Sunday, September 21, 2008

1 Year Anniversary in New Office

1 year ago I took a big chance, jumped off a financial cliff (much like the country is in right now, except I had a back-up parachute), and opened a new office designed for the future of my practice. Now a year later, I can say that as scary as that step was, it was the best thing I did for my career.

Calculated risks can push us forward beyond our limits and into greater success. Reckless risks (otherwise called "gambling") can put you in foreclosure. Being able to make the distinction is the mark of a keen businessperson. How the distinction is made, is hard to explain -- you gotta trust your gut or your instincts. You create a business plan, come up with projections on how much you will make, check to make sure your practice is pacing in that direction and hope for the best. It turned out that things worked out even better than I thought they would. So well, in fact, that I didn't realize how far beneath its potential my practice had been.

There is no substitute for having not only your own staff, but being able to create the atmosphere you want your patients to experience. Atmosphere these days is just as important as the service you provide. I have emphasized this in many of my prior posts. Sure, it's just bells and whistles, but hey, that's what has made big companies grow and grow and grow. Take Starbucks as an example. Who doesn't like to hang out in a Starbucks with the jazz music playing in the background and comfortable couches or a cozy corner to perch at. Not that I expect patients to want to come in and lounge in my waiting room, but creating a pleasant environment can ease the pain on days you run a bit of a delay.

The atmosphere goes beyond just having a waiting room. Atmosphere is a 3-dimensional experience. It's the height of the ceiling to give a roomier less-crowded feeling. It's the arrangement of the waiting area (crowded seats or loungy couches with pillows). It's the music playing in the background (much like Starbucks, I like jazz, but mix it up with other genres, like bossa nova, ambient, chill out, and zen). Patients come into my space and experience calmness. It doesn't matter how flustered they may be walking through the door, the space calms them down. The empiric evidence is that patients that used to be "difficult" to deal with have actually become nice and pleasant (something I could have not predicted). Who's to say that the environment could affect how your patients behave when they come in to see you? I was shocked to see patients I had classified in my mind (and you know we all do) as "difficult" or requiring extra time, become agreeable and much easier to deal with.

The extension of the atmosphere is how your staff treats your patients. The same way a pleasant atmosphere affects the patients, so it does your staff. Having a pleasant working environment makes for a more harmonious staff. We took that into account when designing the space, allowing for plenty of sunlight to enter from the outside rooms with transoms above the doors. The space is happy and airy, so the staff feels less heavy, lighter in their tasks. There are no neon lights to bog us down with its low-level flickering. Plenty of light, both direct, and indirect makes the space happy and bright on cloudy days or those dark winter days. With all these softer items covered, then keeping the staff sharp and on their game means having weekly meetings.

Weekly meetings cover all necessary office business. Having them as part of your operation, allows you to bring up areas where the staff needs to improve without sounding like you're just having a meeting to chastise the staff. Office meetings cover a set agenda, from the front desk to the lab, and help the office keep running smoothly. Supplies are discussed. Operating procedures are emphasized and corrected (as new situations come up). Staff has time to express any concerns or offer suggestions for improvements. It's important to have these at least monthly if you can't do it weekly.

Finally, the 1 year anniversary is a good excuse to throw a networking event to bring in all physician referrals. They can see what a wonderful atmosphere their patients go to when sent over, and it helps to reinforce our referral relationships.

Never underestimate the power of a few details to make your space homier and more pleasant to visit. If you've got all the other areas covered (good doctor, excellent bedside manner, great staff, quick follow-up, good referral network), then you are set!

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