practice management

How to Lead A Pediatric Team in Independent Practice

Leadership styles differ, but the goals are the same: leaders want to motivate, inspire, and empower their teams to do great work towards a common goal. Whether you’re the physician-owner, office manager, or head of operations for an independent pediatric practice, you already know that managing a pediatric care team goes beyond hiring and firing. In our previous post in this two-part series, we covered ways to recruit, hire, and negotiate pay and benefits for new employees. In this post, we’ll cover how practices can lead and inspire teams with various players, including training, collaboration tools, and cultivating practice culture.

A Great Team Learns Together

A team that isn’t learning is stagnating. Providing training is not only required for certain roles (like CME for physicians and CEU for billers) but contributes to team satisfaction, boosts self-esteem, increases productivity, and enables cross-training, making your team more efficient.

There are three basic types of training available for pediatric practices: professional sessions, customer service training, and self-improvement training.

Professional Training

Besides the Continuing Medical Education (CME) or Continuing Education Unit (CEU) credits required to maintain professional licensure for physicians, nurses, and billers, here are professional trainings you’ll need to include in your practice:

  • OSHA training begins with an initial 24 hour course period, followed by 8-hour refresher courses annually.
  • HIPAA training and refresher courses are required by the Security Rule, and annual sessions satisfy this requirement.
  • HR training varies broadly both in topic scope and in required training by state. Typical HR-related topics include sexual harassment training and compliance training.

All of these trainings, including CME/CEU, are available online via third parties. Don’t forget: your practice should have a HIPAA compliance officer who is ready to submit reports of PHI breaches, train new employees, and provide answers to questions as needed.

Recommended & Optional Training

There’s lots of choices regarding educational topics for teams and leaders. While none of the below topics are required by state or federal law in order to practice medicine or to work in a healthcare setting, these are great opportunities to improve employee satisfaction, increase patient engagement, and de-escalate conflicts. Who doesn’t want that?

  • Sensitivity training is best tailored for your practice’s needs.
    • This training may include topics such as dealing with gossip, improving emotional intelligence, and identifying biases based on culture, race, ethnicity, or gender identity. 
  • Customer service training. Patients and families are customers, and from scheduling an appointment to working out a billing problem, it’s important to be mindful of the patient experience, as this affects everything from patient recall to referrals for new patients. This training can be specified for front desk employees who answer the phone frequently, and for the staff, nurses, and physicians who engage directly with patients.
  • Leadership training. Training for office managers, physicians, and burgeoning leaders in your practice empowers new leaders and keeps leaders in touch with what’s important to employees.
  • Business/self-improvement courses vary widely, and can include courses to help individual employees with burnout, stress, compassion fatigue, productivity, or digital tools like Microsoft Office or your EHR. These can be offered as part of a benefits package (either by contributing to tuition or allowing employees to take work time to complete courses).

Worried about the costs for all of this training? Many of them, like HIPAA and OSHA training, are free online. Many more, including basic HR training, customer service, and leadership courses are available via popular sites like LinkedIn. When in doubt, set a training budget for the year and allow employees to select their required courses, plus one or two extras for their own development. Everyone wins!

Finally, when scheduling training for practice staff and managers, don’t forget the benefit of learning as a team. While training should be extended only to relevant staff, the ability to learn together can increase engagement in the course and provide a valuable team-building experience.

Tools to Work Better Together

It should be no surprise that the best collaboration tools are based on solid communication. Whether you use digital tools or want to brush up on your in-person teamwork, here are some of our favorite tools to work better together.

EHR Tools

PCC EHR is built for pediatricians, so all of the tools included in your subscription are built with pediatrics in mind. Whether you choose PCC or another EHR, look for one that includes these top communication tools:

  • Instant messaging. Talkative parent? Billing questions? Send messages to individuals or groups, like billers and nurses, to get the help and answers you need.
  • Huddle sheets. While few things beat an in-person briefing at the start of a busy day, a huddle sheet allows you to customize what you want to review. Gather your team and take a look at the day’s appointments, billing needs, top questions, and any last-minute surprises.
  • Scheduling application. Tools like PCC’s Appointment Book let your colleagues know where and when everyone needs to be – color coding makes it easy to see which appointment types you’re going into, while handy icons notify you of a telemedicine call.
  • Lots more. Check out PCC Learn for all the ways PCC helps you collaborate.

What other tools do you like to use to stay in touch with colleagues? Some pediatricians prefer text messages, while others like everything organized in their email inbox. Whatever tool you use, be mindful of how you use it – in-person communication can help untangle all sorts of communication errors.

Rewarding Strengths, Dismissing Drama

A busy workplace can be stressful. This doesn’t mean that employees should be falling into bad habits, like workplace gossip or drama. If you notice that your practice falls prey to petty behaviors, negative attitudes, or fraught politics, you don’t have to suffer through it. Instead, lean on team strengths and successes to return everyone to the mission that matters most: caring for  children.

According to Psychology Today, toxic workplaces wear down even productive, happy employees and leave them looking for an escape. Signs to watch out for: workplace bullying, negative gossip, aggressive managerial styles, low work-life balance, and inconsistent expectations.

If one or more of these things is happening at your practice, it doesn’t necessarily mean your office or everyone in it is toxic. These are the signs of a needed change and one that everyone benefits from.

Identify the source of what’s troubling your practice. Is it regular upsets from a specific person? It could be time to discuss a way to vent her feelings elsewhere, or provide her with the support she may need. Does the office manager or physician-owner disregard feelings over criticism or give mixed messages? See the previous section on leadership training, and help identify ways to provide constructive criticism. Record expectations clearly to prevent missteps.

When staff and physicians are honest, communicative, and supportive of one another, a great thing happens: the office becomes a community work environment. When you know your colleagues are there for you, you can lean on one another. When work-life balance is respected, no one needs to feel guilty when someone at home gets sick or when booking that long-awaited vacation.

Celebrate teamwork regularly to reinforce the strengths your team works hard to achieve for patients. Give the person with the best attitude a choice parking spot for a month, call out someone’s hard work during daily huddles, and lend support to a colleague facing a new challenge. Delegate work appropriately and celebrate leadership.

Culture is your Foundation

What ties staff training, collaboration, and communication together? It’s culture, the groundwork for everything your practice does and wants to do. 

What’s your mission? While every pediatrician wants to support children’s health, getting specific about your mission helps. Does your practice want to work with infants? Cultivate an inclusive, diverse community? Whatever you’re proud to do as a physician, ensure  your colleagues and staff are on the same page. When you have a team that learns together, communicates well, and is passionate about helping children and families, your practice has nothing but potential . Learn more about your practice’s culture and how it affects everything you do at the office in our previous blog post.

Allie Squires

Allie Squires is PCC's Marketing Content Writer and editor of The Independent Pediatrician. She holds a master's in Professional Writing from NYU.