Staff Meetings Improve Communication, Enhance Efficiency

If you're looking to improve communication within your practice, perhaps even increase efficiencies among staff, regular meetings are a good place to start. The key is to begin scheduling the meetings for positive reasons, not negative ones -- too often meetings are a knee-jerk reaction to a problem in the office.

If you’re looking to improve communication within your practice, perhaps even increase efficiencies among staff, regular meetings are a good place to start. The key, however, is to begin scheduling the meetings for positive reasons, not negative ones. Too often meetings are a knee-jerk reaction to a problem in the office, according to Adrian Miller, a sales and customer-service consultant based in Port Washington, N.Y.

“The office manager might say, ‘We have to have a meeting because people are coming in late,’ or, ‘Staff are not filling out forms appropriately.’ The meeting is precipitated by something negative,” Miller says. “So everyone gathers, gets a bit of a scolding, and procedures are put in place to correct the problem. But, that’s not what you should be looking to accomplish.”

The goal, says Miller, should be to set up an organized and structured forum for addressing challenges, maintaining morale, and communicating best practices.

Be Positive, and Have a Plan

Meetings are often perceived by staffers as something irritating, as opposed to something that adds value to their job, Miller says. Imagine that every time staff is called into a meeting they’re told they’re doing something wrong. It won’t take long for the word ‘meeting’ to become synonymous with negativity. That’s why it’s essential that there is a plan for every meeting.

“What do we want to accomplish today?” Miller asks, rhetorically. “Maybe that comes out as a memo the day of the meeting, or the day before. Maybe even ask staff what things they want to cover at the meeting.” But be aware, she adds, there’s nothing worse than asking for suggestions and not following through on them. You can’t have a suggestion box that is never emptied. “When you ask people to participate, you want to help them understand the kind of ideas you would like to see in a suggestion box,” she says. “Give them some suggestions of what should be covered at the meetings.”

Miller says it’s also important to keep a tight timeline on meetings. The meeting starts promptly at a specific time, and ends promptly at a specific time. There can be no give on that; no waiting to start until all the latecomers arrive. That’s disrespectful for those who are on time.

“A good meeting that’s kept on topic, on time, can be fantastic,” she says. “It really provides almost the only opportunity in a busy environment for people to step back and have a conversation about what confronts them each and every day,” Miller says. “They’ll come out with some fabulous solutions to issues that maybe aren’t so glaring or horrible, but it’s small annoyances that undermine energy and enthusiasm. And you can address them in a group meeting usually very efficiently.”

Use Meetings to Build Staff Skills

A good way to foster staff involvement, while also enabling skill development, is to rotate the person who runs the meeting. It will allow staff to develop skills and learn, while ensuring that no one person dominates every meeting. However, it’s likely that some members of a medical practice staff have never run a meeting before. The last thing you want to do is set them up for failure. Tell staffers that the meetings will be run on a rotating basis, but that the office manager or someone experienced will run the first few meetings so that others have an opportunity to learn how they should be run.

Meetings, especially if scheduled daily, should be brief, perhaps no more than 15 minutes in length, and scheduled at an appropriate time. “You can’t shut down the office during patient hours,” Miller says, “and after hours for meetings is bad. Is there a formal lunch hour when the office closes? If so, once a month or every two weeks, use that lunch hour as your lunch meeting, and bring in lunch for your staff. And if you’re going to ask staff to come in early for a meeting, you might want to bring in food as well. Food is a great equalizer.”

Miller says that regular meetings are also a good time to remind all staff of the critical role they play in patient perception, and to illustrate how dramatically important they are to the practice. Patients can and will choose their doctors based on how they are treated by everyone at the office.

“Patients have a choice,” Miller says. “Doctors need to know that, and staff need to understand and care about that. When people go to a doctor’s office, it combines the two biggest stressors we have: health and money.”

And a staff meeting, she adds, should involve all staff. “It would be awesome if the doctors were at the staff meeting once in a while,” she says. “Maybe not every meeting, but once in a while.”