One of the keys to running a successful medical office is efficiency. Although technological advances have done much to streamline procedures, maintaining strong lines of communication is essential. The medical staff should maintain dialogue in order to work together with fewer misunderstandings. A happy office, therefore, is the one where everyone knows what to do and which avenues to take when they need to offer feedback.
Not only is communication important for increasing workplace morale, but it may also lead to a larger revenue stream. If a patient leaves the office without understanding how they will be billed or how to follow their medical instructions, they are less likely to return or give positive word-of-mouth. This has become a growing concern now that social media is playing a larger role in building or breaking a physician’s reputation.
Fortunately, there are several simple yet effective ways to improve communication throughout the office:
The Health IT Team:
Health information technology now involves more than medical coding, especially for practices that have switched to Electronic Health Records (EHRs) to handle patient data. Getting the Health IT team more involved will help ensure compliance and improve workflow. Physicians can do this by designing procedures for the IT staff to follow as well as setting clear goals for them to reach that can lead to rewards when they are completed on schedule. It’s also important to talk to them about implementing new software that can further streamline communications between staff and patients.
Even for practices that are small enough not to require a large IT staff, making sure that the billing is handled smoothly can significantly increase revenue flow. Physicians should first perform an internal audit to see where their billing staff is wasting time with inefficient data entry procedures, and then talk to them about developing new strategies that can give them more time to perform the more important aspects of their job like collecting receivables. Technology plays a useful role in this because physicians can use EHRs to record services performed out of the office, online portals for patients to enter insurance information, and software that posts insurance remittances electronically.
The Office Staff:
If the Health IT team represents the brain of the medical office, then the rest of the medical staff – nurses, medical assistants and front office workers – represents the body. Unfortunately, communication between physicians and their staff members can often break down, leading to a poor work environment and a greater chance for error. Patients often experience the brunt of this inefficiency since they have to interact with staff members who have no idea what the others are doing.
There are several easy ways, however, to improve physician-staff communication. Shadowing encourages medical staff to talk because they can learn from each other by observing duties and also ask questions about how a certain task is done and why. This enables staff to identify inefficient methods of performing a task more easily as well. To improve relations with physicians, a strong feedback system should be established that encourages staff members to talk about a problem without fear. It also helps to have a clear vision for the practice that both the staff and physicians can work together to achieve. Lastly, rewarding achievements is always useful in building office morale and improving productivity.
As the heart of any medical practice, improving communication with the patient is essential, and this is why more effort is being made to train physicians in this area. Professional organizations now offer online resources to help physicians improve relations with their patients. These are based on patient feedback regarding the care they have experienced. One such program is the Medical Home Builder, which is designed to help physicians better organize their practice through a series of questions that help identify areas where patient-centered care needs improvement.
Another way in which physicians can improve communication is through technology. While an EHR system is one way for patients to access their medical information with ease, physicians are now taking advantage of smart phone technology by designing apps that can provide patients with information about drug interactions, appointments, billing, and other services. While new technology can make communication more efficient, physicians have to choose software that is intuitive enough to reach patients that might not be as tech-savvy as the younger generations.
Indeed, technology has become one of the best ways to streamline communication within a medical office as well as improve physician-patient relations, but not even the most advanced software can solve every problem, which is why feedback remains an important tool in discovering where communication could be improved. The most successful practices always have an avenue that enables staff and patients to talk to each other, and since success leads to better revenue, it’s in the best interest of physicians to encourage this activity.
Brandi Tolleson is a prolific freelance writer in Whittier, CA.