Medical Practice Conflicts,Hospital Departments,Dysfunctional Interactive Dynamics,Loss of Productivity,Loss of Relationships
How Much Is Conflict Costing Your Practice?
April 23, 2014
By: Regina Mixon Bates
Today more than ever, the healthcare sector faces growing pressures that will
further tax its capabilities and inhibit its ability to meet growing needs and
demands of our patient population. Significant challenges of practicing medicine
include: financial pressures, increasing competition, staffing shortages, employee
and patient safety concerns, and a significant increase in the consumption of
healthcare related services. Overcoming these challenges will require that management
seek creative strategies to improve and maintain high performance of employees.
With that being said, it becomes obvious that improving and maintaining high
employee morale is a key factor to consider in the pursuit of organizational
Conflict is nothing more than two people disagreeing about something (real
or superficial) and that disagreement being emotionally felt by at least one
of the parties. Conflicts exist in every workplace and a medical practice or
a hospital department is no exemption. From a business standpoint, addressing
conflict and dysfunctional interactive dynamics when a practice is not in a
dilemma is just as relevant to a healthy bottom line as efforts directed toward
revenue cycle management and overhead control. Due to the interdependent environment
of a medical practice, effectively dealing with dysfunction in one area improves
productivity and efficiency across the board.
While opportunities to understand significant cost savings in healthcare are
fading, dealing with unresolved conflict is an area where nearly every practice
can still benefit from an earnest review. It is said that unresolved conflict
represents the largest reducible cost in businesses across the board.
Many times medical groups don't always operated as businesses, so here are
some areas that you should look at to see where conflict might be costing your
practice money and then put a dollar amount to it:
Loss of Productivity
What is the cost for each hour that professionals, managers, and staff are distracted
from getting their assignments done because of conflict? $___________
What is the cost of loss of quality of work? $___________
Loss of Relationships
How much better would clients be served if members of a client service team
worked together smoothly to provide superior service? $___________
What would be the cost of losing a client because the team members were competing
rather than collaborating? $___________
Emotional Strain and Pain
What is the cost in health care/medical treatment made necessary by stress-related
What is the cost in personal work dissatisfaction and potential personnel turnover
caused by an inhospitable work environment? $___________
TOTAL DOLLAR COST $___________
Not withstanding the dollar cost to the practice, experience suggests that
even when longstanding unresolved conflict is acknowledged and openly discussed
within a practice, leadership and physicians may still fail to take appropriate
action for various reasons. Physicians and managers often admit that they are
not comfortable dealing with emotionally charged situations or that they feel
uncomfortable, not knowing exactly what to say or do. Others have said that
they fear they will intensify the situation(s), making a bigger problem. Another
common response often voiced from office managers is, "I'm not a babysitter
or I have my own real work to do." It is at this point that many managers should
understand how addressing these types of issues actually are their responsibility,
and that taking a hands-off approach is not an option.
You can then work on identifying any chronic patterns and recognizing the effects
of conflict, beginning in its earliest stages which might include the following
Wasted time and energy (nonproductive paid time)
Feuding factions, prevalent "we vs. them" attitude
Criticisms and complaints
Poor decision making
Poor staff morale, increased absenteeism
Annoyed, resistant staff
Attrition, loss of qualified staff
Stress-related medical conditions
Accusations of unfair treatment, discrimination, harassment
Increased Workers' Compensation claims
Theft, sabotage, violence, lawsuits
Without intervention, these issues are unlikely to resolve on their own. Many
office managers and front desk supervisors have no formal training in conflict
resolution and may not even be aware of the methods to use in these situations.
For example, a new or recently promoted-from-within office manager with high
affiliation needs may fear a challenge to his/her authority and may delay intervention
in attempts to try to stay on good terms with those who used to be peers.
So How Do You Reduce the Cost of Conflict?
You cannot afford to mishandle conflict in the practice. So, short of hiring
a consultant, there are several things you can do for yourself to deal more
effectively with conflict and reduce its cost. It will make your job a lot easier,
more enjoyable, and your operations less costly.
1. Educate your office manager by sending them to workshops and providing
them with the necessary resources to improve their skills and keep them current.
It is in your best interest to do so, even if that means spending a little money.
Unresolved conflict will result in problems that will uproot your other staffers,
compounding in costs and lost efficiency the higher they progress.
2. Learn to recognize the very beginning of conflict within your practice. Be
alert to the signs of conflict in its earliest stages, and act to resolve it
3. Do not attempt to suppress conflict. Rather, create an environment where
conflict is understood, addressed, and resolved efficiently. Just as you have
defined clinical and business processes, you also need to develop systematic
processes for identifying and addressing conflict.
Encourage your staff to resolve conflict at the lowest level possible. Encourage
them to learn and apply appropriate conflict resolution strategies.
The possibility of conflict exists whenever two people interact, and conflict
in and of itself is not fundamentally bad. In fact, conflict can actually be
a good thing in that it can work to enhance the creation process, to nurture
new ideas, to produce new solutions, and to aid group dynamics. So, it's not
the fact that conflict occurs that is a problem in medical practice. It's the
failure to address that conflict in a timely and efficient manner that increases
your practice costs.
Lastly, in the busy and stressful environment of medical practice, leaders
must remain focused on ensuring that patients receive the best care possible
and employees remain motivated and enriched by their work. Accomplishing both
can be a difficult and challenging task for the best of managers; however, managers
who take the time to understand what motivates one individual staff member from
another can energize staff by recognizing and celebrating their accomplishments
often through inexpensive and simple measures to include: employee of the month
awards, luncheons, and staff recognition days. Managers who serve their staff
by helping out when it comes to patient care can also energize staff and improve
morale by setting a personal example of good work ethic and motivation. This,
in return, can help your staff to recognize the importance of their work and
stay in touch with the service orientation that initially brought them to the
health care field.
Regina Mixon Bates, CEO
IRO, CPC, CPC-I, Approved ICD-10 AHIMA Trainer, CMOM, CMC, CMIS
The Physicians Practice S.O.S Group® www.ppsosgroup.com