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Building Blocks for Staff Prowess
Wednesday, February 19, 2020 9:00 AM
In today’s medical environment, patients have come to expect all health care personnel to be knowledgeable on medical matters. They expect staff to understand the different conditions being treated, the side effects of commonly used drugs, and the recovery period for routine procedures. Moreover, they presume that all staff can explain these complex and nuanced topics in an easy-to-understand manner — even if counseling patients about specific conditions is “not their job.”
While these expectations may seem extreme, educating every employee about the conditions and procedures the practice specializes in allows staff to confidently counsel and authentically empathize with patients. In the end, this base knowledge benefits staff, patients, and the business. For proof of these benefits look no further than one of my previous consultant engagements.
Case Study: The Go-To Employee
Last year, I had the pleasure of working with a prominent academic center. Considering the business’ reputation, I was not surprised to learn that the majority of staff felt enormous pride in working for a team of internationally recognized doctors, all of whom were known for their ability to manage complex medical conditions. Despite this, staff members were uncomfortable when questioned about the treatments and procedures these world-renowned surgeons performed every day. Clearly, they did not possess the knowledge to answer pointed patient inquiries with confidence. One employee was the exception.
This employee, who had been with the department for 12 years, had made it her mission early in her career to learn the details of every product and procedure the center offered. Additionally, she took the time to learn how the surgeon she worked for approached specific clinical situations.
Not surprisingly, this employee’s knowledge made her the go-to person for questions among all departments. She alone could differentiate why patients came to see surgeons at this center versus another by clearly and succinctly communicating the unique differences between outcomes and procedures. In other words, she knew what bad and good looked like in this specialty and why it mattered.
This employee’s expertise provided value to the organization by allowing her to effectively “screen” patients in and out. In other words, she could consult with patients over the phone and determine if they were good candidates for surgery without taking up the physician’s valuable time by booking unnecessary consultations.
When reviewing her reserved consultations against those of her colleagues, the numbers showed that only one in 10 consultations she booked were not candidates for surgery, compared to five in 10 consultations booked by her colleagues. For a department with patient access issues, this was a startling revelation that related directly back to training and education (or lack thereof for the majority of staff — and they craved it!)
Based on this analysis, training and education plans were developed and rolled out for each team within the organization. It’s important to note that these plans contained specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, and timely (SMART) goals. This provided clear goals for staff to hit, a pathway to attain needed education and development, and an objective way to measure success.
Six months after initiating the training program geared toward educating and developing the team, the department chair reported significant improvements in the center. They included:
- Enhanced quality of the consultations seen by all physicians in the clinic;
- A greater number of patients being serviced whose conditions qualify them for the therapies and services offered, since the doctors were not losing valuable time with non-qualified consultation patients;
- Improved staff satisfaction scores; and
- Higher levels of engagement and a new solutions-oriented problem-solving mentality by staff (as indicated by department management reports).
Ultimately, staff, patients, and the clinic itself were all the better for these changes, and the center continues to enjoy the benefits of its commitment to staff development to this day.
Benefits Not to Overlook
This case study shows the importance of frontline staff getting extended training and development beyond their position. Staff possessing a base knowledge of the practice, its services, and practitioners can significantly enhance operations, the patient experience, and staff satisfaction. In a customer-centric industry, these are benefits that should not be overlooked.