Create Collaboration among Medical Practice Staff

Creating an atmosphere of collaboration among medical practice staff can challenging, but it's necessary in order to produce a strong customer satisfaction experience.

Sports analogies are a specialty of Linda Henman, PhD. The president of Henman Performance Group, and author of Landing in the Executive Chair (Career Press, 2011), and the soon-to-be released Challenge the Ordinary (Career Press, 2014), Henman likens medical practice teamwork to that of a basketball team, where there has to be a great deal of collaboration and interdependence.

However, creating that atmosphere of collaboration among medical practice staff can be even more challenging than on a basketball court.

“You have all these individuals who don’t need to work interdependently with each other on many of the things that they do during the day,” Henman says. “But in terms of creating strong customer satisfaction experience, they had better be aligned in that purpose, or they’re going to get bad scores.”

Hitting the hardwoods

Henman explains that when watching a basketball game, it is apparent which player dribbled out of bounds, threw a bad pass or missed a key basket. That same level of accountability needs to be present in a medical practice as well.

“If a basketball player never fouls, that means that person is not playing aggressively enough,” Henman says.

And when a mistake occurs, the individual who is accountable doesn’t get pulled off the court and scolded. He or she needs to receive feedback, and know that his or her success at the practice is tied to achieving the overall goal of superior customer service.

While it’s acceptable for a star player to commit a few fouls as a result of playing aggressively, that person can’t foul out and leave the team short-handed. It’s about balance, Henman explains.

“You have to play aggressively; you have to try to do the best you can,” she says. “But on the other hand, once in a while someone is going to make a mistake because you’re trying so hard to do it right.”

Leadership and accountability

Successful organizations, even small medical practices, have key elements in common. One factor is having a designated or appointed leader, while also engaging in shared leadership. For example, in a medical practice, the senior physician who is the majority owner in the practice is the designated leader.

But the shared leadership could be the junior partner voicing the opinion that the practice is not leveraging its competitive advantage because it’s not offering a particular service, and the competition is. Or it might be a nurse pointing out patient complaints that haven’t been addressed.

“People will complain to a receptionist, complain to a nurse, and not complain to the physician,” Henman says. “So, they have the knowledge, and leadership needs to be linked to knowledge.”

Providing knowledge also needs to be rewarded, Henman says. If the staff member handling coding tells the senior partner at the practice that codes are not being input properly, and by making two changes the practice could increase reimbursement, that’s negative news that’s worth rewarding. It could mean thousands of dollars in income to the practice.

“But if the physician bites her head off and says, ‘Why are you telling me about these things? Just fix it,’ what are the chances that individual will speak up next time,” Henman says.

She also says it’s critical to clarify roles within a medical practice.

“If I’m going to be in charge of making lab decisions, then I want everybody to hear the physician who owns the practice say in a group setting, ‘Linda is in charge of this.’” Henman explains. “So everybody in that practice needs to know that when it comes to the lab, I’m that person. Otherwise we’ll start stepping in each other’s turf, and that’s when you have problems.”

The bottom line

Henman says that one of the dominating topics in health care today is patient satisfaction. Doctors are relying more heavily on patients and other physician referrals. As such, medical practice teamwork can go a long way toward positively impacting the practice’s bottom line.

“You want patients who come to you to be delighted and tell their friends and family to go to your practice,” she says. “You want them to go back to their primary care physicians and say I went there and had a great experience, and you want the primary care physician doing referrals there. So it’s not just about the reimbursement from Medicare, it’s going to be more heavily weighted on these referrals. Because that’s how you’ll get patients in your doors, and that’s how you’ll keep them happy and making other referrals.”