Running an independent healthcare practice in today’s competitive landscape takes a strong team that can perform day after day, often under pressure. Unfortunately, healthcare worker burnout remains a pressing concern at many practices.
Employees who feel overworked and underutilized are unlikely to do their best work. This leads to issues with staff satisfaction and retention, and can also have a negative impact on productivity and patient satisfaction.
On the other hand, staff who feel empowered, and are motivated to perform at the peak of their skills, can help improve office efficiency and even enhance patient engagement.
Healthcare provider and staff burnout: A real issue for medical practices
Over several decades, there has been a steady increase in burnout among physicians and healthcare workers — a critical issue that’s only gotten worse during the COVID-19 pandemic. Today’s private practice providers and staff are balancing the challenges of running an independent practice with the many safety and compliance concerns that come with the coronavirus.
According to the American Medical Association, at least 40 percent of physicians are experiencing at least one sign of burnout. Likewise, even before the pandemic hit, many nurses were feeling increasingly burnt out and disengaged. It doesn’t stop there.
A 2017 study from the Journal of General Internal Medicine found that more than one-third of front office staff report feeling burned out.
Today, all healthcare professionals are bearing the brunt of an increasingly complex, highly regulated work environment. The pandemic is only shining a brighter light on these concerns. A recent study conducted by Mental Health America revealed that 93 percent of healthcare workers were experiencing stress, with 76 percent reporting exhaustion and burnout. Seventy-five percent indicate they feel overwhelmed.
A healthcare practice guide to preventing burnout and improving staff satisfaction
Most practice managers and administrators know a healthcare practice is only as strong as its staff. During a global pandemic, with burnout a very present concern, how do you motivate and engage your practice staff?
We’ve got several tried-and-true tips for maintaining a happy staff, even during the most challenging times for healthcare practices.
1. Implement practice technologies that save time.
Practice management was already a time-consuming endeavor before the national health crisis. Now, with healthcare practice teams balancing safety protocols on top of their regular duties, time is even tighter.
When it feels like your staff’s to-do list keeps getting longer, it’s time to consider areas of your practice that would benefit from automation. Implementing the right technology can save your staff time, help them do their jobs better, and greatly improve patient engagement. Think about tools that help you eliminate manual processes.
For example: Online appointment scheduling cuts down on phone calls and moves the “work” over to the patient. Automated appointment reminders eliminate the dreaded phone list and can help keep your no-show rate at a minimum. Implementing these technologies decrease staff workload — especially more redundant, rote tasks — and they are must-haves in today’s era of patient demand.
In these examples, patients will appreciate the convenience, especially when you can utilize text reminders, a patient favorite. Since we know nearly 70 percent of patients say they’ll switch doctors for greater convenience, going digital is a win-win.
2. Promote open, two-way communication with practice staff.
In any business, employees want to feel they have a voice and that their concerns are heard. Find ways to maintain an open dialogue throughout your practice and make sure staff members have the opportunity to share their thoughts. This is a fairly basic component of employee satisfaction and one that is not difficult to implement.
Whether you accomplish this line of communication through regular staff meetings, a true open-door policy, or informal feedback sessions, give your team the chance to bring their opinions and ideas to the table. You may be surprised by how many great suggestions you’ll receive, and how morale may improve just by listening. Whatever your process, remember to also keep staff up on any practice priorities, changes, needs, and patient communications. This can be done via quick stand-up meetings, internal office email, or both, depending on your staff size and scheduling.
3. Implement a LEAD approach to practice staff satisfaction.
LEAD stands for Listen, Encourage, Acknowledge and Develop. This simple approach to staff satisfaction may be just what you need to decrease burnout.
Listening relates directly to the two-way communication mentioned above, and involves actively seeking feedback from your staff about how things are going. Consider taking it a step further: Formalize your feedback requests by periodically deploying an online questionnaire that encourages staff to share their thoughts on operational topics, staffing, practice culture, and personal development.
Encourage is essential for fueling a top work environment. It’s as simple as telling administrative staff you recognize their value, and motivating them to take on more responsibility when they’re ready.
Acknowledge can be a simple word of thanks for a job well done, or it can be an established rewards system. With 80 percent of American workers saying they don’t feel recognized or rewarded, there’s very little in the working world more satisfying than receiving recognition from the people you respect and work with.
Develop requires the most effort. It’s about being able to maximize the skill sets of your staff and expanding their roles so they can contribute at a higher level. Not only will they welcome a more enriching set of tasks, but they will also have a greater sense of a future with your practice as you grow. Keep in mind that a real development plan can require time, so any opportunities to trim down hours on office tasks can help you get there.
4. Aim high with office roles and responsibilities.
This relates to the ‘Develop’ concept above. It’s an especially familiar topic in the healthcare industry, where providers and nurses are encouraged by the likes of the Institute of Medicine to practice to the “full extent of their education and training.” Just as clinicians want to practice to the top of their license, most practice administrative staff want to tap into their skills and strengths, be as effective as possible, and contribute to the success of the practice.
Eliminating manual tasks, and facilitating growth and development in your staff, can improve morale and efficiency. Once you’ve implemented automated tools for workflow steps like scheduling and patient registration, front-office staff can take on new roles such as managing your patient satisfaction survey process or patient communication campaigns.
This gets high-performing staff involved in patient engagement and can provide visibility into practice growth — new skills that will have staff feeling a greater level of value and contribution, and a greater connection to the business.