The Importance of Engaging Staff in Urgent Care

successHiring the optimal group of employees is essential to creating a lasting first impression fpr your urgent care.  However, although hiring the right staff is important, there are other measures that need to be taken into account.  The Ambulatory M&A Advisor digs deeper into hiring the right staff, and keeping staff engaged to improve the patient experience and quality of care.

Hiring Staff

Ida Bergstrom, MD, medical director of Farragut Medical and Travel Care says that when hiring the right staff, she looks for qualities beyond the obvious experience qualifications of working in a medical or front desk environment.

“We look for people who are outgoing, who are friendly.  Because I can train for a lot of skills, but I can’t train somebody to have a smile when someone walks in the door,” Bergstrom says.

Bergstrom says the front desk is more important than the physicians at her clinics. She says the front desk is the first and last thing that people see when they come into the office.

“Most people, when they are walking into any situation, have a level of expectation.  We not only want to meet that expectation, we want to exceed it.  But, perception is people’s reality.  Whether or not something we feel something has happened, if it’s a patient’s perception that they weren’t greeted properly or someone didn’t give eye contact, then they are going to have a negative experience,” Bergstrom says.

Jim Lobel, CEO of InterMed Healthcare Centers Inc. says that currently, hiring and finding the right staff is a large problem in healthcare, especially with the current shortage of physicians coming into the field.

“I recently completed the opening of a clinic.  We opened in a community that historically has a very negative attitude.  The entire community and surrounding area was dominated by a handful of hospitals.  Even the hospitals themselves were not able to make a living within these communities and wound up consolidating.  Instead of having an area dominated by multiple hospitals, you wound up with an area dominated by one hospital,” Lobel says.

“When we started pursuing this, we looked at acquiring the family practices, and the staff at each of these practices didn’t even begin to meet the standards for the culture that we were trying to bring into the community.  We could not hire those people because when you had a conversation with them, their attitude was highly negative.”

Lobel says that if owners are in a De Novo situation, hiring the right staff is probably a question of going through 20 or 30 applicants to pick up one or two.

“Most people in these communities are not up to speed as far as what it means to establish a hospitality oriented culture.  In the case of maintaining culture, it is a constant struggle.  One of the things that I like to tell people is that patient satisfaction is not a wrote process.  The correct way to handle patient satisfaction is to have people that truly listen, who have a process for dealing with a patient’s problem.  When you have 100 patients a day, as many of us do now, it is easy for somebody to get flustered.  The staff has to be able to deal with these issues before the visit, during the visit, and post visit,” Lobel says.

Mark Johnson, CEO, Better Med Urgent Care says that from a broader health perspective, one of the main issues as it relates to urgent care is trying to ensure that the new locations being developed understand the culture, understand what the company stands for and what is important to the owners.

A lot of what happens and the way that really begins to stick with staff is through communication. That becomes a bigger issue, the more locations that we open and it just means that we have to work harder to ensure that the engagement level remains at a  high level as it has been so far.

The Importance of Engaged Staff

On the subject of engaged staff, Lobel asks that readers put themselves in the shoes of a patient in the lobby, and determine what they expect from an urgent care team of staff.

“In context, if you don’t have an engaged staff, there is no quality of care.  The question of importance of it answers itself.  If you do not have a staff that is willing to recognize an individual patient as a person with a problem, then we simply do not provide any quality of care.  It’s not quality of care if somebody comes in with a rash, you give them an ointment until the rash is gone.  That is effective, not quality,” Lobel says.

Johnson adds that there is a very close link between the level of the staff engagement, the quality of the patient care provided, and brand development.

“It’s not just the engagement level impacts patient care provided, but it also impacts the brand.  We know that engaged staff members exhibit high levels of concern for every patient, their family and friends who walks through the door.  Staff members need to provide more than expert medical care, but should also seek to provide an overall experience that is as stress free and comfortable as we can provide as possible,” Johnson says.

“We all want our lives to go smoothly, however, when someone is visiting a medical facility, that means there is an issue in the person’s life that needs to be dealt with.  When they are visiting a facility, that means the patient is having a non-routine day.

An engaged staff member would recognize that the patient is going through a non-routine day and should do all that they can to address the situation in a professional and caring way.”

Tips for Engagement

Lobel says that engaging staff is an ongoing process, starting with on boarding and indoctrination.

“We have a very thick policies and procedures manual.  Policies and procedures has two parts.  One of them is rules, don’t violate HIPAA etc.  However, when looking at how you treat patients, we have at least a once a month executive meeting to go over any issues that have arisen through the course of business,” Lobel says.

Lobel says that operators need to remember that people on staff have bad days and good days.

“We have a survey system, and I think it is a really good check and balance in that context.  We could get a negative survey about our staff and we are able to confront the individual and let them know what the patient said about them.  Our main goal is to find out what happened and how we can improve.  It gives us the opportunity to constantly put a mirror in front of our situations,” he says.

Johnson provides several tips for leaders to utilize when working with staff to promote engagement.

The first point Johnson discusses is to ensure that the leaders and staff members are all clear on the company’s vision, purpose, objectives, values and culture.

“They need to make sure that all of these elements are aligned.  If the vision is to be a fast moving company that gets patients in and moves them through the process to get  them treated quickly, then we have to have the resources aligned to do that,” Johnson says.

“You have to make sure that everyone from the top executive to the staff is held accountable.  It is not good enough to hold staff accountable and not have executives held accountable.  Everyone needs to be playing on the same field and operating on the same principals, and I believe that is the first step to working with an engaged organization.”

The second point Johnson brings up is that the leaders must consistently model the right behaviors.

“It is one thing to state and articulate the behaviors they expect, but the leaders have to model the behavior themselves.  I think walking the talk is more important than what they say.  Every day leaders are either building or destroying credibility, and that credibility goes a long way toward getting the engagement to the level it needs to be,” Johnson says.

“The third thing is that staff members all need to be clear on their roles, accountability, and chain of command.  If the staff members aren’t sure what they are accountable for, you can bring the top talent in and still end up with employees that aren’t as engaged.  If you really want them to be engaged, make sure that they understand what they are supposed to be doing.  When they have questions or need help, make sure they know what the chain of command is.”

Another tip that Johnson provides is that the organization needs to provide the necessary resources for the staff to perform their jobs effectively.  It is one thing to tell staff the rules and provide them the direction, it is another thing to provide the tools, training and coaching that would be needed for them to perform effectively.

“The fifth point is to communicate with staff members regularly on both the good and the bad.  The staff needs to be informed of changes that are taking place…changes are always going to happen.  As changes are happening, employees like to be kept in the loop.  Also, don’t assume that we are communicating to the staff what they want to know about, ask them,” Johnson says.

If you have an interest in learning more about the subject matter covered in this article, the M&A process or desire to discuss your current situation, please contact Blayne Rush, Investment Banker at 469-385-7792 or Blayne@AmbulatoryAlliances.com.

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