Life In The Hospital

Why COVID-19 Has Made Me More Efficient

A funny thing happened last month… I realized that I’ve been feeling a lot more rested in the past 6 months. So I asked myself the 5 “whys” to sequentially drill down on the question:

  • Why #1? Because I was getting to bed earlier
  • Why #2? Because I wasn’t doing as much work at home in the evening
  • Why #3? Because I was getting all of my work done at the hospital.
  • Why #4? Because I had more free time during the workday
  • Why #5? Because COVID-19 created free time

How did this happen? COVID-19 has eliminated a lot of non-productive workday time, has shortened the duration of a lot of activities, and has allowed us to multi-task.

Eliminating non-productive time

I spend a lot of time in meetings. Before COVID-19, I was on 30 hospital committees. The coronavirus outbreak has added 6 more regular workgroups and lots of ad hoc meetings. In the past, each of these meetings cost me about 5 minutes each way to get from my office to the meeting room if the meeting is in my hospital and about 25 minutes each way to drive, park, and walk to a meeting room if the meeting is on the campus of OSU. That adds up to many hours every month. COVID-19 has given me all of that time back. Now, getting to and from a meeting involves just the click of the mouse and I am instantly transported via computer to wherever my next meeting is. No elevator rides, no stairwells, no car rides.

Making meetings more efficient

When you go to a meeting in a conference room, there seems to be tacit agreement by all attendees that they are obligated to fill the entire allotted time for the meeting. And so, a meeting scheduled for 1-hour almost always lasts for a full 60 minutes. There are meeting presenters who inevitably use 50 words for a 5 word statement. There is usually minutes taken to get the AV presentations started or download PowerPoint files. And then there are the attendees who feel that the are obligated to ask questions or interject their thoughts and keep doing so until the meeting is out of time.

With virtual meetings, most of that goes away. Meeting attendees are less inclined to drone on with marginally relevant comments (often because they are only half paying attention to the meeting while doing other things on their computer). Presenters tend to be more succinct on video. Many attendees will pose their questions to typed in “chat” boxes on the virtual meeting programs rather than ask them verbally. And all it takes to pull up a PowerPoint file is a single click of the “share screen” button on the program. For these reasons, a lot of meetings that were previously 60 minutes are all of a sudden only lasting 25 minutes.

Multi-tasking during meetings

In the past, it was considered rude to be checking your email or doing paperwork during a meeting held in a conference room. But with virtual meetings, the other attendees can’t tell if your email account is pulled up on your computer or whether you are working on your electronic medical record inbasket during the meeting. In most meetings, there are presentations that are relevant to you and there are presentations that are irrelevant. Now, rather than daydreaming about what you want to have for dinner during the presentation on proposed changes to the color of surgical scrubs used in the OR, you can get on-line and order dinner for pick-up. Overall, 20-30% of meeting time can now be devoted to catching up on email and paperwork.

Telemedicine is quicker

In general, it takes me less time to do an outpatient visit by telemedicine than it does by an in-person office visit. There is no physical examination required. It is easier to type your progress note while you are simultaneously on the computer with the patient. And patients seem to want to talk less on a video chat than in an exam room. As a consequence, I don’t get behind on my clinic schedule nearly as much as I did in the pre-COVID era.

More working lunches

Being particularly paranoid about opportunities for viral transmission, I now avoid cafeterias, break rooms, and lounges. Indeed, we have found that hospital staff are more likely to acquire COVID-19 in these locations than from direct care of COvID-19 patients. Instead, I pack a lunch and eat it in the safety of my own office, generally while on the computer doing work.

COVID-19 has brought economic hardships but it has also brought a paradigm-shift in business practices that have resulted in improved operational efficiencies in the workplace, especially for physicians. I now have about 2 hours a day of extra time during my workday that I previously did not have before COVID-19. As a consequence, I’m getting more sleep than anytime in the past 40 years.

October 2, 2020

By James Allen, MD

I am a Professor Emeritus of Internal Medicine at the Ohio State University and former Medical Director of Ohio State University East Hospital