What do you discover when you watch the most successful practice leaders? What is it, fundamentally, they are doing that seems to make everything work better? What I’ve learned over decades of observing is that the best leaders ask the best questions — and they are usually questions about people.
Halee Fischer-Wright, M.D., MMM, FAAP, FACMPE
President and Chief Executive Officer, Medical Group Management Association (MGMA)
With the right questions, it’s easier for everybody to do the right thing for patients and the practice. You develop a culture of collaboration and psychological safety because everybody is involved in coming up with the best answers. It’s easier to generate the right kind of change — the kind that results in good outcomes for your practice, the people who work within it, and the people you serve.
What are the most important questions to ask? The following three show up again and again in the best run practices around the country.
How do we treat the person and not just the problem?
Practices of all kinds are being held to new measures of quality care, including patient experience metrics. At the same time, an integrated vision of public health is raising the expectation that every practice will play a role in helping people be well. Transactional healthcare won’t help a practice succeed in the long-term.
Leaders of successful practices look for opportunities to care for the whole person. They ask more questions about underlying health challenges. They help solve the kinds of problems that can get in the way of their patients getting the regular care they need. They develop systems that make sharing information with other practices easier, so patients don’t have to do all the leg work.
They design processes and develop their people in a way that helps patients feel well cared for when they walk out the door.
What do people actually want, not what do we think they want?
Sometimes we really believe we know the truth about what people want — and our assumptions are wrong. Sometimes they tell us the truth about what they want, and we just don’t listen. Both happen in practices every day.
For instance, practice leaders have so much data at their fingertips about patient experiences, it’s easy to assume that data is true for their patients. However, no two practices treat the same patients. For instance, we know that practices with low wait times have higher ratings and better provider reviews. But which wait times matter most to your patients — in the office, on the phone, or getting in for an appointment? Do you really know how well you’re meeting their expectations, or are you making assumptions?
We have so many tools to capture patient and staff feedback, but are we using them, and are we taking action based on what we learn? When leaders ask better questions, genuinely listen to the answers, and then take appropriate action, their patients and practices prosper.
How can we give the right people control?
Are your staff and providers empowered to solve problems, improve processes, and help patients as much as possible? In the best-performing practices, they are. In many practices, they aren’t. The result is disengagement, higher turnover, and lower patient satisfaction.
How do you overcome this common hurdle? Create time and space for sharing ideas and perspectives. Celebrate people’s contributions. Create groups tasked with solving specific challenges. Reward innovative thinking.
The best leaders create empowered partnerships between patients, staff, and providers focused on improvements that benefit everybody. That’s the future of any successful, sustainable practice.