Improving Communication in Your Medical Practice

April 1, 2012

What is true for marriage relationships is equally true for relationships with your staff in your practice.

At least once a week, a relationship expert is put on a news program and asked a critical question.  “What is the key to fulfilling, life-long marriage relationships?” the interviewer asks.  The expert, without even pausing to think about the answer, will invariably say that the key is communication.  What is true for marriage relationships is equally true for relationships with your staff in your practice. Establishing a good communication flow is a key to creating more engaged and passionate employees. It’s also a key to improve productivity. So, how can you build an environment in your practice where communication can flow freely between you and your staff?

The morning huddle
This week you can implement a morning huddle with your staff. This does not need to be a long, drawn-out discussion. Just a quick, 10-minute gathering every day before the day gets started will significantly help your team. In the huddle, spend a couple of minutes highlighting one thing that went particularly well and one thing that could have been improved from the day before. 

It’s important to balance both the positive and the discussion around opportunities to improve.  Next, talk about key metrics from the day before - measurements like patient counts, late appointments, reschedules, cancellations. And you’re measuring patient satisfaction daily, discuss those scores as well. The key here again is to be brief and move on to the next topic. Over time, your team will get more and more familiar with how to interpret the metrics. By discussing them daily, you’re able to articulate what is important to you and your practice. 

Lastly, in this huddle, talk through the upcoming day. What patients are on the schedule? What specific patient needs do we need to be sure are covered? What follow-up items need to be taken care of? Don’t try to tackle every issue or opportunity during one huddle. Establish the discipline of talking every day, addressing a few small items and over the course of a month or a year, and you will be amazed at how many items you’re able to cover. Further, you and your staff will be better aligned.  This will enhance staff productivity, morale and reduce the number of interruptions throughout the day from your staff to address questions and get direction.

The weekly staff meeting
Schedule a consistent time once a week for a 30- to 45-minute staff meeting. This is an extension of your daily huddle meetings and affords more time to cover complex topics, reinforce procedures and provide additional training for staff. Lunch is a great time to have these meetings and you can combine bringing lunch in for staff with this meeting.

During your daily huddle meetings, you’ll often encounter issues or improvements that require more discussion than can be covered in a quick 10 minute huddle. As those issues come up, you can simply direct the team to the weekly staff meeting as a place to discuss it in more detail. This gives you an opportunity to think through the issue and a place where you can get sufficient input from your staff prior to making a decision.  In the weekly meeting, use the first 10 to 15 minutes to discuss topics that are of interest to the leadership team. Schedule 10 to 15 minutes to conduct clinical or administrative training for your staff. And close the meeting out by planning for 10 to 15 minutes to open the meeting up for questions from the staff. This combination of direction from you and input from the staff will create an environment where feedback can be openly shared and actions can be taken and quickly iterated as needed to improve your practice.

Communication between you and your staff is a key to success in your practice. Implementing a few simple activities will make a dramatic improvement in your communication flow. These few easy-to-implement activities will improve morale, create better team alignment and cohesion and ultimately will improve your patient satisfaction scores.

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