Better Patient Care Starts With Better Employee Care

By Maureen L. Bonatch  |  March 7, 2018

Small practice settings offer advantages to patients, employees and clinicians by providing personal attention and ultimately better care management with a closer provider-patient relationship. However, as independent practices face rising pressure with regulatory burdens and competition from larger hospital networks, the focus should be on what makes small practices better—the level of care and their relationships with staff and healthcare providers. In order to compete, independent practices must focus even more attention on the well-being of their staff.

Each employee contributes to the flow of scheduling, billing and the delivery of excellent patient care. If you lose a valuable employee, it impacts more than the expense of finding and training a replacement. Employee turnover can disrupt productivity and throw a wrench in the carefully crafted system that keeps your practice running smoothly. This makes it necessary to look beyond their skills and education. If you neglect to evaluate them on an interpersonal level, it could bring your successful practice to a screeching halt.

Success Is a Team Effort

It’s likely that your enthusiasm for helping others is what brought you to the independent practice. However, providers who try to do everything on their own risk physician burnout. Burnout doesn’t just affect the physician. It can negatively impact patient care, as well as result in higher staff turnover and lower patient satisfaction. Gone are the days when practices could leave patient collections to the billing and statement process. Due to skyrocketing patient financial responsibility, front office staff are being asked to do much more than in previous years, including important patient collections responsibilities necessary to keep a practice financially healthy.

Set everyone up for success and provide a voice in making improvements by recruiting and retaining quality staff. This can alleviate some of the burden on practice owners and managers. Hiring skilled employees, and offering ongoing training, can improve workflows and enable you to optimize patient care and practice management technology.

Recognize Employees as Individuals

Assessing the interpersonal dynamics of the office and employee’s behavioral competency plays a big part in creating an environment that attracts the best employees and makes them want to stay. You want employees to feel like your practice is a great place to work. Nourishing a culture that rejects negative behavior and promotes a professional care environment can help you achieve that.

Take the time to recognize employees as individuals to help ensure they realize their value, feel like an important part of your organization and take ownership of their role and its success. This can lead to higher morale, increased productivity levels and a better ability to work together toward a shared goal.

Renee Thompson, DNP, RN, CMSRN is the CEO and President of RT Connections, LLC and one of the countries leading authorities on nurse bullying and workplace incivility. She provides education and guidance on how managing employees on an interpersonal level can benefit you and your organization. She says:

“People can put up with anything, difficult patients and high acuity, as long as they feel they are working with a cohesive team.”  

Make Behavioral Competency a Priority

A negative atmosphere can result in losing patients to other practices and ultimately your revenue suffers. Dr. Thompson explains: “Poor quality can be due to not communicating and being honest and respectful with each other. … If they can get their team together in a way that truly creates a collaborative, high-functioning, high-performing team where everyone is making decisions based on what’s best for patients and supporting each other as professionals, half the other problems go away.”

Patients might choose their healthcare provider based on the physician, but they might not stay if they are unsatisfied due to a negative office environment.

The patient’s experience begins long before they see the physician and continues after the exam is complete. Your employees each have a distinct role, but they support and assist each other in striving for patient satisfaction. A toxic office environment can result in increased patient wait times, poor quality of care, disrupted workflow and unpleasant or disrespectful attitudes. Dr. Thompson states that, “The way that we treat each other is as important as the clinical care we provide. If we don’t feel comfortable communicating with someone it stops the flow of information and affects the care of someone’s mom, grandparent or child.”

Identify and Improve the Cause of Staff Frustration

Investigate if there are work-related causes for the negative behavior. For instance, are there inefficient workflows (for instance with intake, charting or submitting insurance claims) that cause more work and frustration for employees. Involve your front line managers in the process of identifying the issues.

Hardwire Best Practice Principles

Dr. Thompson offers an abundance of resources and tools to help empower your front line managers. She provides these basic steps to begin cultivating a positive workplace culture include:  

  1. Assess and observe: Strengthen your organization by observation and asking pertinent questions.
    • Involve your employees in discussing how they would like to be treated.
    • Introduce the topic in a staff meeting by saying, “We focus so much on the clinical competence of our employees that we don’t focus on the behavioral competence...we give really good care here, but we’re not always that nice to each other and that’s not okay.”
  2. Recognize destructive behavior: Hold people accountable with set behavior expectations.
    • Don’t ignore destructive behavior. Begin a conversation before a problem can fester.
    • Try to emphasize the relevance by aligning the behavior to an undesirable patient outcome.
    • A few conversation starters Dr. Thompson suggests include, “This is what I heard”, or “This is what I expect”, or “This behavior is not okay.”
  3. Follow the process: Ensure that leadership is involved in developing and adhering to policies for disciplinary follow-up.

They’ve Got Your Back

There are many challenges involved in running a successful independent practice. Taking the time to assess and address the interpersonal dynamics of your office can help prevent employee issues from becoming one of them. Cultivate a positive atmosphere to attract and retain quality staff who will support the goals of your practice, and each other.

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