Hearing healthcare managers are faced with a host of new and challenging responsibilities, most of which fall outside their traditional academic and clinical training. For me, the road to becoming a successful manager appeared intimidating and, at times, overwhelming as I realized that my performance would affect the livelihood of numerous employees.
The advice of a more seasoned manager calmed my nerves. He explained that managing a department is an evolving process, and it is important to start with some fundamental elements and not try to fix every problem at once.
In doing so, it's essential for managers to balance their time between patient care and administrative responsibilities, setting aside time each week for administrative tasks, such as financial analysis, marketing, and strategic planning.
While it's tough to gauge exactly how much time should be designated for these duties, at least half a day is a good starting point, with that span of time increased or decreased, as appropriate.
The learning curve in practice management can be steep. The following are suggestions for hearing healthcare managers as they begin their new roles.
1. UNDERSTAND INDIVIDUAL RESPONSIBILITIES
Effective managers know their employees, understand employees’ job duties, and determine how these duties fit into the overall mission of the organization.
A simple means to accomplish these goals is to schedule periodic meetings to observe and learn about each employee's role directly from the employee. Initially, consider weekly meetings, and then move to monthly or quarterly meetings when comfortable.
These meetings should accomplish two things. One, they should demonstrate to employees that you are interested in understanding the roles they play in the organization. Two, after achieving this understanding, you should have the knowledge necessary to make informed decisions regarding issues or concerns that may arise in the future.
2. MAKE SURE EMPLOYEES HAVE NEEDED TOOLS
Providing employees the tools needed to complete their work is critical for maximizing efficiency and showing them that their work is valued and that you support their efforts (Gallup Q12 Meta-Analysis: The Relationship between Engagement at Work and Organizational Outcomes http://www.gallup.com/strategicconsulting/126806/q12-meta-analysis.aspx).
Take time to determine if employees have the equipment they need to fulfill their job requirements. If not, determine these needs and work to meet them for all employees.
3. UNDERSTAND FINANCIAL ACCOUNTING
Developing a comprehensive understanding of financial accounting equips hearing healthcare managers with the tools they need to make informed financial decisions in the best interest of the practice and monitor the results of decisions made over time. A keen knowledge of healthcare finance should aid in product pricing and periodic financial statement analysis.
If your organization provides accounting services, set up routine meetings, possibly on a weekly basis, until you're familiar with the accounting processes specific to your organization.
Please refer to the second article in this practice management series for a more detailed discussion of financial concepts and metrics, which will appear in an upcoming issue of The Hearing Journal.
4. MEASURE OUTCOMES
As a new hearing healthcare manager, it's essential to develop a plan to track outcomes in three major areas: patient care, employee engagement, and finances.
Regarding patient care, current trends in healthcare are moving toward a more patient-centered approach that puts significant emphasis on performance outcomes.
While much has been written about this topic, the important point to make here is that measuring patient outcomes is now, and appears to be for the future, a central element of providing healthcare services.
Given the trend seen in other healthcare fields, it is possible that future reimbursement for hearing care services could be linked to patient outcomes, including patient satisfaction.
As a result, it is important not to underestimate the consequences of patient care outcome measures. If not already doing so, it is recommended that hearing healthcare practices work toward documenting outcomes associated with patient service delivery, including, but not limited to, patient satisfaction.
Since hearing healthcare practices are diverse in nature, managers will need to develop mechanisms that are suitable for use in their particular practices and meet payer guidelines, if applicable.
One possible mechanism to evaluate patient satisfaction is to work with healthcare practice consulting companies, such as Press Ganey or the SullivanLuallin Group, to aid in administering and interpreting patient satisfaction survey results.
If your practice is not able to contract with these types of firms for any reason, an investigation into the availability of established patient satisfaction surveys is recommended.
In terms of tracking employee outcomes, the concept of employee engagement and its effect on business outcomes has been widely studied.
What is clear from the available data is that employee engagement is correlated with positive business outcomes, including increased productivity, customer loyalty, and profitability. In other words, organizations with engaged employees are likely to observe positive financial outcomes.
Following the first two recommendations discussed in this article is an excellent way to convey to your employees that you value their contributions to the practice and are concerned with their success, two fundamental components of engaging employees.
For more information on employee engagement, including detailed recommendations, see the article I wrote in the November 2012 issue of The Hearing Journal (pp. 44, 46 http://journals.lww.com/thehearingjournal/Fulltext/2012/11000/Breaking_News___Employee_Engagement_Proves.6.aspx).
When it comes to making financial decisions for your practice, it is important to determine the end product of these decisions via financial outcome measures. Otherwise, the impact of these decisions on practice performance will remain unknown, which may lead to ill-advised financial decision making in the future.
In essence, measuring financial outcomes serves as a “check” on the effectiveness of financial choices. One particularly important area in which to measure outcomes is the financial return on marketing expenditures.
If returns on marketing investments are not determined, one will be unable to discern the effectiveness of expenditures associated with a particular marketing strategy or activity. Calculating this return on money spent should allow one to avoid unproductive future expenditures in this area.
5. DEVELOP LEADERSHIP AND MANAGEMENT SKILLS
Given that most healthcare professionals receive little, if any, leadership or management training as part of their academic or clinical training, it is of the utmost importance for new managers to create a plan to develop leadership and management skills.
Many large organizations offer some form of such training. If that is the case for your organization, do take advantage of it. If that is not the case, investigate opportunities to develop these abilities through personal study, leadership seminars, online training, etc.
If possible, find a mentor with a successful management history for guidance and advice when needed. Much can be learned from those with extensive experience and success in this area.
Coming Soon to Future HJ Issues
This article is the first in a three-part practice management series by Dr. Donai. The second installment will offer tips and tools for financial statement analysis, and the third will provide a guide on determining the financial health of a hearing healthcare practice. Stay tuned to upcoming issues for more advice on making the most of your hearing healthcare practice.