It’s Monday morning. Your phones are ringing off the hook, patients are getting squeezed into the schedule any place your staff can find, and it’s looking like it’s going to be another exhausting day.
But does it really have to be like this?
Busy offices rarely have the time to pause, evaluate workflows, and attempt to improve efficiencies across the practice. However, unless you make that time, things are likely to stay the same and you’ll repeat those exhausting Mondays over and over.
Where to start
First, start with the most obvious issues. For example, figure out what is the single, most recurring annoyance in your practice. Is it being over-scheduled? Patients not getting timely callbacks? The same questions coming up time and again from patients? Narrowing it down to an item or two that you’d like to improve is essential to making any progress at all. Try to do too much at once and you will likely fail, as time is limited and more pressing obligations will always keep popping up.
Second, put together a small team of people to work on the problem and set aside 30 to 45 minutes a week to work on it. Tapping into those on the ‘front lines’ of the issue often reveals quick solutions. Staff usually know what needs to be fixed and how to fix it, but either haven’t been empowered to fix themselves or simply haven’t had the time to focus on implementing the solution.
Third, make sure that you are solving the right problem by digging in to the root cause of the issue. I find that working with the ‘5 Why’s’ process and the ‘How, How’ diagram is very effective at 1) getting to the underlying cause of a problem, and 2) working through how to implement a solution.
A variety of process improvement tools can assist you in any area of process improvement: from the more complex Six Sigma methodology to working with an A3 problem solving tool–but the best process improvement projects are usually those where the easiest process for your team is used, and they can hone their improvement skills over time from there.
Implementing your changes
Once you’ve established the problem, its cause, and how you can change it, you need to implement those changes in your practice.
Start by drafting a staff memo that accomplishes two things: 1) it ensures that your new process gets captured and disseminated to the staff, and 2) it can be used as part of your training materials going forward. As you perfect more and more processes, that library of literature will grow.
The memo should lay out a few components. It should identify the nature of the problem, quantify why it’s a problem, and state exactly what the team has proposed as the solution. Then ask that everyone to support the change, andlet them know that you will be measuring the outcome.
Slow and steady wins the race
Don’t expect miracles overnight. Staff need time to get used to a process change, particularly if it changes the flow of what they do. The key to ensuring that changes will stick is to measure the progress and reinforce the new process any place that you find it is not being implemented routinely. Staff need to practice the new way of carrying out a task, and reinforcement is what gets them there.
And don’t forget–always go with the easier changes first. Why? Because having some early ‘wins’ will allow staff to feel confident in deploying new processes, and over time the process of continuous improvement itself can become part of the practice culture. If you try to do too much, too soon, your staff may become overwhelmed and everyone will fail in the endeavor.
It really doesn’t matter whether the issue is administrative or clinical. Identifying a problem, working as a team enabled by process improvement tools to develop a solution, and moving toward implementation is bound to improve how your practice flows.