Imagine a champagne fountain with crystal flutes carefully arranged in a pyramid. Then — POP! Once the top glass fills, the champagne spills over and fills the glasses below it.
This mental image is a helpful analogy for the culture of independent practices. What you pour into the practice flows down to staff, culture, patient experience, and your practice’s success. However, this “flow” isn’t French bubbly, but rather your workflows.
Examining your workflows’ influences and touchpoints is a crucial part of creating a positive, growth-oriented practice. This process can help refine office culture, enhance the patient experience, and improve practice cash flow.
Some workflows may be used only occasionally but are still highly valuable while others are utilized on a daily basis. Here are a few tips to help you boost workflows related to hiring staff and routine practice operations.
Enhancing Workflows to Attract and Train Outstanding Staff
Growing a practice is challenging yet rewarding. On the one hand, expanding your practice can ultimately reduce workloads while improving quality and allow you to welcome new patients. On the other hand, recruitment is expensive and training is time-consuming, especially if you’re understaffed.
Since the hiring process often occurs infrequently, we often overlook this incredibly important workflow. To simplify and streamline the process of hiring and training a new staff member, take some time to evaluate your workflow. This initial evaluation can help you find and educate a new member that not only excels in day-to-day job duties, but also embodies your practice’s values and protects your hard-earned reputation. Here are four key steps to effective hiring and on-boarding:
- Craft an accurate, inviting job posting. Prior to posting the job online, discuss and prioritize which gaps need to be filled at your practice. This will help you target your ideal candidate. From there, summarize the position in a two- to three-sentence job description. Then, add any “must haves” based on the gaps you identified as well as the other job duties and minimum qualifications. Finally, consider including your practice’s values and mission to personalize your posting.
- Provide constructive feedback. Once you’ve found and hired your new team member, make sure to deliver constructive, appropriate feedback throughout onboarding. When providing feedback, it’s critical to take an inventory of the situation, the behaviors the employee exhibited, and stating the impact using “I” statements. First, take the employee to a private place when they have a moment as soon as you can after the situation. Be sure to give frequent positive feedback, too. Tell the staff member when you really admired the way they handled a situation. As noted in Harvard Business Review, “Positive feedback is critical for learning. People are often quick to notice what’s wrong, but it’s equally important to pay attention to and provide input on what is working to support development.” Ask for feedback from your new hire. A fresh set of eyes can often contribute new ideas.
- Ask the important questions. During and after onboarding, regularly reflect and ask the tough yet important questions that drive success at your practice. Re-visiting these questions can help track progress and overcome any obstacles. Some key questions include:
- Is this member learning and understanding our “why”?
- What do they need to know about our practice, and vice versa?
- Who will be their back-up?
- How is success defined for their role?
- Create a checklist of best practices for future reference. As you progress through onboarding, consider making a list of milestones and resources. As Atul Gawande, MD, MPH, wrote in The Checklist Manifesto: “Under conditions of complexity, not only are checklists a help, they are required for success.” You can refer to this when you add new members in the future. Here are some items you may want to include:
- Schedule a pre-start Q&A
- Add the new hire on LinkedIn
- Share the hiring update in an upcoming practice bulletin or newsletter
- Order lunch on their first day to welcome the new hire
Schedule routine meetings to ask and answer your new hire’s questions. This can help successfully onboard new team members and reaffirms your practice’s culture. Setting aside this time early on can accelerate learning. Be sure to foster growth to help new members envision their future with the practice and express appreciation, which may improve retention.
Automate and Audit to Optimize Workflows
In addition to recruitment and training, day-to-day workflows can help your practice run efficiently and effectively. By refining your regular workflows, you can help enable your team to work independently while remaining connected and fostering a team-based mindset. Two of the most impactful tools to bolster your workflows are automation and audits.
Automation can help reduce time spent on administrative tasks, enhance the patient experience, and avoid errors. Digitizing or automating tasks can allow staff to refocus their time on more rewarding, engaging, and valuable work. One potential automation you may wish to deploy is sending patient intake forms through the patient portal. This allows patients to complete and sign forms before their visit. You may wish to implement online scheduling, which is convenient for patients and can reduce staff time spent on phone calls. Studies show that 80 percent of patients prefer online scheduling. You might also consider automating appointment reminders to engage patients and reduce no-shows, which can cost $200 per appointment.
Optimizing your workflows is not a “once and done” solution. Even if a workflow is going well, it’s important to meet with your team regularly to ask for feedback and look for gaps or areas where your key performance indicators are lagging behind. Eventually, a workflow may no longer make sense or be too cumbersome for your team to continue. Routine audits allow you to test and then refine workflows periodically so that they can evolve with your practice needs. Every six months or so, gather feedback from your team to review together and incorporate into your daily lives. Additionally, you can conduct “mini-audits” in your morning huddle meetings before seeing patients.
Improving onboarding and patient schedule procedures and optimizing your workflows are just a few ways you can build a best-in-class team to care for patients and run a high-performance practice!