Six Mistakes to Avoid When Conducting Medical Practice Staff Reviews

November 6, 2013

Performance reviews boost staff performance and help mitigate risks associated with employee termination. Here are some tips for conducting effective reviews.

If your practice is not conducting annual staff performance evaluations, now is the time to begin.

Formal evaluations provide managers and administrators with an opportunity to assess staff performance, interact with staff one-on-one, and provide valuable feedback.

They also help mitigate risks associated with terminating employees. For instance, if an employee claims your practice wrongfully terminated her, having documentation regarding her poor performance and your attempts to address it may help protect you, Beth Brascugli De Lima, principal and founder of human resources consulting firm HRM Consulting, Inc., recently told Physicians Practice.

"If you terminate [an employee] right after they took a medical leave, or if you terminate them right after they complained about the doctor inappropriately leering at them, or after they complain about another employee impacting them in some way, then it starts looking like retaliation," said De Lima. “Even if you had a valid reason to terminate the employee, you could be in hot water if an investigation finds that you had no ongoing record of performance problems in the personnel file to justify the termination."

To help your practice ensure it is conducting effective performance reviews, we asked experts to way in. Here are six of the biggest performance review mistakes they said practices tend to make:

Mistake #1:Not taking them seriously. Don't overlook the importance of reviews, said De Lima. Practices should hold them annually, and make it clear that the reviews are a top priority. Hold them in a private area and ignore any potential distractions such as phone calls or interruptions from other staff.

"It's literally your opportunity to acknowledge that person in front of you, give them one-on-one feedback, including constructive feedback if they are not performing at the level you want them to, and make sure that they have an opportunity to talk to you about how they are feeling about the work environment," she said.  

Mistake #2: Not doing your homework. Don't just sit down and hold the review on the fly. Throughout the year prior to the review, document any relevant information that should be discussed. That documentation should include performance problems, performance improvement, and areas where the staffer deserves praise, said De Lima.

Pointing to examples is a great tactic, and it is especially critical when discussing poor performance, Joy Hicks, a medical practice consultant recently told Physicians Practice. Examples will back up your critiques, and they will help ensure staffers recognize their mistakes. "If there is no supporting documentation, then it is just an opinion," said Hicks.

Mistake #3:Not requiring a self review. Don't just keep the review one-sided. Encouraging staff feedback helps foster discussion and engagement.

To help initiate that two-way dialogue, ask staff to fill out self-assessment forms prior to the review, George Conomikes, CEO of medical practice management consulting firm Conomikes Associates recently told Physicians Practice. Those assessment forms should ask staff to list their strengths, areas where they need to improve, and so on.

Mistake #4: Not following up. Don't assume that since poor performance is addressed during a review that your work is done. To ensure that the staffer begins to improve, you need follow-up with him regularly and take steps to ensure corrective action.

For instance, institute a distinct period of time during which the staffer must change his behavior. Or, if the review reveals that the staffer needs additional training, set a date by which the staffer must complete it, said De Lima.

Mistake #5:Relying too much on the review. The review is your opportunity to address performance on-on-one with employees, but that doesn't mean it should serve as a substitute for regular performance feedback, said Hicks. When you see poor performance, correct it immediately.

"Feedback should be given consistently throughout the year," she said. "Employees need to be made aware of their mistakes and provided with the tools to improve."

Mistake #6:Overlooking physician reviews. Don't just hold staff performance reviews; find a way to review physicians annually as well.

Physician-to-physician reviews are one option to consider, said De Lima. Even better: Share staff feedback with physicians. Feedback can be solicited through surveys, evaluation forms, etc.

"I think it's very important for the partners to do 360 or feedback-oriented assessments on each other to make sure they are all operating in a way that is conducive to the culture they are trying to create, not only for their staff but for their patients," said De Lima.