Expert tips on improving interactions and reducing costly miscommunication

From running more productive and efficient staff meetings, to ensuring you and your patients are on the same page, to effectively interacting with colleagues and partners, communication is key in any medical practice. If communication is good, it can create engaged employees and satisfied patients. If it’s bad, however, it can lead to employee turnover and even malpractice lawsuits. Read on for experts’ advice and strategies for improving communication in your practice.

The risks of poor communication

Practices often underestimate the importance of communication, noted practice management consultant Barbara Stahura in Physicians Practice. Seen as a “soft skill,” it may take a backseat to more pressing and measurable issues like coding changes and accounts receivable.

But problems caused by communication breakdowns can be quite serious. Not only can poor communication cause inefficiencies and disorganization, it can hinder quality of care, said health care consultant Sherry Migliore. “If you have inherent issues in terms of how staff communicates with each other, you are going to have communication issues with patients as well.”

Staff interaction issues can cause communication issues with patients—which can result in malpractice lawsuits.

Poor doctor-patient communication can lead to patient dissatisfaction, unsatisfactory outcomes—and even malpractice suits. According to the most recent report from CRICO, a division of The Risk Management Foundation of the Harvard Medical Institutions Incorporated, in a review of 23,000 medical malpractice cases in which patients suffered some degree of harm, communication failure was directly linked in 30 percent of cases.

For more on this topic, see Five Ways to Prioritize Patient Relationships and Minimize Malpractice Risk

Increase staff engagement and run effective meetings

So how do you make sure that you, your staff, and your colleagues are on the same page? Meetings are an ideal time, if you approach them right. No one wants to sit through an endless staff meeting or a lecture about what they need to improve.

Rather, use this time to reinforce your practice’s missions and goals, build positivity, encourage problem-solving, and ensure that your staff is working together to reach shared goals, suggested practice management consultant Joe Capko in a different article in Physicians Practice. “Any opportunity to communicate with a group is an opportunity to build a common understanding of the goals and challenges facing the practice.”

Staff meetings are a chance to solidify company culture and increase employee engagement. As we discuss in our newest eBook, Top Secrets to Hiring, Training, & Retaining an All-Star Medical Staff, staffing your practice in this competitive health care job market goes beyond salary. And since turnover can cost practices $15,000 per year per employee, you can’t afford to ignore communication issues that could lead to unhappy employees and cost you staff.

To find out more, download your free copy of our eBook here.

For an effective meeting, stick to an agenda, solicit feedback, stay positive, thank or reward staff publicly, and track the progress of assigned tasks.

Capko’s tips for running effective meetings include asking for feedback from staff and showing that you are receptive to it, even if it’s critical; acknowledging and rewarding employees in a public setting; and staying focused. In terms of this last point, he suggests asking staff to contribute agenda items ahead of time, designating an employee with strong verbal communication and organizational skills to be the meeting moderator, and keeping track of what’s been covered and who is in charge of each task.

“A progress report on these various action items is a natural starting point for the next meeting,” he said. “Keeping track of where the practice is on these various fronts contributes to a sense of urgency and progress.”

Effective leaders are effective communicators

In most organizations, leadership sets the tone for the rest of the staff. To ensure good communication in your practice, set a good example for your employees.

“As a physician leader, you must not only lead; but also stay open and listen. You should try to put people at ease and listen intensively when communicating with team members. Be sure to make eye contact, smile, and ask open-ended questions,” wrote practice management consultant Nick Hernandez on The Doctor Weighs In blog.

He also advises doctors to focus on clarity, explain their reasoning, and pay attention to reactions—all effective communication skills that doctors also need when interacting with patients, patients’ families or caregivers, and referring doctors, he points out. “Effective communication is important because a large portion of a physician’s time is spent communicating with others.”

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