Featured Article

In Pursuit of Excellence, Not Perfection!

Lynn Homisak, PRT, CHC

imageThere is a big difference, you see, in pursuing these two objectives. I personally feel that demanding perfection of yourself or others may be a character flaw. No one is perfect. We all have an imperfection or two (admit it), bad hair days, and the (“CRS”) occasional brain cramp.

Remember we are discussing practice management so strive for perfection…yes. Demanding perfection, on the other hand, creates unrealistic expectations to achieve unrealistic goals. Whatever you do will never be good enough and settling for nothing less than a perfect outcome all the time, every time wastes precious time and resources. For those who believe that perfection defines success, guess what? It doesn’t; so best to give up the fight. No matter how much effort you put into achieving perfection, there will always be that person who thinks “Meh, it’s just ok. Nowhere near perfect.” Sigh. Face it, not everybody loves us…we are not pizza!

What if we choose to focus instead on excellence? Unlike perfection, excellence has a positive, powerful and rewarding impact on our personal and professional lives. It does not damage self-esteem and it jumpstarts personal drive and energy. It is achievable, contagious, and the outcome provides your office and reputation mountains of goodwill.

Delivering excellence in your practice doesn’t have to be strenuous. Pace yourself and think of the old acronym, “KISS” (with a twist). In other words, “Keep It Simple…Sweetheart!” It’s a much healthier approach.

Excellence in patient communication and customer service

Practice excellence starts with knowing what patients want from their doctors. According to a series of consumer focus groups conducted by the Schwartz Center in 2013-14, patients want doctors to

  • know their name and something personal about them
  • smile and look them in the eye
  • listen and not interrupt them
  • focus on them and not the computer screen
  • reassure them with a touch (hand on shoulder or arm)
  • convey information in a way they can understand
  • involve them in their care; treat them as a person – not a condition (they are not the ‘wart’) and
  • show them respect

It also wouldn’t hurt to have frank, upfront and engaging discussions about their financial responsibilities vs. surprising them with the unexpected ‘superbill’ on the back end.

Patients don’t expect you to be the Communicator Extraordinaire. They just want to know that you are available to them; that they can talk to you and are not talked down to. Applying fundamental communication skills enhances patient trust and reinforcement, builds stronger life-long relationships, referrals, and healthier, happier patients.

Think about how you introduce a Moore Balance Brace, for example, to your Falls “At risk” patient. Do you have an honest eye-to-eye conversation with them that conveys you have their best interests at heart? Can you empathize with their emotional (perhaps even awkward) concerns of aging? Is your conversation centered on cost and insurance or do you emphasize their quality of life benefits? You will learn more about and understand how to address patient fears if you actively listen to their concerns. Back your words up with confidence and as Dr. Jonathan Moore suggests in his webinar…if they are hesitant (about moving forward), ask them, “What do you have to lose?” Your approach needn’t be perfect at first; however, polishing your communication skills is a mark of excellence that can eventually turn skeptics into believers.

Excellence in Patient Care 101

Let’s take this one step further. If you’re really not sure what is important to your patients, how can you even begin to meet their needs? Take a patient survey and find out. Then, pay attention to what they say. Their perception of excellent patient care starts with knowing that you

  • are knowledgeable and stay current with procedures, services and technology
  • have trained and trusted staff
  • are sensitive to their lifestyle and help modify treatment plans to fit it
  • are confident in their treatment plans
  • make time for them and don’t treat them like they are part of a medical assembly line
  • promote more access and greater convenience when scheduling an appointment
  • are taken on time when they arrive – not waiting an hour to be seen
  • (numero uno) maintain clean, sanitary offices

Stay ahead of the curve, offer services that other offices don’t, brush up on scheduling inefficiencies and, if possible, give patients optional treatment plans that they can follow. When patients feel they have received excellent care and service from a knowledgeable physician and are allowed to make decisions regarding their care management, their adherence to recommended treatment increases, word around town spreads and the practice grows.

I can’t help but wonder if the reason that some offices reject including Medicare’s Therapeutic Shoe Program as part of their services is because they want nothing less than a perfect outcome. Where then should we draw the line between an “excellent/successful” program vs. a “perfect” one? Let’s say a practice has approximately 400 seniors with Diabetes who are eligible for a pair of shoes through the program but the practice dispenses less than 400 pair of shoes. Is it a failure? A 100% score would unquestionably earn them the “Medal of “Perfection”, but it’s hardly the norm. We could even say it’s unrealistic. Perhaps setting their goal too high is standing in the way of what could potentially be an excellent program where a more practical number of eligible seniors (e.g., fifty) could stand to receive a pair of shoes each year. In the end, the financial reward for the practice remains a welcomed one, and more importantly, the added service provided to patients is perceived by them to be caring; an inclusive brand of podiatric care.

Excellence in staff relations

Once a doctor opens a practice and hires staff, they step into those very difficult shoes of “Boss.” What that means is that in addition to treating their patients, they must also manage employees. Hmmm…maybe they have experience to bring to the table and maybe not, but don’t think it doesn’t make a difference. I can’t tell you how often seemingly ordinary employers become excellent ones under the right kind of manager! If you’re not sure what makes employees stay at or leave a job, think back to your own job hunting days. Do you think what they want in a workplace is any different than what YOU wanted? For example, • to be valued and appreciated • have a safe, open door of communication • be rewarded and acknowledged when they go over and above their work responsibilities • be recognized for large AND small accomplishments • have problem co-workers and situations dealt with expediently and fairly • have help in developing knowledge/skills – build on their strengths; not focus on their weaknesses • hear an apology when appropriate • work for someone who can lead by example

Employees know that their employers/managers are only human and therefore subject to imperfections. What they hope for is that those “bosses” who are management-deficient make every effort to improve their skills. If you are one who keeps holding out for that “perfect” employee, realize that you are wasting valuable time. In a perfect world, every employee is a happy/contributing/worry free employee. They exist in concept only; not reality. Don’t waste time chasing that rainbow or think that it’s your responsibility to make your employees happy. You cannot make them happy. That said, if you provide an excellent work environment that allows them to BE happy, they will unsurprisingly surpass your expectations.

Excellence in achieving practice efficiency

Say it with me. . . “Standard Operating Procedures and Policies.” How many different ways can I talk about the importance of having (what are felt to be) confrontational and bothersome systems in place in your practice? You know, the ones you’ve been avoiding – like conducting performance reviews, having an employee manual (with consequences for breaking the rules), scheduling staff meetings and developing front desk policies and procedures, etc. Standardizing operations allows a practice to practically run on autopilot, giving doctors more time to spend treating patients as opposed to constantly supervising, correcting inefficiencies, or micromanaging inconsistent operations that are slapped together on a day-to-day basis. It’s never going to be perfect. There will always be mistakes to correct, organizational upgrades to be made, and staffing issues to deal with. Still, structured systems are guaranteed to boost efficiency and any action that improves efficiency is progress. Even slight progress is growth.

In addition to coordinating necessary practice management systems, establishing clinical protocols also pays off in time and money saved. Along with improvement in comprehension of patient care that results from pre-determined treatment plans, there exists a seamless coordination between doctor and staff that offers greater flow and efficiency in the treatment room. Furthermore, they help capture otherwise missed treatment opportunities – an all-around advantage.

I know many successful practices that admittedly are far from perfect, yet they stand out and enjoy the benefits of a prosperous business. Why did they get there? Because those within the practice genuinely enjoy what they do. How did they get there? By being curious and committing to progress.

Just remember, life is not a competition. Break the addiction of chasing a dream of the “perfect practice” and focus instead on what success means to you – personally and professionally. Then seek to create your own “excellent practice” and leave the whim of perfection to be enjoyed within the world of fantasy where it belongs.

Pursue what is achievable and keep moving forward!

“It is your commitment to excellence that will enable you to attain the success you seek”…Mario Andretti

Post-note: Many of the above concepts are impossible to address in a paragraph or two. I would be interested to coach you through some of the management solutions discussed in this article.

Lynn Homisak, principal owner of Seattle-based SOS Healthcare Management Solutions, is an award-winning consultant and management coach well-known for her skills in developing and facilitating successful practice management strategies for Podiatrists and their staffs. Her contributions to podiatry have earned her the 2010 Podiatry Management Lifetime Achievement Award and induction into Podiatry Management's Hall of Fame. In addition to authoring a column and serving as Editorial Advisor for Podiatry Management Magazine, Lynn writes a monthly online blog for Podiatry Today. She also serves as Lead Practice Management Consultant for OHI’s Central Casting Program.