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Fam Pract Manag. 2010;17(3):36

Show “signs” of your patient commitment

A family physician friend of mine has attractive, professionally laminated signs posted in the reception area of his practice that say:

"If you've been waiting more than 15 minutes and don't know why, please ask."

The message is as much an assurance of commitment to the patients as it is a motivator for the staff.

Make use of a free, medical Spanish resource

My wife, who has worked as a surgeon in South America and now teaches Spanish, as well as anatomy and physiology, in the United States, created a free medical Spanish resource that is available at The site features over 1,000 medical Spanish recordings, all free.

Use analogies to increase compliance

My patients with uncontrolled diabetes have a hard time self-monitoring their glucose. To emphasize the importance of this responsibility, I use a car analogy. I tell them that just as a car's speedometer measures whether the car is driving at a normal, high or low rate of speed, glucose monitoring can detect normal, high or low blood sugars. I go on to explain that I am holding the patient accountable in the same way that police officers hold drivers accountable. This “lecture” is often humorous to patients. More important, it is memorable and enhances compliance.

Decorate your stirrup covers

I cover our stirrups with the coziest socks I can buy. I purchase socks that have seasonal or holiday themes, and I change them regularly. When I pull out the stirrups, seeing a snowman or shamrock in a place that isn't typically “decorated” never fails to bring a smile to my patient's face. This helps lighten the mood for otherwise anxious patients.

“Treat every defect as a treasure”

A culture of fear enables process problems to remain undetected or unreported. Performance improvement depends to a great extent on whether staff members feel comfortable pointing out problems and suggesting better ways of doing things, and whether they feel confident that their ideas will be taken seriously. To foster productivity, innovation and creativity, leaders must create a culture that “treats every defect as a treasure.” Encourage staff to seek out flaws in your systems. When they bring problems to your attention, welcome their discovery, and get involved in the effort to find the cause and develop a solution.

Code diagnoses with a free, web-based look-up tool

I have been practicing outpatient internal medicine for almost three years and have struggled with proper coding most of that time. I developed a web-based ICD-9 search tool to make the task easier. It's free, fast, easy to use and available to everyone at

Improve your patients' check-in experience

Treat your patients like valuable customers with these simple ideas for improving check-in:

  • Welcome patients with a personal greeting instead of motioning them to a sign-in sheet. Try saying, “How are you today, Mr. Brown?”

  • “Hire” a volunteer greeter. Call a local senior center for referrals.


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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