Declare Your Medical Practice a Drama Free Zone

Written by on November 29, 2013 in Practice tips - No comments

One of my favorite topics in medicine is patient service, and this service goes beyond diagnosing and treating their clinical issues. Customer service is the new marketing, and poor customer/patient service reduces your ability to retain patients and have them refer their family and friends.

One important aspect of customer service is what I call the “family drama effect.”

Imagine you are a guest in a friend’s home for a Sunday afternoon barbeque. Everything seems to be going smoothly; you and several others are milling about the backyard, the host and their family relaxing with you. Out of the corner of your eye, you notice that the host’s oldest daughter is gesturing angrily and quietly mouthing words to the host.  A quick glance at the host, his face is red with anger and embarrassment.  Within seconds the host, hostess, and their family members are in an angry screaming match in front of everyone.  Pretty tough to watch, are you uncomfortable yet?

What if a similar scenario played out in a more professional environment, say your clinic? Imagine being the patient, and having the office manager, nurse, and physician angrily argue over the upcoming schedule while you are all sitting in a small exam room. Pretty unbelievable? Has something similar happened in your clinic?

Recently this scenario played out right in front of me, while my history was being taken at a new physician’s office. I see and discuss less than desirable and even uncomfortable situations on a daily basis, but this one brought “uncomfortable” to a whole new level. I always see a look of intrigue and often field the question “how do we stack up?” on personal medical appointments when I answer the question “Ms. McLaughlin, what do you do for a living?” The look on this doctor’s face was priceless.

When these types of scenarios play out in a medical practice, I call it the “family drama effect.”  For many of us, our job is where we spend eight or more hours per day most days. Your coworkers are effectively a second family, and over time this family can become a big dysfunctional and loving unit. Just as parents keep kids inline, it is important for the leaders in a work family to handle disagreements in a professional manner.

Disagreements must remain private and staff must be reminded that there is a professional code of conduct in front of patients.  Airing your grievances is a demonstration of poor customer service (among many other issues), and in this social media age could lead to reputation damaging if a patient in my situation takes to Facebook or Twitter to complain.

It is entirely possible that the patients or families in the exam rooms on either side of me did take to social media or begin texting and relaying the story as it unfolded. What if someone caught a quick video snippet when the argument continued all the way to the reception desk? There could be huge repercussions on a number of levels. It is the reality we face today.

Here are five simple strategies for reducing or removing the “family drama effect” in your clinic:

  1. Start with leadership. As a leader in your medical practice, you must start with yourself. Periodically do a self-check up and be honest with yourself about your culpability in the culture of your practice. Take action to stop if you find you may be contributing to workplace drama.
  2. Diagnose the issues. Diagnosis can be difficult, sometimes it can be challenging to separate fact from opinion. It often comes down to he-said/she-said, do your best to strip the judgment and get down to the real issue. Once that issue is uncovered, shift focus on the next action that needs to be taken. For example: This afternoon’s clinic is overbooked. Rather than focusing on who is to blame, encourage staff to seek out the solution for the issue.
  3. Begin treatment immediately. Drama breeds more drama, make resolution to any problem a priority (i.e. seek solutions). Once the issue is handled, ask any involved employees to write down 10 good qualities about each other and discuss them.
  4. Implement a No Gossip Policy. Many times before and after a dramatic event between coworkers you know the rumor mill is churning up gossip. If you have an office gossip policy you should be reminding your staff about the policy. If you don’t have an official “no gossip policy,” get one.
  5. Have regular staff check-ups (staff meetings). Prevention is often the best medicine and that is true for the “family drama effect” also.  Hold regular staff meetings and include reminders of personal behavior policy and the policy for handling disagreements. Also include the opportunity for staff to bring up any pending issues. (Don’t forget to add a bit of team-building fun to your meetings, people that have fun together have less tension.)

Disagreements will happen in a work environment, drama should not. If disagreements do get dramatic, it is imperative to keep all drama away from patients and guests. Airing your dramatic office issues in front of your patients and guests is a fast way to scare away your patients and earn a poor reputation in your community.

by Audrey McLaughlin, RN
www.physicianspracticeexpert.com

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