'Treat employees as you would want to be treated'

May 1, 2005

Who is the best manager for your practice? Some say a professional practice administrator—someone adept with the details and trained in office management. Some advocate hiring a consultant with experience in special situations and an outside perspective.

Those experts have their place, but Gregory S. Brinton, MD, MBA, said it is the physician who ultimately is the leader and sets the tone for the office. Therefore, the physician must be conscious of the power he or she holds and works to make sure the office reflects his or her values.

To ensure your staff delivers quality care, physicians must make sure employees are friendly and competent, said Dr. Brinton, affiliated with Retina Associates of Utah, Salt Lake City. He emphasized the use of positive reinforcement and praise to reward employees who do a good job. When a mistake occurs, physicians still must be positive and focus on how he or she can help the employee avoid repeating that mistake, he said.

Become a coach The key, he said, is to allow employees to do their jobs. Take on the role of a coach, not a taskmaster.

"We need to set the overall tone in the office, setting the overall goals, but the employees need to be the ones thinking, feeling, and doing what needs to be done," Dr. Brinton said. "That builds a strong practice."

Rather than judging employees who make mistakes, physicians should evaluate whether inadequate training or faulty office procedures led to that problem. Together they then can find ways to improve without becoming defensive, he said.

Doctors also should make a point to talk with employees in positive situations, not just negative ones, to help employees feel comfortable, he said. If interaction is reserved for times of trouble, employees will feel tense and negative.

"We need to encourage people to come to us with problems," Dr. Brinton said. "It is very difficult to go to the physician with a problem. It takes a lot of courage. And if we shoot the messenger, he or she won't come again and we won't know about the problem. We need to praise and thank the employee for the courage, even if that employee is part of the problem."

Fostering open communication Simple communication, such as asking employees how they are doing, helps staff members feel valuable, he said. Suggestion boxes also make it easy for staff members to communicate without pressure. Dr. Brinton said he rewards those who make suggestions with movie tickets or restaurant gift certificates.

He also stressed the need to reward staff members without creating targeted bonuses for specific things, which can foster discord. Instead, he advocates praise and flexible time off.

"Keeping good people is so important; it costs a lot to lose a good person-not only in morale, but in efficiency and wages. We must understand compensation and rewards," Dr. Brinton said.

"Employees need a kind situation with flexibility and time off," he said. "That's what people really want, the most desired perk. But the bottom line is [giving] encouragement and motivation from us the physicians-the perceived leaders-for a job well done."

Treating employees fairly benefits the practice in the long run.

"If they are treated well, like they are the key to the success in our offices, they will act like it and they will become that success," Dr. Brinton said. "We need to remember the golden rule and treat our employees the way we would want to be treated."