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Six steps to improve physician/staff communication

Insight Article - February 27, 2018

Performance Management

Kenneth T. Hertz FACMPE

Physicians are good people, but they don’t always play well with others. And our staff, good people as well, are often intimidated by physicians. Toss in increased government regulations and requirements, new workflow patterns, staffing reductions, and whole host of other external and internal forces and you’ve got the potential for a volatile – if not toxic – environment.

While we can’t control the external forces,  we can control internal factors. And as leaders, it’s critical that we play an active – not passive – role in ensuring strong and effective communications. Our patients depend on it.

Here are six steps to improve physician/staff communication:

  1. Effective communication is a skill that one can learn. Conduct training programs on active listening and responsible communications.

  2. Encourage increased formal and informal opportunities for staff to interact. For example, hold quarterly “Meet the Doc” luncheons at physician offices. Make attendance optional, provide lunch, and encourage open conversation between the physicians and staff. This will take several times to become effective. Keep at it!

  3. Encourage team huddles. When working in teams, intimidation declines, new communication lines open and mutual respect grows through increased reliance on each other for patient-centric care.

  4. Share the vision! It’s important that physicians and staff all understand and are engaged in the same organizational vision. While the importance of effectively communicating the vision is obvious, too many organizations don’t. At a presentation at the MGMA 2014 Annual Conference, I asked attendees if their staff could tell me the group’s vision. Most did not raise their hand, but a few did. “Really?” I asked. “Yes,” they said, and then laughed. “After the staff looked at the back of their ID cards, they could.” Exactly my point.

  5. Make sure the staff and physicians know each other. “What?” you say. Yes, make sure they know each other. Introduce each new team member to the staff and to each physician. You’d be surprised how often that does not happen. When I questioned employees about this topic on a recent engagement, they all stated that none had been introduced to the physicians, but felt that doing so would be a great step to breaking down some of the barriers that exist between physician and staff. The physicians in the practice thought so as well.

  6. In one of the earlier practices that I managed, the physicians did all the cooking at the annual crawfish boil, and served the employees. It sounds like a small thing, but it went a long way toward breaking down the barriers between physician and staff, as well as creating an environment conducive to improved, honest and respectful communication.

Effective and open communication between physician and staff is not hard – certainly not as hard as it seems sometimes. We make it that way. We can also be responsible for simplifying and improving the communication process. That’s the better route to go.

MGMA is working with several clients to develop customized educational offerings for physicians in medical groups, hospitals and health networks that address all of the issues outlined here. Learn more about how the MGMA Health Care Consulting Group can help you.


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About the Author

Kenneth T. Hertz
Kenneth T. Hertz FACMPE
Healthcare Consultant Brittain-Kalish Group LLC

Kenneth T. Hertz, FACMPE, has held numerous leadership positions in small and large healthcare organizations in primary care, multispecialty care and large integrated systems. 


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