Revenue Cycle Management Blog | GroupOne Health Source

5 Surprising Ways to Fix Communication Breakdowns at Your Practice

Written by Kaitlyn Houseman | December 11, 2015
Medical practices often function at a fast pace, and in this type of environment, communication breakdowns will eventually happen. Maybe someone didn't hear a question, or wrote down a hasty note to do something and then forgot about it. When communication problems go unaddressed, problems can become entrenched and lead to even bigger problems down the road.
 
Why is communication important?
 
Practices can often underestimate the importance of communication. But when you add up bad ideas leading to bad processes that were never communicated effectively, you have some big problems that can pop up. When it comes to patient care, poor communication between physicians, nurses, or assumptions can lead to negative effects on the patient. In fact, 85 percent of medical malpractice cases result from communication failures.
 
"If there is a patient harmed and the patient decides to pursue litigation or file suit against the physician provider, the physician has to endure that," says Miranda Felde, assistant vide president of patient safety at The Doctors Company, a nationwide malpractice insurer in Napa, Calif. 
 
omeone who feels their questions are ignored may simply stop asking them. Others may assume that "no news is good news" and continue with a practice or process that is sub-optimal. Left too long unaddressed, communication problems can lead to dissatisfied patients, slower patient processing, and ultimately problems with revenue cycle management. Fortunately, many of these problems can be prevented or addressed. Here are 5 ways to address communication breakdowns at your practice.

1. Focus on training..it works
 
Is the entire team, from clinicians to medical billing staff to receptionist, trained in good communication techniques? It's easy to assume that everyone understands the basics of respect, courteous tone, feedback, and follow-through, but different people may have different notions of what these involve. Make it clear to everyone that a friendly, yet professional attitude is expected, and that if someone doesn't quite understand a request or instruction, they should feel free to ask for clarification right then.

2. Have a morning huddle to start the day off right
 
A five- to ten-minute gathering each day before the office opens can set the stage for a positive work place environment and will help inspire your employees to reach their set goals for the day. Keep it brief, and highlight something that went well the day before and one thing that demonstrated opportunity for improvement.
 
Or, you could use the popular "sandwich" technique, where you sandwich one area for improvement between two areas in which your staff is excelling. Some practices spend a couple of minutes reviewing metrics like patient counts, reschedules, and cancellations from the previous day.

3. Holdy weekly or monthly staff meetings
 
Weekly staff meetings don't have to be a chore if you are vigilant about keeping them to 30- to 45-minutes and perhaps provide incentives like bringing in lunch for the staff. This is a slightly longer version of the morning huddle, where people have time to talk more in-depth about issues the practice is facing (like a software upgrade, for example). It's also a good opportunity to reinforce positive actions and attitudes and occasionally provide short communications training modules for your practice staff.

4. Sometimes one-on-one is the best option
 
Unfortunately, you may occasionally have the staff member who doesn't "get it" and needs one-on-one help to better understand your practice's communication standards and why they are important. There's no set frequency for one-on-one meetings, and many practices only have them on an as-needed basis to address particular patterns of behaviors, or isolated events. It's important to demonstrate respect during these one-on-one meetings, both to keep defensive attitudes to a minimum and to serve as an example of positive, professional communication skills.

5. Reinforce Positive Practices
 
Simple, positive practices, like the habit of saying "Thank you," after receiving a request to let the person requesting know that they were heard, can make a difference. It's the little things your team members do every day that add up long term to a positive communication environment, so it's important that these behaviors are reinforced. Reminders at daily huddles can help, but the best way to build a professional environment in which positive communication is a priority is to demonstrate it consistently in everyday interactions.

Revenue cycle management doesn't exist in a vacuum, and it can't function optimally if your team doesn't communicate effectively. With positive, professional communication practices, your team can avoid misunderstandings, keep processes on track, and improve the performance of your revenue cycle management.