time you spend coordinating their care and working to improve their health.


Practice Pearls presents the best advice on effective, efficient practice operations and patient care drawn from the medical and business literature, along with tips developed from your experience. Send us your best pearl (250 words or less), and if we publish it, you'll earn $25. We also welcome questions for our Q&A section. Send your pearls and your questions to us at


Practice Pearls presents readers' advice on practice operations and patient care, along with tips drawn from the literature. Send us your best pearl (250 words of less), and you'll earn $50 if we publish it. We also welcome questions for our Q&A section. Send pearls, questions, and comments to, or add your comments below.


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