Don't Let Friction Just Slide By 

I like to take my two-year-old grandchild to the park and watch him on the slide. When he gets scared of the speed, he's learned to use the rubber soles of his shoes, which cause friction, to slow him down. He’s pretty good at figuring out things, and his application of friction made me think about the friction that inevitably exists in medical practices.

The pandemic induced serious friction for healthcare providers, significantly the mental kind. A report by the Physicians Foundation shows that 78% of physicians feel burnout – and that was before the pandemic. Emotional and mental friction in medical practices slows workflow, decreases productivity and negatively impacts morale, which patients can sense. That means friction affects patient operations, care delivery and patient satisfaction, too.

Here are my tips for creating a friction-free medical practice.
  • Trust is the best lubricant for reducing mental friction. It’s the opposite of what my grandson does: when he loses trust in his speed, he adds friction to bring it back. In your practice, if trust has been broken between providers and staff, then get to the bottom of the issue and fix it; if it’s you, then own up to your mistakes and make amends.
  • Tame a slow burn before it becomes a five-alarm blaze. Keep a sharp lookout for rising tensions among staff members (even patients) and step in quickly to lower the heat. Set the tone proactively by modeling caring and collaborative behavior. Provide opportunities, such as a weekly team huddle and an open-door policy, for staff to express concerns freely.
  • Smooth things over. Practice presents many occasions for two entities to rub the wrong way: physician and payor, staff and provider, physician and patient. Clarity through facts is one approach. Perhaps the best tool doctors can use is laughter. A sense of humor or shared experience go a long way toward alleviating broken personal connections that can turn friction toxic.
Bottom line: Whenever possible, identify the problem that's causing friction and allow for discourse in a nonjudgmental way. Active listening and clear understanding are the WD-40 that reduces discord for doctors.
See more practice improvement tips from Dr. Baum
Neil H. Baum, MD, is medical advisor to Vanguard Communications and author of two books: "Marketing Your Clinical Practice - Ethically, Effectively, and Economically," now in its 4th edition, and "The Complete Business Guide to a Successful Medical Practice."

Dr. Baum has been dubbed "Dr. Wiz" for his love of magic and his urology specialty practice. 
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