In the operating room, every member of the team brings a particular knowledge and skill needed to ensure that surgery is performed well and the patient is safe.
So, too, a well-run medical practice requires a finely honed team to operate efficiently and profitably. A research study published in Family Practice Management some years ago noted that a key contributor to a practice’s success is the presence of functional work relationships. Members in a medical office must work as a collective unit with a common goal to provide the best care and service to the patient. The office manager is like a conductor who ensures every member of the orchestra is on the same page and in tune.
Nevertheless, the practice manager’s work often is viewed in a silo separate from clinicians. In an increasingly complex healthcare system, however, a practice manager is a key figure in various aspects affecting patient care.
The practice manager:
- Determines what the best electronic health record for a practice is or whether it’s time to replace one
- Ensures processes are in place to meet meaningful use requirements, which impact patient care and practice finances
- Identifies trends in patient complaints and spearheads resolutions
What’s more, the practice manager oversees finances, human resources and risk management, and ensures that the practice meets myriad federal and state regulations. The person who fills this position can be instrumental in growing a practice.
Successful teams share certain characteristics. They communicate well, respect each other’s expertise, encourage diverse opinions, and understand how their tasks and responsibilities fit into the whole.
Additionally, in reviewing existing evidence of effective healthcare teams, the Canadian Health Services Research Foundation found that “members of effective teams have faith in their ability to solve problems, are positive about their activities and trust each other. They can determine areas for improvement and reallocate resources to do so.”
Putting teamwork into practice
Physicians and the practice manager must work together to foster an atmosphere of cooperation. Recommendations found in research literature include:
- Communicate effectively. This means listening as well as speaking. Meet regularly with a prepared agenda and action items to discuss important issues, like work flow, staffing, barriers to effective patient care, new requirements, etc.
- Set goals. It is critical for both physicians and the practice manager to understand the difficulties encountered daily if those issues are to be resolved. Goals should be mutually agreed upon, and each member’s responsibility toward that goal should be clearly understood.
- Be respectful. Some physicians may need to check their egos. Mutual respect is essential for successful teamwork. This includes valuing each other’s opinions, being considerate of one another and tactfully providing honest feedback. When an issue emerges, it is important not to be confrontational – especially in front of other staff – and to use constructive criticism to deal with the problem.
- Trust one another’s knowledge. Physicians should avoid micromanaging. Practice managers reported the lowest amount of control in their jobs was related to their interactions with physicians, according to a study on perceptions of stress, control and satisfaction. The high-performing practice manager has a finger on the pulse of the practice and can provide proper solutions to everyday issues. However, to do so, the manager must have the resources needed to resolve issues and the confidence of the practice’s owner.
- Avoid finger pointing. When problems arise, feedback should be blame-free and should focus on remedying the problem.
- Lead by example. “Setting an example is not the main means of influencing others; it is the only means,” to quote Albert Einstein. Establish a good working relationship by being a model team player.
By developing the characteristics of good teamwork between physicians and the practice manager, a medical practice can improve its use of timely information, as well as the skills and resources available to it, while improving patient care and service.