Why doctors should have clean and organized desks

Why doctors should have clean and organized desks

What is your impression of an airlines when you sit down and open the tray on the back of the seat in front of you and find food and coffee stains on the tray?  You may just worry if the same attention that was given to tray tables carries over to the maintenance of the engines.  Or what is your opinion of a restaurant when you go to use the restroom and find paper towels and toilet paper on the floor and puddles of fluid around the urinal?  You may just question the hygiene that takes place in the kitchen.  Well those same impressions that you receive in other service industries, may also take place in your office.

For the most part, patients do not go into a physician’s private office.  However, they, on occasion, will be invited into that office or often they will walk by the office and look inside.  What impression are you creating if you have papers strewn over the desk, journals stacked high on the desk or on the floor, and post-it notes attached to the computer, the phone or desk lamp?  Your office desk says a great deal about your level of organization, your habits, and your attention to detail.  Also, what does a cluttered desk say to your employees who will almost always see the interior of your private office?

I suggest that we give the same attention to our desk as we do to detail of our performing a careful history and physical exam.  First of all, you can rid your desk of a great deal of paper if you go through your mail and take action steps on each piece of mail, i.e, that which immediately goes into the wastepaper basket, that which must be addressed immediately, and that mail which can be reviewed at a later date.  You can also have three baskets on the desk or the credenza behind the desk: one for what needs action on today, another for 2-4 days, and the third for at a later date.

I take care of the first basket before I leave and as much as the second basket as I have time for.  I also have a callback sheet prepared by the nurse or the receptionist that I check at the end of each day and make notes about the phone responses.  I have a task icon which is also on my EMR making calls and recording actions taken or discussed a part of the EMR, which improves patient safety and good medial-legal protection.

These are only suggestions that have worked for me and my desk.  Of course, if you have other ideas that work for you, please share them with me.

Bottom Line: We are in the business of providing health care.  But we are also in the first impression business and we have to create positive impressions on our patients.  Start with your desk and make sure it reflects your attention to detail and your ability to be organized and clean.  Your patients and your staff will appreciate you for this.

Neil Baum is a urologist at Touro Infirmary and author of Marketing Your Clinical Practices: Ethically, Effectively, Economically. He can be reached at his self-titled site, Neil Baum, MDor on Facebook and Twitter.

Image credit: Shutterstock.com

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  • http://www.thehappymd.com/ Dike Drummond MD

    I agree with the premise Dr. Baum … just take the “should” out of this please. The pile of shoulds on top of doctors is already a mile deep … don’t add this one.

    Yes indeed Doctor’s desks and offices often look like a paper bomb exploded in them. And they don’t spend a lot of time in their office in many cases.

    In my work with overstressed and burned out doctors, some are more sensitive to the disarray in their surroundings than others. Realize that doctors don’t know how to organize their office or they would have done it already. For the doctors who would benefit from a clean, orderly office I recommend a professional organizer for two reasons:
    1) They will sit next to you as you take 4-6 hours to completely clean out your office
    2) They will give you a personalized filing system that makes sure you know exactly where to put everything in the future … creating a permanent fix.

    The organizer always does a great job and the doc feels a weight lifted and discovers a whole new world of being able to find what they are looking for quickly and easily.


    Dike Drummond MD

  • azmd

    Although I certainly agree that first impressions are important and that it is important for doctors to be organized and efficient, I think we all need to be careful to avoid buying into the current trend of thought, which seems to me at times to be raising expectations that doctors function somewhat robotically.

    Doctors are people, too. Some of us have messy desks. A prime example for me is my current department chief. She is one of the most organized, effective and efficient people I know. I came from my last job specifically to work with her. Her office is not at all immaculate and organized appearing, but she knows exactly where everything is

    . Conversely, some of the most ineffective doctors I have worked with have had immaculate desks.

    We are all already under a tremendous amount of pressure to practice medicine in a very standardized way, with very little consideration given to the fact that our patients are individuals with their own quirks and variations. I think it’s a mistake to put even more pressure on doctors to conform to some idealized norm of perfection in all things, including how our desks are organized.

  • http://www.facebook.com/lilianamkz Liliana-Diazvalois Johnmichael

    what’s wrong with post-it notes on the computer?

  • CdninQ8

    I agree with Azmd and Dike Drummond, both. Helpful advice, but the “should” burns a bit. Why must my desk be sterile? I work in that space. As a busy psychologist with dual roles in my organization, I sometimes wish for a clean desk. Not because organization is a problem, but because it would mean I’m caught up! I know where things are, I am effective and efficient in my job, and when I have time to sit down at my desk, the unfinished projects are EXACTLY as I left them, ready to be picked up for the few moments I have to focus on admin tasks. I see my clients in another part of the same room, and not once in 20+ years of doing this has any client ever taken my “cluttered” desk to be a measure of my professional skills.

  • Avantos55

    If a cluttered desk is a sign of a cluttered mind, one cannot help wondering what is indicated by an empty desk.

    Mark Rise, Research Scientist, Medtronic
    Fortune Magazine, January 8, 2001

  • http://warmsocks.wordpress.com/ WarmSocks

    As a patient who has occasionally been into a physician’s private office and seen his workspace, I’d say that I don’t have a problem with a desk that looks like it’s being used to get work done. One or two temporary post-it notes isn’t a problem, and I don’t care if the to-do stack is contained in an in-box.

    OTOH, one doctor’s private workspace was so cluttered I don’t know how he could get anything done. There was a path from the doorway to the desk, but the rest of the floor was covered with stacks of journals 3-4 feet high. All those piles made it hard to get to the chair that the patient was supposed to sit in. The desk had numerous messy paper piles tilted every which way, some of which had fallen over. Only invite patients into such a jungle if you’re trying to scare them away!

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Terence-Ivfmd-Lee/1523282856 Terence Ivfmd Lee

    The next (il)logical step would be to establish an organization akin to JCAHO that will do semi-annual inspections of physicians’ desks with fines and suspension of license if the desks do not meet the standards of safety and cleanliness. Physicians can be charged $500 for an accreditation certificate if they pass each inspection. This could create a lot of jobs for inspectors. Of course, it would result in a lot of physicians temporarily piling all their messy desk stuff in the closet the week prior to the inspection only to bring it back out after the inspectors have gone. :)

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