A busy medical practice has improved the customer experience by creating a team spirit that includes everyone from the front of house to the back office.
||East Brunswick Medical Centre
Key Learning Points
Are your staff team members or strangers passing in the corridors? Building real team strength requires allocated team time, managerial effort and continual commitment.
Good customer service starts in the back office and on the production line. Smiley faces at the reception desk should be the tip of a service ice berg.
The East Brunswick Medical Centre Story
When you walk into East Brunswick Medical Centre, several things feel right. For a start, the modern, purpose-built reception area is light and open. The waiting area is well-planned, with a children's play corner at one end and racks of current magazines (gossip and serious) for adults. Comfortable seating faces in several directions, giving patients a choice of views and neighbours.
But these physical features are only part of what makes this such a popular medical practice. The real comfort is in the warm, professional service that starts as soon as you reach reception. There is nothing accidental about the quality of service that pervades the practice. An enormous amount of energy is invested behind the scenes to create the right atmosphere.
Dr Angela Rutherford established a solo practice in 1988, with a receptionist and some part-time accounting and reception help from her sister, Maureen Goss. Maureen was pregnant with her first child and wanted flexible part-time work. There are now six doctors, two nurses, one practice manager and six reception staff in addition to a consultant paediatrician, a dietician and a psychologist.
As the practice has grown, staff management has become increasingly complex. As practice manager, Maureen Goss has had to create an environment where staff members feel valued and motivated to work flexibly and cohesively.
Maureen sees her primary role as supporting staff. If the staff feel valued and listened to, they are better able to look after the patients. She says the practice works well because staff have responsibilities rather than hierarchy.
Each month, all staff - medical, back office and front of house - have a joint meeting, chaired by Maureen. It is a forum to reconnect personally, to fine-tune policies and procedures, and to raise workplace issues. For example, recent meetings have produced changes to fire-evacuation plans, procedures for handling voicemail prescription requests and covering responsibilities for doctors on leave. The last two have cut staff time and smoothed back-office operations. Maureen says: "The meetings are very valuable. They foster good rapport between staff and doctors, enabling everyone to be open with each other."
Maureen also holds one-on-one meetings each month with every staff member. She is full of questions: Are there enough staff ? Are you getting the support you need? What's working and what's not?
Maureen believes that if people have a regular chance to raise problematic issues, it helps avoid a build-up of animosity. For example, when the clinic was unexpectedly down three staff, one reception employee asked if lunch could be provided for those working extra hours. Maureen says: "It was a really good idea that I would never have thought of. It made a difference."
Recently Maureen gave staff 8x5 cards to anonymously put down what they like, what they don't like and what they would like to change. The list of responses is being worked through at staff meetings. Complaints ranged from a smelly toilet, to the need for extra reception staff during winter mornings when the clinic is busy, to improvements in the way doctors note medical results that non-medical staff relay to patients over the phone.
Training is fundamental to a healthy practice. Staff are encouraged to do relevant training such as ‘dealing with difficult patients' or ‘patient triage'. Each year, staff members are paid to attend one course during work hours and one after-hours. They are also paid above-award wages.
New employees are given a full induction program that includes training in computers, policy and an external first-aid course. There is a six-month probation period. Reception staff are encouraged to bring their broader interests and skills into the job. For example, Emma Waters is a singer-songwriter and creative writer; she writes the doctor biographies and the newsletter. Sean Kinread has good computer skills and he helps the doctors if needed and does the practice website.
Valuing staff pays off for the practice. Maureen says: "I have never said no to annual leave and so when we need to get cover when people are on leave, nobody has ever refused."
By bringing everyone together regularly to meet and talk, a strong team spirit has developed. People work more smoothly together when the pressure is intense.
Dealing with issues and complaints promptly has helped to short-circuit the escalation of grievances. Staff feel appreciated and so are willing to work flexibly.