Until recently, the correlation between human resources management and better patient outcomes was all but lost on healthcare leaders. In part, because the industry has been slow to adopt the business principles of corporate America, but also because so few medical practices have the resources to hire a dedicated HR person. Thus, administrators have been forced to shoehorn recruiting, reviews, and staff development initiatives in between tasks considered more pressing — like budget planning and accounting. Not anymore.
As medical groups seek out ways to succeed in the pay-for-performance environment, managers have increasingly adopted HR strategies to foster a more functional office environment — one in which teamwork prevails and providers are free to focus on patient care, says Barbara Sack, executive director of Midwest Orthopaedics, PA, in Overland Park, Kan. "Successful HR management is what sets the tone for the culture of your practice," she says. "If that culture is collaborative, cooperative, and patient-centered, then you're going to be more successful."
Regardless of whether you outsource HR functions, like HIPAA compliance, payroll, and benefits, the following personnel policies, borrowed from big business, can set the stage for a better patient and employee experience.
Square peg or round hole?
Start by sizing up your staff to ensure that all the people on your payroll are in the right position on the floor, says Susan Childs, president of Evolution Healthcare Consulting in Rougemont, N.C. Observe your employees on the job to identify areas of strength, and review their resumes for educational background to determine whether they might be better utilized in a different department. When positions become available in your practice, you should also invite your staff to interview for the job. "Everyone has their niche, where they naturally fly," says Childs, a former administrator. "Hopefully that's the job we hired them for, but if not we want them to be happy so we find another place." When you support your staff and show concern for their job satisfaction, she notes, it "makes it very hard for them to leave."
Of course, it helps to hire the right fit from the start. Before you begin recruiting, identify the personality traits and skill set you are after so you know it when you see it, says Childs. And never hire someone who doesn't measure up, no matter how badly you need to fill the position, she adds. It's often better to pay temporary workers and hold out for the person you want. Some practices also use personality tests in the recruiting process with great success, while others ask staff members to sit in on the final interviews. For her part, Childs says she had prospective employees spend half a day in the office so she could observe their interaction with patients and the staff. She took note of whether they made eye contact with the patients, how well they worked independently, and whether they seemed comfortable with the team. "It was [a] chance for both of us to see how well they fit," she says.
Crack your door
As simple as it sounds, an open-door policy can have a profound impact on patient care, says Childs. How? Employees who feel free to voice concerns, she says, are more likely to resolve small problems before they affect morale — and thus, more apt to stick around. Lower turnover leads to a more experienced and efficient staff, with whom patients develop relationships and feel more comfortable disclosing relevant (and often personal) health information during office visits.
Likewise, adds Childs, patients who feel comfortable calling you directly with financial concerns, are more likely to work out a payment plan and stick with their treatment program — which can help improve their medical outcome. "Show your employees and patients that you're always willing to listen," says Childs. "That builds loyalty, which equals better continuity of care."