Medical Practice Staff Empowerment

July 31, 2012

By empowering your staff, you can improve the performance, care, and service your practice provides. Some call the concept employee empowerment, others call it employee engagement; I call it common sense.

Think about three of the most empowering comments a patient can make to you:

• I believe in you
• I trust your judgment
• What do you recommend?

Most physicians I know draw great strength from the faith their patients and others place in them. Your employees are no different, finding strength and inspiration in the faith you place in them. I know: As a former practice administrator, I was both a leader and a follower and was on both the giving and receiving ends of such comments. I also saw the opposite, where distrust or constant berating has torn the very fabric of a medical practice.

The focus of this article is on your relationship with your staff. By empowering your staff, you can improve the performance, care, and service your practice provides. Some call the concept employee empowerment, others call it employee engagement; I call it common sense and respect and have seen it work wonders in many offices.

Great employees are hard to find and - even in a time of high unemployment - harder to keep. I find that great employees stay at a practice for three simple reasons. First, they receive competitive wages and benefits; money is secondary, but it matters. Second, they make a difference. They are given the latitude and resources to deliver superb care and service. They feel that what they do is important. Third, they are appreciated - genuinely. Every one of us needs a "thank you," "good idea," or other accolade to stoke our fires. No one likes to be taken for granted.

Here's the neat thing: Most good employees can become great employees. I have seen physicians nurture good employees into superstars. In transforming employees, these physicians took their practices to a higher level by communicating these three simple, yet powerful, statements:

I believe in you. Three simple words; three powerful words. When you tell an employee you believe in her, you are sharing your belief that she will do what is right. You are giving her the green light to trust her own judgment and think on her own feet. You are telling her you know she has what it takes to do the job and do it well.

I trust your judgment. I have your back. Trust is sacred; it is never taken lightly or for granted. Telling an employee you trust his judgment is affirming what "I believe in you" has conferred. You are saying "I cannot be there all the time and answer every question that arises in our practice. I know you are capable and a good person, and I know you will do what you think is best. When you do - even if it does not work out as planned - I will support you."

What do you recommend? I find that asking employees what they suggest can be very powerful. It engages an employee. It gives them strength. And it quite often results in a better outcome. Your employees represent the continuum of experiences a patient has when encountering your practice. Your employees know the bottlenecks and the opportunities in many ways much better than you; they are in a good position to discern the stepping stones from the tripping stones. Asking each employee what they suggest will yield good ideas and better, often more inspired performance. Some of the best contract language I have ever negotiated, some of the best revenue-generating or cost-conserving ideas I have ever implemented, and some of the best service we have ever delivered, came from employees and their ideas.

As a practice administrator, I always believed that my doctors' jobs were made much easier - or harder - by the performance of my staff and me. If we shined, generally the doctors shined. We preserved and strengthened the sacred physician-patient relationship through consistency and kindness. When we lost our luster, though, the doctors faced uncertain or unhappy patients. We belied the sacred relationship and made the doctor's job an uphill battle.

I found that empowered employees fail much less often. They make errors - all of us do - but they make them less often, and they recover so solidly. The empowered employee takes ownership of her role in the patient experience and shines - all because you have told her you believe in her.

Find time in your day to thank an employee. Let him know you believe in him and his judgment, and let him know he makes a difference in your patients' lives. Ask him for his advice. If you place your faith in your employees, you, your patients, and your practice will benefit - trust me.

Lucien W. Roberts, III, MHA, FACMPE, is vice president of Pulse Systems, Inc., and a former practice administrator. For the past 20 years, he has worked in and consulted with physician practices in areas such as compliance, physician compensation, negotiations, strategic planning, and billing/collections. He can be reached at lroberts@pulseinc.com.