Your practice’s most valuable asset is its people. There’s an argument to be made for your surgeons hands/mind to be made, but people are a close second at the very least. That said, this is a service industry and your people define the quality of that service. They see your patients as much if not more than you do. They determine the type of practice you run…whether it’s friendly and efficient, or cold and unproductive.

Many smaller practices hit the pitfalls of mismanaged human resources needs. They don’t have a separate HR specialist or department, and the practice manager must negotiate HR issues and complaints. Or in smaller practice situations, you may not have the scale for a manager, in which case the physician gets a second full time job.

Without proper handling, HR issues reduce office productivity and create hostile work environments. Below are the most common HR issues that plague medical practices - and how to fix them!

1. Poor Office Communication

Poor communication affects every corner of your practice - from patient records to, setting expectations, to office loyalty and beyond.

In the medical profession, every piece of information is vital. Many practices do not implement an effective communication strategy, which can result in disastrous results for the staff and patients alike.

Communication goes both ways. Staff members do not have channels or opportunities to voice concerns and issues…and unheard voices result in decreased job satisfaction, decreased problem resolution and an all around toxic work environment.

Solution: Facilitate open communication in the office. Hold regular meetings, send weekly emails with updates, circulate office news, and take time to recognize staff members.

Create an environment that encourages open discussions. Make time to hear your staff. One of the biggest mistakes practitioners make is assuming they are giving enough time to their staff. Like it or not, you are their leader and making time to discuss the business you are building together is very different from running clinic or spending five minutes between cases.

Meet with employees individually every month or quarter to gauge job satisfaction and allow them to air grievances. Offer open office hours where staff members can talk to you about any issue. Most importantly, make your employees feel like they have a voice in the office.

A little bit of appreciation and recognition can go a very long way.

2. Staff Cutbacks

Employee compensation comprises a large part of a practice’s budget. In any service business wages are going to make up the largest expense, but this doesn’t make it the first place to look when budgets need to be cut.

Layoffs are not a net monetary gain for your practice. Your staff may suffer a morale hit and worry about getting fired as the practice administration has demonstrated that people may not be as valuable an asset as they thought.

Staff members must compensate for the employee loss and complete additional work. This split-attention leads to decreased productivity.

Solution: Quantify the morale and productivity losses associated with staff layoffs. While you may think you are saving thousands of dollars, firing a staff member includes many hidden costs. Analyze the costs and benefits with your executive team to ensure a fiscally responsible decision.

3. Disorganized Meetings

Meetings are important sources of communication in any working environment. They provide venues for open and direct communication on all topics from scheduling, to specials, to policy changes, and provide a platform for employees to address office concerns.

Disorganized meetings, however, negatively impact the functioning and morale of your office. No one likes sitting through meetings if they don’t find the outcomes productive when they “could be getting real work done.”

Solution: Get Organized! Collect all important talking points before the meeting and create a meeting agenda. Distribute this agenda to all staff members, so they can review the key points and make needed additions. When it’s time for the actual meeting, ask one person to keep the discussion on topic. Most importantly…follow through! Revisit prior tasks and ensure they have been enacted, followed through on, and adapted into day to day workflow. Talking about things isn’t enough…accountability is a requirement.

4. Staff Shortages

If your practice lacks sufficient staff, your current employees will feel it. If your staff members wear many hats, a single absence will impact numerous processes and can leave your remaining staff scrambling to perform extra tasks and constantly switch gears to cover the gaps.

The blow to office productivity is measurable. Studies have found that multitasking can decrease productivity as much as 40%. Employees that must focus on multiple jobs risk completing said jobs imperfectly.

Solution: Don’t look to staffing for cuts. This one is obvious. While your practice may not have the funding to hire a full-time employee for every role in the office, you can group the roles to get the coverage you need. Have your patient care coordinators help with scheduling or pitch in with insurance authorizations. Your management team may need to step in on the front lines. Everyone should be picking up a ringing phone line. It takes a team effort.

5. Unclear Employee Expectations

We keep coming back to communication don’t we? Practices that lack clear policies and expectations experience staff misunderstandings. Employees must negotiate and argue with other employees to determine job responsibilities. Sometimes essential jobs will remain uncompleted. Do you have a clear written outline of policies? A handbook? A benefit one sheeter?

Solution: Construct an employee handbook! Within this document, list the responsibilities and expectations for each employee in the office.

Ask your employees to read their job description and sign an agreement to abide by the terms. Each employee receives the expectations of every other employee, which eliminates the negotiation of responsibility.

6. Limited Absence Policies

Medical practices often inadvertently prompt sick staff members to work. Staff members save their limited absences for major illnesses, and come to work with impaired ability.

Some practices allow employees to cash-in sick days for additional benefits or monetary compensation. Others allow employees’ sick days to roll-over to future years. Both policies encourage staff members to work when sick. Ill employees suffer decreased productivity and are prone to more mistakes.

Solution: Restructure your illness policies. Consider allowing employees to take unlimited sick days. Few employees actually abuse unlimited sick day policies. Those that do likely have poor performance in other areas.

7. Employee Retention Rate

Does your practice suffer from a revolving door of new hires? Many practices do. This isn’t at random. Finding, interviewing, hiring, and training new staff members is a timely process, and losing staff quickly costs your practice money and productivity.

Solution: Hire the right fit for your office. The best candidate will be perfect for the job, but the job will also be perfect for them. Improve retention rate by offering additional benefits, like education support, health insurance, paid holidays, or even something creative (some companies pay for employee gym memberships). Unfortunately the medical industry has slid away from benefits while the rest of the job market is moving the other direction. You need an attractive package to attract and retain the best talent.

8. Unsatisfactory Employee Performance

Some employees constantly shirk responsibility, leaving other employees to do their work. They arrive late, take long breaks, scroll through Facebook, or leave unannounced. The good employees quickly become overworked and tired.

If the practice manager allows infractions to slide, the rule-following employees will resent the practice’s leadership. If the manager is the physician and they are too busy to notice…this sets the bar for accountability far below where you need it to be.

Solution: Include employee professionalism policies and penalties in your handbook. Clear, concise policies convey standards to employees. Do not discriminate when enforcing these policies! Penalize all employees that violate the policy equally. Make time to notice how your practice is really running and hold your people accountable.

9. Underwhelming Workspaces

Many offices do not emphasize productivity. The waiting room is too far from the examination rooms. Supplies constantly run low, so staff members must dig through supplies closets.

Patients spend the first fifteen minutes of the appointment completing paperwork. Check-in / check-out procedures monopolize the receptionist’s time, preventing them from completing other essential tasks. A poorly designed office space affects staff morale and productivity.

Solution: Optimize your office structure. Automate your patient check-in/check-out procedures, and have patients complete tasks via their mobile devices. Ask patients to complete important forms beforehand. Find and eliminate efficiency hang-ups in your office to increase productivity and office morale.

10. No HR Management

Human resources management is a time consuming job. Your practice manager has many important tasks to complete, and HR isn’t always a priority. Hiring an in-house HR specialist is costly, and your practice doesn’t need full-time HR management.

Solution: Hire a medical consulting company. Many consulting companies have extensive experience in staffing, training, and HR issues. They handle HR so you can focus on what matters: treating patients.

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