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Posted July 14, 2017

Take Quality Care to the Next Level with an Engaged Medical Practice Staff

By Matthew Bates, MPH

Do first impressions really matter in medicine? Some could argue that the only thing that should matter to a patient is whether they are receiving the correct diagnosis and treatment. In reality, patients care about much more. Their experience from the moment they enter your facility and how they are made to feel both physically and emotionally influences their willingness to be an active participant in their healthcare plan. That’s why it’s important to have an engaged care team within your medical practice aligned to a shared patient experience goal of consistent, high-quality care from check-in to post-visit and beyond.

A “care team” is the group of people who encounter a patient while they are in a medical practice whether it be for clinical, financial or other purposes. All employees including medical assistants, advanced practice providers (APPs), physicians and office managers are contributors to the team. Ensuring all members of the care team feel valued and are engaged in their work is critical to the success of the organization’s goals, especially patient experience.

Studies prove that an engaged workforce will produce higher-quality results, lower turnover and reduce medical errors. One factor that can lead directly to turnover is physician burnout, and disengaged non-clinical employees can be a major contributor to that burnout. Having to continually onboard new employees adds stress and rework to an already full physician workload. According to a recent Studer Group survey of practicing physicians, additional administrative duties is the third highest contributor to physician burnout. What’s more, higher rates of disengagement among office staff could lead to high turnover rates of both employees and physicians. Studies show clinical quality significantly improves when turnover is less than 12 percent.

What can medical practice leaders do to drive employee engagement and decrease the prevalence of physician burnout?

Below are three actions physician leaders and practice leaders can do now:

Set Objective Measurable Goals
Align performance goals for employees to overarching organizational goals. For example, individual performance metrics around abandoned phone calls would be directly correlated to patient experience and CG CAHPS Access Composites. Additionally, goals for standard clinical visit summaries show an employee their contribution to the patient continuum of care. If possible, align incentives with individual goals but keep them measurable and transparent with monthly progress reports.

Invest in Professional Development
It’s counterproductive to set goals for someone and not give them the tools and resources to achieve those goals. Staff development is essential to reaching and sustaining organizational success. Employees who are given the opportunity to build their skillset are more collaborative and feel valued. Professional development plans can be customized to fit roles and responsibilities or be based on the goals and objectives of the medical practice.

Reward and Recognize High Performance
Not all organizations have the means to tie financial incentives to employee performance. While monetary rewards are always welcomed, hand-written thank-you notes or other small tokens of gratitude can go a long way in making an employee feel appreciated and motivated to repeat rewarded behavior.

To improve employee engagement, you have to first identify the current level of engagement and create a plan for change. While there are many survey resources available in the market to help you benchmark and track progress, taking a pulse-check on current performance could be done through an internal survey or one-on-one meetings with leaders and employees. Additionally, leader rounding on employees will give a good indication of how engaged employees are feeling. Asking key questions like, “Do you have the tools and resources to do your job?” and “Is there anything else I can do as your leader to support you?” will create an open forum for feedback, discussion, and constructive change. It is critical leaders follow up and close the loop with employees after they hear their feedback. Tracking responses to key questions and monitoring change through monthly meetings will allow leaders to intermittently track engagement.

Creating a positive environment for patients to receive care and physicians to practice medicine begins with engaged employees. Take steps now to create an engaged, collaborative care team who is accountable to the shared objectives and goals of your practice. The aligned team will deliver the best overall patient experience. To continually improve results, invest in employees and make them feel valued through reward and recognition for achieving goals. Success begets more success. When teams see results and feel valued for their part in those results, engagement deepens and results continue to improve.

Matthew Bates, MPH, is an author, national speaker and managing director for Huron's healthcare practice. His decades of experience in healthcare strategy and innovation have earned him the role of trusted advisor to leaders of healthcare organizations across the continuum of care.

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