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A Pair of Docs Solve the Quick Question Paradox


An overwhelmed doctor surrounded by question marks

Do you constantly have people contacting you to answer what they identify as a quick question? Many members of the Mirth Manual investigative team have noticed that when people are asked quick questions, it usually takes a prolonged amount of time to discuss the question. Conclusion: These really aren’t quick questions!


Hospital leaders continue to look at ways to be more efficient with physician rounding, clinical documentation and even conversations. Linda Gregary, M.D., CMO, and David Swift, M.D., general surgeon at Pregunta Medical Center in Concord, New Hampshire have calculated the extra time involved when a quick question is asked. “Throughout my life – without fail – if a person says, ‘I have a quick question,’ we can be guaranteed to spend more time on the question than was intended,” says Dr. Gregary.


Drs. Gregary and Swift created a straightforward equation to help people work through the conundrum.


According to Dr. Gregary, “The eureka moment was when Dr. Swift and I discovered that the time spent answering a quick question varies inversely to how quickly one says, ‘I have a quick question!’”


The time spent discussing a quick question = The estimated time to have your quick question answered ÷ The time it takes to ask the question


Dr. Swift adds, "The time it takes for someone to say 'I have a quick question' can vary, and the average time ranges between 0.15 and 0.25 seconds. For example, if you intend to take up five minutes (300 seconds) of someone's time asking a quick question, your expected conversation after someone says, 'I have a quick question' can range on average anywhere from 20 to 33.3 minutes."


According to Drs. Gregary and Swift, if you want more efficient processes in your hospital, don’t ask any quick questions.


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