Tap Into the Benefits of Effective Medical Practice Staff Meetings

August 14, 2013
Carol Stryker

Medical practice staff meetings can improve productivity and staff morale - if done correctly. Here are five ways to hold more effective staff meetings.

Medical office staff meetings are often done poorly or not at all.  The result is that most practices are missing out on an opportunity to significantly improve productivity and staff morale.

Here's more on why it's important to hold staff meetings, and some tips for ensuring they are used correctly.

Benefits of productive staff meetings1. Information is disseminated in a disciplined manner. One of the biggest sources of conflict in any office is confusion over what the current rules are.  It is also one of the major time wasters. Without a formal protocol, information is often distributed to those within earshot and paying attention at a given moment.  Pity the person who happens to be out of the office. 
2. They minimize requests for on-the-spot decisions. There are all sorts of decisions to be made in any medical office.  Some need to be made right away, but many more are not time sensitive.  For instance, moving the fax machine or changing the rules for no-shows are important, but they can easily wait until the next staff meeting. 
3. Everybody wins.  The physician can easily say, "Put it on the list," without disrupting her work flow and trying to switch gears.  Staff can rely on a timely resolution and has no need to hang around and try to grab the physician between patients or phone calls.
4. Problem solving is more effective. When everyone who might be affected by a decision is present for the discussion and announcement, unintended consequences are identified before, rather than after, the decision has been implemented.  It saves a lot of time by making adjustments possible before something has been put in place and must be corrected. The biggest benefit is that everyone is (at least in theory) focused on the discussion and giving it their full attention. 
5. Trust builds. Knowing that they will get warning on most, if not all, decisions that affect their work lets people relax and move away from petty jealousies and paranoia.  Hearing the problems that other folks are facing builds empathy and an understanding that everyone has them.  It also lets everyone demonstrate a willingness to work together for the common good.  Even those lacking team spirit will feel pressure to behave collaboratively.

Essentials of productive staff meetings1. Make them regular, with their own spot on the calendar. A standing meeting that always convenes as scheduled makes a statement that communication among all team members is important.  It also affirms the wisdom of being willing to wait to discuss an item. 
2. Cancel a meeting only in extreme circumstances. That doesn't mean you cannot end it early if there's no business to handle.
3. Start on time. Please do not punish the punctual by waiting more than a few minutes for the stragglers and never let your audience escape, which they will do if the meeting is delayed.  Also, plan ahead for unexpected delays and schedule staff meetings accordingly. For instance, you may want to schedule the meeting half an hour after you think the patients from a clinic session will be gone.
4. Commit all decisions to writing.  This is how you will communicate decisions to staff that missed the meeting.  It is also how you will have an accurate record of the decision and when it was made.  Ideally, the decisions are used to update the practice's operations manual.
5. Outline responsibilities. If additional information is required to settle an item, make an assignment to a specific person to gather the information and a date by which to report back.  Reviewing the list of outstanding assignment should be a part of every meeting.

While it is true that meetings can be a waste of time, it is also true that they can pay disproportionate dividends.  Effective staff meetings are one of the best and most reliable ways to improve productivity, reliability, and staff morale.

What additional staff meeting tips would you share with other practices?