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Is work-from-home right for your practice?


Being flexible can attract and retain top talent

woman sits on couch with laptop and dog | © MT-R - stock.adobe.com

© MT-R - stock.adobe.com

Over the last few years, medical practices have been forced to make many workplace adjustments to ensure operations ran smoothly and employees were safe and separated during the pandemic. But now as time goes on, some medical practices are discovering that employees are reluctant to come back to the office on a full-time basis. They are not alone. The latest data found that 98% of employees want to work remotely some of the time and by 2025, about 22% of the American workforce will be remote.

So what does this mean for practices that are already facing staffing shortages and increasing expenses? There’s never been a better time to shift the traditional practice paradigm to boost employee satisfaction, offer flexibility, and ultimately, attract and retain higher-skilled staff members.

Here’s what you need to know about incorporating a work-from-home (WFH) model and if this approach is right for your practice.

Why are practices pivoting to remote roles?

Prior to the pandemic, remote working arrangements for medical group professionals were few and far between. Practice leaders widely believed that employees needed to be together, in person, to be connected and create a productive workplace culture. There were also logistical issues (e.g., computers and office supplies) and technical concerns (e.g., HIPAA compliance, secure network) that made it challenging for employees to do their jobs off-site.

Then came the rapid advancement and acceleration of cloud-based services and software in health care. These solutions have changed the game for practices and made it possible for more employees to do their job from anywhere. Today, more than 52% of medical practices said up to a quarter of their workforce is remote — a significant increase from the 37% reported in a similar poll from April 2021. Additionally, practices are proactively addressing the on-site/off-site issue by establishing and adhering to a workforce policy that can be communicated to employees so they know what to expect.

Will WFH work for your practice?

Before a WFH model can be incorporated, it’s crucial for practices to review and assess operations with practice managers, human resources, and technical support. Conduct an open-minded assessment of all workflows and staff roles to determine which tasks and positions can be done efficiently and securely off-site. Communicate with staff to get their opinions and work together to problem-solve concerns. In my experience, it is often the smallest detail that creates the biggest challenge.

In some cases, it may be easier to shift non-patient-facing positions such as IT, accounts payable, scheduling, authorizations, and medical records to a remote model. However, there are also practices conducting patient-facing tasks virtually — similar to an airline check-in or self-check-out at the grocery store — and reducing administrative burdens and costs at the same time.

The last and maybe the most important consideration revolves around leadership. For a WFH or hybrid initiative to truly be embraced, practice leaders need to go all in and be involved throughout the process. They must stop relying on people management and start focusing on process management. Managers need to become “connection specialists” and make an effort to stay connected to teams, listen more and trust them to do their job. If the lines of communication are not open and trust is not paramount, most likely, a WFH or hybrid approach will not be successful in the practice.

Why consider WFH models?

Whether a practice has multiple offices or is a small, physician-owned location, a remote or hybrid workplace can offer benefits across the board. From job satisfaction to flexibility to broadening the pool of job candidates and skilled staff members, WFH models open doors of opportunity for employees and practices alike.

For smaller practices, WFH and hybrid arrangements enable them to fill part-time or hourly roles and seek out candidates for specific needs. On the other hand, larger practices can leverage time savings and the costs associated with reduced office square footage for other expenses. What’s more, practices of all sizes can benefit from flexible work hours for positions that are not critical to be available during office hours.

There is no doubt the future of healthcare looks different from the past. The workforce of the present and future have made it known that flexibility is key. Health care leaders need to be willing to let go of the old health care office model and embrace the future opportunities that technology can unlock for practices. Being open to different practice models brings opportunities for cost savings, improved quality, and culture change which are essential to keep practices healthy for the future.

Karrie Barbour has been in leadership roles in the medical field for more than 25 years. She obtained her Fellowship from the American College of Medical Practice Executives in 2015. She has had the unique opportunity to manage more than 20 different sub-specialties during her career, but orthopaedics and operations are her passions.

Karrie will be presenting at the Medical Group Management Association Leaders Conference October 22-25 in Nashville, TN. You can sign up for her session, “Work-From-Home Teams: Are They Right for You and Your Practice?” here.

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