Look closely at any successful practice (or business) and you realize business success is not the result of doing just one thing. As a matter of fact, business success comes from doing many things well, including:
- Delivering a great service or product.
- Providing outstanding customer service.
- Recruiting dedicated, friendly, and competent staff.
- Maintaining positive cash flow.
- And…implementing great systems.
Of course, there are many practices operating without some or most of the above-listed components. Consequently, they find themselves with less than satisfied patients, unable to retain them. Their employees are unhappy and stressed out. And the owners are overworked and tired.
What’s to blame here?
You could argue that healthcare is a very demanding field…which leads to stress and dissatisfaction.
While true to some degree, you’ll also find there are many practices, very busy practices, where patients and employees alike appear to be “happy”. Patients enjoy coming into the office and the employees report a great deal of job satisfaction.
Even though there could be any number of reasons practices may experience problems, one very common reason is the failure to implement even basic systems into their business.
Mind you the lack of systems often means the office performs tasks different each and every time and hence the results vary with each execution.
Lack of systems in the practice frequently results in duplication of efforts. On one side of the coin, multiple employees are doing the same tasks, not realizing that someone else has completed the task already.
On the other side of the coin, the lack of systems may result in some things not getting done at all or getting done infrequently, when someone remembers that something hasn’t been done in a while.
For you, the owner, this means you may get called on, interrupted and involved in daily, reoccurring decisions that should only have to be made once and not repeatedly.
And worse, if there are decisions that absolutely require your input, having no system in place means you get asked and interrupted whenever an urgent question comes up.
Overall this leads to dissatisfaction amongst patients: they have very different experiences whenever they come into the office. Today it’s ok not to pay their co-pay, in two weeks they can’t be seen because they didn’t bring in their co-pay!
Your employees are unhappy because “the rules” are not clear. How can they do a good job if they don’t know what exactly is expected and how to do it?
So what is a System?
A system is a procedure or a set of steps created to carry out a specific sequence of actions to solve a specific problem and to obtain specific results.
This means, that a good system executed properly and with consistency will yield the same result, each and every single time, no matter who executes it!
Think about it, most of what you do on a daily basis you do through systems (even though that’s not what you call it).
Having systems in our daily lives allows us to perform tasks efficiently without having to spend unnecessary time reinventing the wheel each and every time.
Everywhere you look, we humans have installed systems to organize the flow of information, to structure tasks and resources so we can gain the most benefit from our efforts.
Some examples include the power grid (distribution of electric energy), hospital emergency rooms, and the national highway system, our national tax system…just to name a few.
Needless to say, some of these systems are better than others. Some are highly efficient while others are anything but efficient.
But regardless, systems are all around us. Overall they help us get “stuff” done without having to stop and think about what, why and how something has to be done. This frees us up to do other, more productive things with our time.
Just think what it would be like without the systems you’ve put in place in your personal life:
- Your daily morning routine: getting up, bathing, dressing, getting to work…
- Driving your car: starting the car, putting on your seatbelt, adjusting mirrors…
- Your daily evening routine: eating dinner, getting your kids to bed, getting yourself to bed …
If it weren’t for systems, we would be faced with constant decisions. We’d have to stop and think about the most basic things in our lives over and over again.
Why not apply the same Principles to your Practice?
Of course, not everything should be or can be systemized. But much of what gets done in your practice is done repeatedly, over and over again.
Your staff routinely checks in patients, collects payments, contacts other offices, faxes out records and answers the phones. You create a chart note, services are billed for … and the list goes on.
As a patient moves through your office, from front desk to check out, a predictable sequence of events takes place and along with it back-office tasks that need to be completed.
Why not systemize these steps to make the flow of patients through your office more efficient, more productive and more predictable? You want your patients to have a positive experience in your office each and every single time they come in to see you.
One of the ways to make this happen is by creating a predictable (positive) experience for your patients and staff. You accomplish this by creating and implementing systems your staff will use every time and your patients will come to expect.
If you don’t have any identifiable systems in your business yet, then “it’s time to take the time” and identify, design and implement systems. They will increase your efficiency, make your office run smoother and free you up so you can see more patients and grow your practice.
Resistance may rear its ugly head. In general, there are two main reasons entrepreneurs resist building systems – lack of time and fear. Let’s take a look at them.
Lack of Time
I know you’re busy. However, if you take the time to put a few solid systems in place, it will save you time in the long run.
A well designed and documented system will reduce the time it takes to cross train your current employees and get new employees up to speed fast.
Implementing systems into your business may activate or strengthen your “entrepreneurial drive to control”. Let’s face it, when you relinquish control (even partial control) to employees, you have to be willing to trust other people and let go of control and perfectionism. For many, this is not easy to do!
However, if you want to develop a strong business you must incorporate systems into the workflow. Systems remove you (and your staff) from reactive based behavior and encourage strategy and vision for you business.
You want to move toward building and running your business by design (proactive mode) and get away from constantly putting out fires (reactive mode).
If you see the benefit of incorporating systems in your business, here are some of the questions to ask yourself before creating new or updating existing systems:
- What systems are in place in my office?
- Do we use the current systems?
- How could current systems be improved?
- How up to date are our systems?
- What other areas of the practice could benefit from systems?
- What tasks should be systemized?
If you determine that some areas of your business need attention, take the necessary steps and either create new or improve existing systems.
As long as you and your staff are prepared for “the process” and don’t expect overnight results, you will be able to put systems in your business. These systems will transform your business into one that is more efficient and productive.
And as a bonus you, as the owner, will enjoy greater peace of mind knowing that your business runs smoothly even if you’re not always there.
Special thanks to Johanna Hofmann, MBA for writing this article exclusively for NPBusiness/NPBO™.
Have you started writing systems in your practice? How is it going? Are you running into problems or are you having great success? Tell us in the comments below.
By Johanna Hofmann, MBA, author of “Smart Business Planning for Clinicians” and regular contributor to the NPBusiness blog.