Helping Your Staff Be All They Can Be

It's easy for doctors to get caught up in the day-to-day regimen of providing the best medical care for their patients. After all, that's your job. What sometimes gets lost in the shuffle, however, is that physicians should also be enabling to their staff -- helping them be as productive and efficient as possible.

It’s easy for doctors to get caught up in the day-to-day regimen of providing the best medical care for their patients. After all, that’s your job. What sometimes gets lost in the shuffle, however, is that physicians should also be enabling to their staff -- helping them be as productive and efficient as possible. And according to Linda Richards, senior business development officer with ChangeScape Inc., a Birmingham, Mich., healthcare management advisory firm, it’s easy to do.

“It just takes some proactive walking around and asking questions,” Richards says. “It’s as simple as saying, ‘Good morning Linda. How are things going today?’” And the dividends of doing so can be significant.

Fostering Communication

Richards says too often physicians are hesitant to question their staff, for fear of opening up a Pandora’s box or inviting an emotional tirade. Some physicians also feel they can’t talk to their staff because that would circumvent the office managers. Both of these concerns couldn’t be further from the truth, Richard says. “As owners of the practice, [physicians] need to constantly be walking around and asking questions,” she says.

One tactic that Richards often employs is to ask staff, “If you had all the time and all the money in the world, what would you do to make your job better?” That question, she says, opens the door to conversation, and often some quick and easy fixes. “I asked that of a biller once, and she replied, ‘Well, if you could just fix my chair …’ The roller on the chair had broken, and she was sitting there on pieces of plywood. That’s why it’s so important to be visible in a practice and to ask those simple questions. Then, when you do have an all-staff meeting, they’ll ask more questions and be more interactive.”

Richards suggests that one of the best ways physicians can help their staff do their jobs better is to look for ways to automate the practice, beyond just automating the phone system. There are still too many tasks still being performed manually in most medical practices, from scheduling patient appointments to registering patients, that can be done more cost-effectively and efficiently if they were automated. “[Healthcare is] just too far in the dark ages compared to all of the industrial sectors in our country,” she says.

Automating Through an EMR

Jay Alexander, MD, is a practicing physician with North Shore Cardiologists in Bannockburn, Ill., who played a key role in getting the practice up and running with electronic medical records. He says the ability to communicate and quickly access patient information, or gather data from other sources, are some of the key elements driving the successful implementation.

“The most important thing that drives [the EMR] right now is the ability to show value and quality,” Alexander says. “It’s about showing third-party billers and Medicare that there is value to what you do.” And not only value, he says, but EMR can show that you are following guidelines and appropriateness criteria, such as doing the right tests at the right time or making sure patients are on medications that won’t interact adversely with another medication they’re already taking. “I don’t know that [EMR] makes us more productive,” he says. “It makes us safer, it makes us conform more to what is know that we should be doing, and probably, eventually, will make us more efficient financially, because we’ll be ordering tests that are more appropriate and that are data driven.”

Before you simply plunk down some cash on an EMR with all the bells and whistles, Alexander says, talk to your staff, gain their input, and determine what you want to get out of the system. Then, test drive one. “Every EMR out there will change the workflow of your office,” he points out. “But you’re trying to find the one that will disrupt that workflow the least.”

Invest in Education

Richards suggests that one additional avenue physicians should examine with respect to helping their staff perform at their best is to spend money on continuing education and training. Make certain the practice budget allows for sending staff to conferences and seminars so that they can grow professionally and expand their knowledge base. It can make a positive difference in practice morale.

“Any time you take somebody out of their day-to-day work routine and show them that you really value them and their educational efforts -- and that you’d like to pay for some of that -- it goes such a long way,” Richards says. “It gets back to communication, having those personal relationships, and a trust building that physicians and any type of manager they employ should have with the staff.”