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Tuesday, 19 March 2019

Part 4 of 4: How Your EHR Can Keep Clinical Staff Reasonably Content and Productive

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NOTE: This article is adapted from a Facebook Live discussion with Dr. Michael Gordon. The co-founder of ClinicTracker, Gordon is a Ph.D. clinical psychologist, veteran clinic administrator and clinical researcher, and a longtime advocate for effective, data-driven clinic management.

In previous installments on staff retention, I addressed the benefits of tracking caseloads and case acuity, some time-saving features that an EHR should offer clinicians, and how an EHR can walk staff through their workflows. Now I’d like to cover some of the intangibles that an EHR/practice management solution can offer to managers who want to keep their staff as content as possible. I call these features “Digital Morale Boosters” -- or ways you can use your software to enhance the esprit de corps of your enterprise. Clinic managers don’t always focus on what they can do to make staff feel good about working where they work. That might be because clinic operations tend to involve mainly solitary professional activities. The clinician picks up his or her patient from the waiting room, goes back to the office to work with that patient, brings the patient back to the waiting room, goes back to the office to write notes, fetches the next client, and so on. There’s not much opportunity to work with others unless you’re facilitating groups or collaborating on a case. There might be clinic meetings or some shared activities, but in most settings, those are relatively few, far between, and not a whole lot of fun.

Ironically, computers might have made what we do even more isolating. In our clinics years ago, you’d have to go out of your office to get files from a common area or check with the secretary at the front desk, or go over to the billing or compliance staff to check on procedures or the status of a particular case. After we implemented our practice management system, staff could do most of those activities on their desktop computer without ever leaving their chairs. Opportunities for social interaction became even more limited. And having a sense of yourself as a clinician who is part of a closely connected and supportive enterprise wasn’t that easy to come by. That’s why I made it my business to schedule bowling parties and other social events regularly.

While I came to see our EHR as an important tool in promoting a sense of community within our three floors of offices, it didn’t happen as a consequence of marvelous forethought and planning. It had to do with the lunches that drug companies brought to our department for grand rounds and meetings the psychiatric residents held once or twice a week. The drug reps always brought far more food than necessary, so the rest of us could scavenge the leftovers.

I was head of the food scavenger’s society and saw it as my God-given responsibility to let everyone know where they might find some lunch, or at least a cookie or two. But, as always, I was way too lazy to type emails to everyone or develop a large group chat (I’m not sure they were even a thing at that point).

Watch the recorded Facebook Live session with Dr. Michael Gordon.

Listen to Dr. Michael Gordon here or on your favorite podcast player.

So I asked our programmer how I could broadcast announcements to everyone on our EHR. I don’t believe I mentioned anything about lunch. I think I pitched it as the ability for an administrator to send announcements to the entire clinic – like when meetings would take place, or the fact that a new update was available, or that a winter storm was on the way.

And so Josh, my son and the programming wizard behind ClinicTracker, created a way I could send what we called a marquee message across the top of all the clinic screens. And, of course, then I got more demanding and asked for the ability to send messages to groups of staff – just the trainees or administrative people, for example. I drove him nuts for years asking for those kinds of enhancements.

If memory serves, the first messages were at the level of “There’s some Chinese food free for the taking in the residents’ lounge.” But then I started to post messages like, “Bob Haskins and his wife had a little baby boy this morning” or “Congratulations to Maggie Jones on passing her licensing exam.” Those kinds of messages seemed to go a long way in humanizing our EHR, at least enough that people could see the system did more than hold them accountable for paperwork. But, more than anything, it reminded staff that they were part of a community of professionals that had an identity and shared purpose. I’m pretty sure that including our clinic logo and name on the main screen served that goal as well.

I got all kinds of feedback from staff that they loved those messages, and not just because they got alerts about free food. They liked finding out what was happening in various parts of the clinic. They also appreciated that I could send them a warning that site visitors were on the premises or that the server would be down for maintenance or that police were on the third floor because of problems with an agitated patient.

It turns out that ClinicTracker offered other ways that staff came to see as morale boosting – beyond the fact that it made their lives easier. The feature that became the Unified Messaging System made it extremely easy for staff to communicate securely with one another. They could collaborate on paperwork without the usual hassles, exchange signatures seamlessly, and generally keep in touch with others involved in a case or group. The practice management system fostered a sense that we were on the same proverbial team with shared goals and a dedication to keeping up with one another.

There’s another way ClinicTracker helped to establish a productive atmosphere: ClinicTracker’s alerts and notifications for paperwork and other administrative workflows. Our staff loved it that we had a system that kept track of what was due when or what had to happen with a new intake or a discharge. That created an atmosphere where we administrators could fairly be viewed as more about helping staff work their way through documentation than as managers looking to police their activities and list all the ways they were screwing up.

These features can lift the morale of your staff and increase productivity. They reflect a core philosophy I promote: Wherever possible, run your agency by what the data say, not by the seat of your pants.

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