Back to practice management basics: Three tenets

March 1, 2008

With all the changes you face, it's easy to forget that focusing on the basics just might provide the results you want.

The basic tenets of a well-run practice are a productive staff, satisfied patients, and a healthy bottom line. This article will focus on how you can improve each of these

Let's start with staff. It's not all about money. Obviously, your employees want to be paid what the job is worth, but most of all, they just want to be appreciated for their efforts. Good communication is at the top of the list. This means keeping employees well informed and involved, letting them know what your performance expectations are, and providing prompt and consistent feedback.

Let staff know what you want and expect. How is their performance being measured? What are your expected outcomes, and are they realistic? These need to be well defined and discussed with individual employees. Work with staff to make sure you are on the same page and give them the support they need to do the best they can for you. Be diligent about regular staff meetings and timely performance reviews.

Give staff members the tools to do their job. Take an audit of your office: everything from the ergonomics of chairs, to work space, to the systems they use. Is your telephone system up to date, and do the employees who are on the phone more than a couple of hours a day have headsets?

If every computer monitor in your practice is not a flat, easy-to-review screen, then you are missing the boat. Almost everyone uses a computer, and it speeds up the work they do. The investment in flat-screen terminals is nominal compared to the benefits you will gain, not in only how staff members feel, but in their ability to do their jobs better.

I recently consulted with a urology practice in which the physician had invested in an electronic medical record system 3 years earlier when he started the practice. There were no paper charts in this practice. Each exam room had a computer, and the nurse entered patient clinical information as patients were seen. Unfortunately, the computers were laptops with small screens that were a strain to read. The staff struggled with chart review and data entry. They were slowed down and frustrated. When we brought in larger flat-screen monitors, the staff was ecstatic and workflow and productivity improved dramatically.

You can improve patients' attitudes and their level of satisfaction by being more responsive. Patients struggle with offices that fail the telephone management test. Passing the test requires responding to patients' phone calls before they are compelled to make repeat calls to your office to solve their problems.

You can improve your grade on this test by communicating better. When patients call in and their needs require return phone calls, let them know when you will be calling back. If the patient calls at 9 a.m. and the nurses and physicians make all their return calls between 11:45 and 12:15, communicate this to the patient. By the way, don't assume the patient will be at the phone number you have on record; ask him at which number he can be reached.

Listen to your patients. When they're complaining, don't ignore it. Ask what you can do for them, and apologize if necessary. Patients want to be heard. It will calm them and make them feel you really care.