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Simplifying Chiropractic Practice Management
Communication has dramatically changed over the past century. From the movement of information through animals/horses, trains, wires, humans/postal carriers, and phones to wireless devices now, the manner in which we communicate continues to be a fluid process. As we think about these systems, it might seem that they have become more complex over the years. Each digital and electronic layer that has been added has required new habits from users.
But we are at a point in time where technology can be used to simplify communication instead of complicating it, and this is the key to improving any chiropractic practice—if we are willing to embrace it.
In a field like healthcare, there are many moving parts that can be challenging to manage. The ever-changing world of regulations, complexities in billing insurance, and best practices in how care is provided are all changing constantly and rapidly. Fortunately, there are solutions for simplifying chiropractic practice management, and these are rooted in principles about how to manage complexity and people. That said, it is vital to first understand the variables that need to be considered when simplifying.
Complexity of People
Managing people can be the hardest and definitely the most dynamic part of operating a chiropractic practice. Employees vary widely in skillset, personality, and experience. We see this most often when we introduce new staff to the culture of the office. Complexity comes to the forefront quickly as a potential challenge.
Workers will bring old habits from previous positions, and sometimes they must “unlearn” these skills. Training and retraining create challenges when it comes to staff and how they respond. As we look to change systems, the staff’s willingness (or lack thereof) to alter their habits might be a hurdle.
Whether employees are rookies or veterans, each will bring their own strengths to the table. For some, this might be in a specific area, like customer service. For others, their strength might be working through technical systems or paperwork. An employee’s strengths might not always align perfectly with the job description, which creates a different kind of complexity for those involved. When we ask staff to work outside their comfort zone, communication and systems can start to break down.
Finally, when we onboard new staff, we must acclimate them to the other staff members and not just to the job duties. Dynamics between different staff members can be either an asset or a challenge, depending on the cohesiveness of the team. No employee can function in a vacuum, however, and as a result, there are constant challenges when staff must work together. Even the most cohesive teams can struggle with the complexities of communication in the group. As we focus on improving systems to create simplicity, the team’s functionality must also be a point of focus.
Complexity of Systems
In addition to the people, the systems that have been created can contribute to the complexity. It is beneficial to define the characteristics of a complicated system so we can identify them when we experience them. What makes systems more or less complex?
Multi-step and nonlinear processes can be hard to navigate and difficult to define for staff. Processes with many steps create various challenges, sometimes unnecessarily so. Depending on the workflow assignments and how many staff members are involved, this can get messy. One example of a nonlinear process seen frequently in chiropractic offices is medical billing and coding. This process often has too many “cooks in the kitchen” and steps involved. There are solutions to help with this, though, such as automated communication.
Another system complexity comes from processes that require multiple “touches” by staff members: save this, scan it, file it, attach it, repeat, etc. Anything that requires repeated interactions can usually be completed more simply, and if the system doesn’t allow for that, it is probably more complicated than strictly necessary.
When systems “talk” to each other efficiently, it has the same impact that staff communication does. There are software systems that do not integrate well with other systems, creating a much higher level of complexity than needed. Fortunately, this is a problem with solutions that can significantly improve the goal of simplicity in the practice.
The Challenges of Complexity
Some practice managers might think, “Our employees are smart and well trained, and they enjoy a challenge from time to time. So, why is complexity such a bad thing?” In short, it might not be, but it is crucial to consider the hidden costs that can come with unnecessarily complicated systems.
- Cognitive load: All complexity requires thinking. Thinking is good, and staff members probably like to problem solve, but you want them problem-solving patient care, not logistical issues. Employees shouldn’t have to think about tasks that might have simple solutions. It not only adds stress but also saps their energy to be more productive in other areas.
- Time: Time is always a factor when it comes to systems. Staff members might feel like they don’t have enough time to complete all the work assigned to them. If this is the case, there is probably a need to simplify and reduce the complexity of their job description. If tasks are more streamlined, it will free up more time for taking care of patients.
- Quality: We have all experienced it before: systems that break down at some point in the process. Simple systems can create better outcomes. When complex structures are in place, things might fall through the cracks, and quality varies from experience to experience for the client. Quality goes up when systems are simpler.
What does simplicity look like when it comes to chiropractic practice management? While it is easy to define the problem, it can be hard to find practical solutions. Here are a few actionable steps that managers can take to transform the complex into simpler and clearer systems.
Create a singular systematic approach to onboarding new clients.
Let’s begin where the patient starts: onboarding. This process has two parts: one is the first touch-point of building a caring relationship with the patient, and the second is the practical step of obtaining their correct information for billing, insurance, and contact. Most practices will prioritize the second step. While this is a critical piece, you can use a digital patient engagement system to simplify the process. The computer will take care of the paperwork, check for accuracy, and provide any follow-up that is needed. Staff can then focus on the primary goal of connecting with and building a caring relationship with the patient.
Lean into automation for communication.
It might feel counterintuitive to use automation in a healthcare field rooted in the personal touch. But it is less about automating everything and more about simplifying what we can in order to do the rest of our jobs better.
Consider how communication can be simplified through this process. We never want to get to a point where our patients just talk to robots all the time. But by using a digital scheduling, reminder, and calendar system, we can simplify a few of the complex, multistep processes that can create challenges. This also assists the staff by reducing errors. An automated solution offering online scheduling can even aid in efficiency when it comes to things like creating schedules and calendars.
This approach can help staff have more time to do what they do best.
Gather actionable feedback from patients.
This solution is often forgotten in a chiropractic practice, regardless of size. The “comments box” on the front desk might never even get used. Consider the complexity of the process: patients have to take the time to write a card, which may or may not be comfortable for them at that point. They place it in the box, and a staff member is charged with remembering to retrieve the comments periodically. The staff member must then read through them all and route them to the correct department, and that department has to review them, deciding whether to take action or not. No one really knows what ultimately happens with the comments, no data is collected, and most likely, nothing changes. It is complicated and ineffective. But managers of chiropractic practices know that feedback is essential. The “comments box” that matters in this century comes in the form of Google Reviews.
Google Reviews can provide multiple benefits and are crucial for growing the clinic. First, these reviews can be used to gather knowledge about the status of the practice and how it’s doing. Second, they are an essential marketing tool and can help engage future clients.
All of this sounds complex, though, and our goal is simplification. An automated system is critical in this area, creating manageable processes for staff members. The technology is so advanced that the system can target specific patients, leading to better information and reviews.
Benefits of Simplifying
Changing systems and habits can be challenging, and the team is sometimes not open to trying new ideas. This is why it’s important to clearly define the benefits for staff members throughout the process. When they see how it can help them and the office overall, they will be much more willing to change their habits moving forward.
Increased engagement from staff: During this process, the team will become more engaged. It is vital to use the right metaphor when communicating the idea of “simplifying” the practice. It is not about “dumbing down” the job to make it simpler. It is about automating a few of the more monotonous tasks so each staff member can engage and maximize their impact. It is about using every employee’s best skills to care for patients, not about changing because someone is not being effective. This messaging can be important in how it is framed, but if you clearly communicate the benefits to the staff, they will begin to see the vision for how a simpler office is better.
Clearer roles and responsibilities: At first, it might seem that during the process of automating certain communication structures, workflows might become more separated and the team more disconnected. While this is possible, this process should not treat each task as something independent, completed in a silo. It should mean the opposite. Workflows that are automated can be defined. This creates clarity and can lead to the practice of more staff members being cross-trained in tasks. This builds in redundancy and support to create a strong office. There are many potential advantages of clearly defining the roles and responsibilities in the practice. One is that it helps the team function better. Automation frees staff to collaborate more and consider how they can help each other through the created processes. Team members who know their shared goals and can play to each of their strengths are cohesive and productive.
Decreased stress from staff: The final staff benefit is a decrease in stress. This might come from better systems being created so employees don’t spend hours on tasks like billing or scheduling. It could also come from a decrease in the number of interactions with patients. Instead of calling, leaving a voicemail, missing the return call, having to call back, and then repeating the process, an automated, text-based system can easily confirm an appointment. Simplifying processes like this can reduce churn, burnout, or low performance.
Increased customer satisfaction: Many of these processes take time to simplify. Changing systems can happen faster when there is the motivation to do so. While the team must get on board to adjust their habits, patient outcomes are what matter most when it comes to improving a practice.
All these ideas for increasing patient engagement through automation will work as long as the practice can maintain a personal touch. This must be kept front and center as changes are made. Some managers may find that certain employees like to waste time with “busywork.” Regardless of how simple the systems become, they will continue to seek out ways to complicate them. Even though this runs counterintuitive to how most of us operate, some staff members might not be interested in increasing their interaction with patients. Managers can approach these employees in one of two ways: lean into their “introverted” style and find more office-based tasks for them to complete, or coach them in how they can improve their interactions with patients. The overarching goal for the practice should be to focus on the patient. If there is a way to maintain this focus while playing to the strengths of the employee, that is a win. But there might come a time when all staff members need to accept and embrace the new communication systems.
This is essential when we monitor our communications with patients to ensure that we are maintaining a personal touch. Clients should feel that automation makes their experience more human, not less, but it takes the right tools and the proper staff training to pull that off.
Increased Productivity: Probably the most profound benefit is how productivity can be increased when moving to a digital solution. The bottom line of profits is not what being a chiropractor is all about, but it does matter. The bills need to be paid and the impact needs to be broadened. When systems are simplified, staff can focus on doing their best work and committing more time to patient care. They will no longer be swamped with forms, processes, and phone calls. By allowing the automated solution to take care of many of these things, employees can focus on following up with patients, problem-solving, and growing the business by finding new clients.
Through the simplification of many office tasks, the practice can run more smoothly and produce more profits, actualizing the perfect combination of mission and business.
At the end of the day, simplifying chiropractic practice management creates better outcomes for everyone. Patients are happier with a more straightforward process, staff members can play to their strengths and do what they do best, and chiropractors can grow their practice at a comfortable pace. This change won’t happen overnight, but it also can’t wait for months to be implemented. Many practices have discovered the efficiencies and improvements of using technology to engage with patients. It is not too late to commit to simplification, but waiting isn’t wise either.
Zingit is ready to partner with your chiropractic practice to improve and simplify.
Here at Zingit, we make it easier for chiropractors to market their practices, improve patient engagement, and manage their digital reputations.
If you’re ready to get new patients with ease, contact our specialists today!