"Big Picture" Tools Help Monitor Staff Productivity

May 2, 2011
Ed Rabinowitz

As a physician, how do you know whether your staff is as productive as they can be? The answer is, you don't -- at least not in the sense that some magic red light comes on when productivity levels drop. But there are electronic tools and procedures that can be put in place to help physicians determine whether employees are meeting their goals and objectives.

As a physician, how do you know whether your staff is as productive as they can be? The answer is, you don’t -- at least not in the sense that some magic red light comes on when productivity levels drop.

“I have some employees who are very efficient, work very hard, and are very dedicated,” says Michaela Faella, practice administrator for All Island Gastroenterology & Liver Associates of Malvern, N.Y. “And I have others that essentially show up and punch a clock. That’s the reality of managing any business, including a medical practice.”

But there are tools and procedures that can be put in place to help physicians determine whether employees are meeting their goals and objectives.

Halogen Software is an online performance appraisal software provider. The Canadian company’s suite of online talent-management products enables medical practices to take proactive steps to increase staff efficiency and productivity. Tools such as eAppraisal, e360 Multirater, and eLearning Manager help employees obtain a clear understanding of their job description, its expectations, and feedback on how they’re performing. The tools also provide a structure for defining an organization’s culture.

“Employees want to understand what their role is within an organization,” says Donna Ronayne, vice president, marketing and business development for Halogen. “If the priorities of an organization are customer satisfaction or patient safety, it’s important that there are goals and objectives around delivering that. And that the employee is given feedback on how well they’re doing in meeting those goals and objectives.”

The problem, says Ronayne, is that too many organizations still rely on a paper-based system, rather than an automated and/or electronic system. If employee appraisals are delivered on paper, they’re often just filed in a drawer and the data they contain is quickly forgotten. Indeed, a report card on how an employee has performed throughout the year is only one part of the performance and productivity equation. Employees also need to understand where improvement is needed, and what the medical practice is going to do to help them improve in needed areas.

“When employees fully understand what’s expected of them, and understand how they affect the outcome of the organization’s success, it’s a very motivating thing,” Ronayne says. “It’s good to tie an employee’s goals and objectives to those of the practice.”

Understanding the Big Picture

All Island’s Faella notes that when she speaks with staff she tries to provide them with the big picture. When the practice sets out to achieve Joint Commission Accreditation, a process that took approximately nine months to complete, Faella recognized that every person in the office was, in some way, affected by the process.

“I got the best return on my investment when I actually sat down and told the staff that we can’t perform certain procedures in the office unless we pass inspection,” Faella explains. “Every person has to picture themselves as a spoke in a wheel. The people at the front desk are just as important as the doctors and medical assistants. If everybody doesn’t pull together, the wheel isn’t going to turn properly. Everyone realized that their input and their approach to the process were important. And we passed -- we got a 100 percent score.”

The practice not only passed the inspection, it has been awarded the Joint Commission’s Gold Seal of Approval.

Faella also employs a team and accountability approach when it comes to hiring new staff. Potential employees are asked to work at the practice for several days, and current employees are asked for input in the hiring process. “Everyone is invested. If everyone gives me thumbs up and we hire the person, and then the following week there’s a problem, we were all part of that decision-making process,” she says. “It empowers everyone to understand what they’re doing rather than saying here, fold this piece of paper this way and that’s all you need to do. You have to be a part of it in order to be proud of it.”

Tracking Productivity

Halogen’s Ronayne says that while there’s no flashing red light within its management tools that alerts physicians when an employee is not performing, there is an activity tracker. The tool provides the physician, or the office administrator, with complete visibility into how the organization is progressing toward the goals and objectives that were established. And because staff goals and objectives are linked to those of the practice, physicians can easily get a dashboard view of who’s doing what within the practice.

“This type of system literally changes organizations,” Ronayne says. “It changes the way things are done, and makes the culture more open and more transparent. And the information given back to staff is a lot more meaningful.”