The importance of in-person staff meetings

January 9, 2015

Setting aside 20-30 minutes each week to talk with members of your staff can reveal answers to many everyday problems in a practice

If no provider in your practice is leading regular meetings with your colleagues and your staff, you should start now.

Although all of us have been tortured throughout our professional lives with painful, pointless meetings, I have found this to be vitally important. You will be amazed at how the most vexing and perplexing conundra melt into pools of simplicity when you ask hard-hitting group questions such as: “Was there a problem with our phones in the last few days?”

Epiphanies abound when the clerical and the clinical congregate. (We’ve never assigned ultimate responsibility for ordering the rapid strep tests? No wonder we always run out!). 

Much like the 30 minutes of aerobic exercise five times per week we recommend to all of our overweight patients, I know that not all of my suggestions will be logistically easy. But following these tips, based on years of my experience as a physician, will ultimately be gratifying as you watch your staff come together and become a better care team.

1) Have it every week: Do you know what the difference is between a minor glitch and a major crisis? About four weeks.

If you want to have your best chance at catching a practice management problem while it is still a smoldering ember rather than a catastrophic conflagration, give yourself more opportunities to find it. Corollary Tip 1(a) –Don’t cancel the meeting except under extreme duress. The importance of the meeting and its content for everyone else will in part follow from the importance they perceive it has for you. There is no better way to diminish sense a of importance than by frequent cancellations.

Read: Staff huddles boost communication, teamwork

2) Include everyone involved in the major processes: Moving patients and their communications from the clerical (check-in, phone answering) to the clinical (nursing, provider) realm and back out again is a complex endeavor with numerous opportunities to go awry. Consequently, many problems do not have a purely clinical or purely clerical resolution, and combining the minds of everyone is crucial when difficulties arise. 

By the way, do you know who always has the critical insight needed to resolve an issue? The person who is not at the meeting. Any idea who is not going to buy into and therefore undermine the solution to a problem? The person who is not at the meeting. 

I know that in larger practices with ambiguous team delineation, complete inclusion is particularly challenging. Of course, quitting smoking is pretty challenging, too, but if you’re a smoker, you should still work as hard as you can to make it happen.

3) Prepare an agenda for yourself: Take a page from the book of our patients and write out the list of things you wish to discuss ahead of time and check them off as you cover them. You don’t have to distribute it. It is merely a personal tool to keep you on track.The point is that these meetings should be treated like the valuable opportunities that they are. Exerting the effort to make them happen and not realizing their full potential is almost tragic.

Next: The right amount of time is crucial

 

4) Not too short, not too long: You need enough time to cover your personal agenda and let everyone speak to any additional topics that concern them. I am sure the requirement varies across practices, but I have found that no less than 20 minutes, but no more than 30 minutes, works well for me. This will also be easier to accomplish if you follow Tip 1. The longer you go between meetings, the longer the meeting will be, and the greater the likelihood that issues or problems will go unaddressed.

5) Record action items for yourself: Gathering as a group is indeed productive. Listening to the perspectives of others is educational for you, and a chance to be heard is generally appreciated by your co-workers.However, if you do not record for future reference the specific actions required to resolve the problems covered, you are likely to prolong or even fail to execute the resolutions themselves.

Also, if staff members do not associate the meetings with concrete positive changes, their enthusiasm for the meetings will quickly wane, as will yours.

6) Take time normally allotted to patient care to hold the meeting: Doing this may cause administrators and bean-counters to raise an eyebrow. But if you want your staff to take participation in these meetings as a serious part of their job, treat it as equally serious as the patient-care part of their job. If the meeting is scheduled too early, too late or at a time your staff would otherwise not be caring for patients in one way or another, you will likely lose the time you save wrestling with how to get your employees engaged in this “extra” obligation.

In case you were wondering, my compensation is tied in part to the financial performance of the entire practice. Do you know how I see this supposed “lost revenue?” As a bargain that more than pays for itself.

7) Use positive feedback liberally: These meetings are the perfect forum to congratulate someone on a job well done and reinforce the performance you like. Have a low threshold to say “thanks” during the meeting, and morale will trend accordingly.

In closing, one more general philosophical thought: You cannot have a team that never convenes in real time as a group.  Therefore, if you choose not to meet with your co-workers, you cannot expect your co-workers to operate like a team.

David Switzer, MD, is a family practice physician with Luray Family Medicine in Luray, Virginia. This article was an honorable mention in the 2014 Medical Economics Physician’s Writing Contest. Send your practice management questions to medec@advanstar.com.