How Losing Your Temper Harms Your Practice

March 2, 2011

You might feel more justified than most in taking out your frustration on others, but be careful - the emotional hangovers you might create can often have a long-lasting effect on your practice.

Medicine is a tough and unforgiving profession. Medicine is also a tough business. You might feel more justified than most in taking out your frustration and angst on others, but be careful - the emotional hangovers you might create often have a long-lasting and cumulative effect on your practice, your reputation, and your bottom line.

Taking it out on others

• Doctors often take it out on their office staff. This costs the practice money in more ways than one. From a purely financial standpoint, the direct cost of losing and replacing a single employee is between $3,000 and $5,000, according to experts. Ads must be placed. Time must be invested in interviewing, hiring, training, and getting the new hire up to speed. Add the indirect costs of lower office morale and its twin sibling, lower productivity, and the total cost of driving an employee to the exit door is really much more than $5,000.

• Doctors take it out on the hospital clinical staff. They don't work directly for you, and they are convenient targets. This does not make it right. On the flip side, hospital staff are enormously influential. Patients, neighbors, and even other healthcare professionals seek their recommendations on who to see for their healthcare needs. A short fuse in the hospital will affect your reputation and profitability.

• Doctors take it out on their patients. During my career as a practice administrator, I have observed that I get just as many complaints from the patients who follow difficult patients in the schedule as I do from the difficult patients themselves. Why? It's because you the doctor are distracted and unengaged - and at times confrontational - when you see that next patient. The emotional hangover is reflected in the service you deliver as your emotions return to baseline.

Avoiding regret

I am not a sage, but I do have a few tried and true tips to lengthen your fuse and keep your temper in check:

• Fix the problem, not the blame. Taking it out on others is a short-term fix and does nothing to solve the underlying issue. Look at the sources of your flare-ups, and address them. Discharge the patient who gets under your skin and ruins your day. If it's your schedule, sit down with your staff and adjust it together - let them know what they can do to help.

• Personal respites and outlets. Listen to the advice you give your patients. Make sure you make time for yourself to unwind. This is not selfish. Taking care of yourself helps you take better care of others. I make sure I find time every week for "me" time. For me, just thirty minutes of disc golf or a game of hide and seek with my dog does it.

• Be a good boss. Focus on being a good boss, and you will see personal and professional dividends. The Gallup Organization has determined that happier employees result in higher patient satisfaction (>30 percent), higher productivity (22 percent), and higher profitability (27 percent). There is strong correlation. The good boss is one who is trusted, who teaches, who gets employees through the lows, and applauds them for both individual and team success and growth. By recognizing the worth of the individual and encouraging the gestalt of a team effort, you can be a better boss. And in doing so, you should find your days of living at the boiling point are far less frequent.

• Don't try to control what cannot be controlled. There are some things - Medicare's fee schedule, a patient who dies in spite of your best efforts - that you have no control over. Accept it. Trying to fix what is out of your control will take you to the edge of anger. I focus on "giving." By giving of myself and making my team better, I find I am stronger and calmer.

As you practice the art of medicine each day, remember that your actions - just like the care you provide - have lasting consequences. Take steps to keep your emotions in check, and you may discover it helps not only you and your patients, but also your practice.

Lucien W. Roberts, III, MHA, FACMPE, is associate administrator of business development at MCV Physicians. He also consults with medical groups and health systems in areas such as compliance, physician compensation, negotiation, strategic planning, and billing/collections. He may be reached at lucien.roberts@yahoo.com.