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Fam Pract Manag. 2009;16(6):31

Ensure smooth phone triage of flu patients

Our practice created a nurse triage form to prepare for this year's much-anticipated flu season. The nurses use the form to identify patients at high risk for influenza and H1N1 and as an educational tool for our patients. It is early in our flu season (we practice in Florida), but so far, the nurses seem to like it.

Editor's note: Visit the FPM Toolbox to download the form used in Dr. Chang's practice.

Chalk up this idea in your practice

I used chalkboard paint (which is available at most home improvement stores) to create a chalkboard in the shape of a whale on the wall of our pediatric exam room. The kids love being able to draw on the wall, and it serves as a good place to assess fine motor skills.

Respond calmly to anxious patients

When I'm running behind schedule, I've found that the best response to the patient who is anxious or may require more time than I can allow is to take a deep breath, go to my mental happy place, and make believe I have all the time in the universe. If I give the patient the slightest hint that I am stressed or distracted, his or her anxiety quadruples and, inevitably, more questions follow.

I may not be able to control my autonomic nervous system, but I know I have to be trained to listen quietly and respond with unpressured speech, or I'll be stuck in the exam room well into the second half of the soccer game.

Connect to your patients with Facebook

Use the well-known social networking site Facebook to take your practice online for free. The site is an easy way to network and communicate with your practice's patients about things like practice events or staff updates. The Primary Health Medical Group in Meridian, Idaho, is a great example of a successful medical practice page (see

Start your practice's page by going to Be sure to let your patients know about your page by posting the web address on business cards and other practice materials.

Lengthen the life of your laptop battery

A few simple tricks can help you get the most out of your battery. Because heat diminishes battery life, keep your laptop in a cool place (not in a hot car during the summer) and use it at room temperature. Fully charge and discharge your battery at least once a month. Don't leave your laptop plugged in all the time. If you need to store your battery for an extended period, charge it to 50 percent, seal it in a plastic bag to keep moisture away, and keep it in the refrigerator (not the freezer).

Divide workload fairly for covering physicians

The traditional way to balance patient workload for physicians who are covering for an absent physician is to divide the alphabet into equal parts for the remaining physicians. Each physician is responsible for caring for the patients whose first letter of their last name falls into the physician's assigned section of the alphabet.

Our practice used to take this approach. However, it seemed to me that the division of labor was not fair: Some physicians seemed to get a lot more work to cover than others.

I decided to test my hunch by analyzing census data in a

. Doing this made it clear that the frequency per letter is irregular. For example, by dividing patients among two physicians, giving physician A the first 13 letters of the alphabet and giving physician B the last 13 letters, physician A will end up with 64 percent of the work!

Based on my analysis, I've found that an equal distribution for two physicians is A-K and L-Z. For three physicians it is A-G, H-O and P-Z.


Practice Pearls presents readers' advice on practice operations and patient care, along with tips drawn from the literature. Submit a pearl (250 words or less) to FPM at

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