The standards currently set just to qualify for the Boston Marathon would have made you competitive in the 1896 Olympics. Just a decade ago, an efficient and successful patient care coordinator would have been able to follow up with dozens of patients a week, yet our very own VP, Ed Syring, followed up with 500 patients a week at his peak (and now teaches coordinators across the country to do the same). So as a human race, how have we been making such great strides in performance, and how can we continue to do so?
In prior newsletters, we have talked about the art of memorization and increasing your efficiency by converting your tasks into habits. While utilizing habits can be useful for some repetitive tasks, if you want to improve a particular skill, deliberate practice is the most effective way to make leaps and bounds in your efficiency and skill.
Few could define “deliberate practice” better than one of the world’s foremost experts on the subject, professor of psychology at Florida State University in Tallahassee (must be something in that Florida air), Dr. K. Anders Ericsson. Read on to learn more about Dr. Ericsson’s research and how YellowTelescope can help you deliberately implement deliberate practice.
First, let’s cover deliberate practice’s well-intentioned, but less effective sibling, purposeful practice. In an interview with Freakonomics Podcast, Ericsson explains purposeful practice as “when you actually pick a target — something that you want to improve — and you find a training activity that would allow you to actually improve that particular aspect. Purposeful practice is very different from playing a tennis game or if you’re playing basketball scrimmages. Because when you’re playing, there’s really no target where you’re actually trying to change something specifically and where you have the opportunity of repeating it and actually refine it so you can assure that you will improve that particular aspect.”
As a patient coordinator in a medical practice, the “basketball scrimmage” is just going about your day-to-day, answering calls, seeing consultations, and following up with patients when possible. The rare coordinator who wants to fully focus on improving their skills may Google “how to follow up with people faster,” read an article or two on methods, or try out some untested hypotheses. They might then set aside dedicated follow-up time and focus on contacting patients faster and with more regularity. This should yield some improvement, albeit less efficiently than if the coordinator practiced deliberately with the guidance of a coach who has already tested and proven techniques.
Deliberate practice is a level beyond purposeful practice. Ericsson says, “deliberate practice develops skills that other people have already figured out how to do and for which effective training techniques have been established.” It takes you out of your comfort zone and forces you to deconstruct your assumptions about how things should be done. Ericsson attributes much of the strides in humanity’s improvement to the demonstrative impact of deliberate practice, particularly with the help of a coach.
A coach holds you accountable to a schedule, forces you to take steps every day to achieve your goals, measures progress, and criticizes constructively. Without a clear criterion of exact improvements on which you should focus, you are going into the game blind, thus increasing your risk of wasting your time and effort in exchange for minimal results. Deliberate practice with a coach maximizes results compared to practicing on your own.
Reexamining your Assumptions
At its heart, deliberate practice requires you to remove yourself from the situation you are in to reexamine and deconstruct the way that you are attacking a problem. Elon Musk said, “It is important to view knowledge as sort of a semantic tree — make sure you understand the fundamental principles, i.e. the trunk and big branches, before you get into the leaves/details or there is nothing for them to hang on to.” If there is a fundamental flaw in an assumption that you have at the most general level (i.e. erroneously assuming it makes sense to immediately schedule every patient that requests a consultation), that flaw will follow you through all you do from the first call you have with a patient to their scheduling (or not scheduling) a procedure.
Getting out of your Comfort Zone
Malcolm Gladwell’s 10,000-hour rule states that one can master a skill with 10,000 hours of practice, although, as we described above, practice as we know it doesn’t cut it when it comes to mastering skills in the most efficient and effective manner. In fact, the 10,000-hour rule that Gladwell has made famous comes from Dr. Ericsson’s research. It’s with 10,000 hours of deliberate practice that one can truly master a skill. It is the pressure of pushing yourself beyond your limits that sets deliberate practice apart, allowing you to grow and advance to levels you may not have thought possible.
YellowTelescope has developed and tested methods in hundreds of practices that require trainees to unlearn what they know, removing all assumptions about how a potential patient should be marketed to, educated, and served, and implement things that are at first uncomfortable. With time and deliberate practice, however, the methods become second nature while maximizing results.
If you would like to learn more about YellowTelescope and our techniques for preparing and educating patients by deliberately training and coaching the nation’s top practice administrators and patient care coordinators, reach out to us at firstname.lastname@example.org and check out our annual YellowTelescope Training Seminar to get a true taste of the methods we use to increase booking ratios and build the medical practices that we work with.