The modern day medical practice is nothing if not nimble. It must be to survive the onslaught of new technologies that permit greater efficiency, new ownership models that impact corporate culture, and the additional hiring necessary to sustain growth. Such change reflects progress, of course, but it also creates distraction, diverting the attention of your team away from the task at hand.
Whether implementing an EHR conversion or managing interruptions from mobile devices, it's your job to help your staff balance their workload as they adapt and evolve. "It's important for managers and staff to focus on both their day-to-day responsibilities and their new transitional responsibilities," says Jack Valancy, a practice management consultant in Cleveland Heights, Ohio. "It's your job to figure out how the staff will fulfill both sets of responsibilities." Failure to do so, he notes, increases the risk of lackluster results and could deal a devastating blow to morale. "Staff may lack the commitment to work for the project's success, and may compromise the project with passive aggressive behavior," says Valancy.
During times of transition, says Susan Childs, a practice management consultant with Evolution Healthcare Consulting in Rougemont, N.C., you should always clarify priorities and communicate them to your staff. Before you schedule a training session, for example, which will leave your practice temporarily short-staffed, meet with each employee to review their job responsibilities and identify those that take precedence when the office is operating with a skeleton crew. It'll take the pressure off your team, and ensure the office continues to function as seamlessly as possible. "They need to know what their roles are and what parts of their job are most important to you," says Childs. "Communication between employees and management is essential." All subsequent job responsibilities should be placed in order of importance, as well, so your staff knows what to tackle next when their workload permits.
Just make sure you get the employees' input throughout the process. "Sometimes managers sit down during a big project and they figure it all out on their own and say 'this is how we are going to do it,' but they may not have thought of the optimal way to implement," says Valancy. "We really want to be listening to the people who are actually doing the work and getting them involved in the process at every level." Ask them what they think and how it could be better, suggests Valancy. You may not follow every suggestion, but the mere act of soliciting their opinion shows you value their expertise, which encourages the staff to engage.
Similarly, says Valancy, it's important to set long-term goals for your practice and share them with your staff so everyone is playing for the same team. Perhaps you plan to become a Patient-Centered Medical Home in the coming year, or expand your patient base by 10 percent. Don't keep it a secret.
When teaching your staff to operate new technology, such as an updated phone system or EHR, you should also make every effort to lighten their workload while they are in training by asking coworkers to pinch hit. This requires planning, says Deborah Walker Keegan, a medical practice consultant with Medical Practice Dimensions in Asheville, N.C., who advocates cross-training all staff members to perform multiple duties.
"If you know you're going to implement an EHR in six months, begin cross-training your employees now," says Keegan. "If Susie is off the phones for four and a half days for training, someone else has to be on them. Formalize your new job responsibilities for the interim period to permit training to occur." Cross-training will continue to be useful when someone gets sick or takes vacation. And, it's empowering for your employees, says Keegan, most of whom crave new challenges. While some jobs, like billing, require greater expertise, it may still be possible to train a front-desk clerk to do a single job — like respond to the most common type of claim denial. "It may not be the full complement of work, but you can teach them to do one or two things well," says Keegan.
In the case of EHR training, you can bring your staff up to speed fastest — and burden them with less backlog when they return to their seats — by designating blocks of time when they don't also have to juggle patients or phones, says Childs. After all, it's hard for team members to absorb the complexities of a new computer system if they're worrying about the e-mail piling up in their inbox.