4 Ways to Build a Successful Radiology Support Team

October 16, 2012

From the front desk to technologists to billing staff, a strong support team in a culture of honesty and respect will ultimately drive practice growth.

Health care has become an environment where some organizations judge success by the financial well-being of those with an “MD” behind their names. Although doctors are responsible for the end product of the practice - patient care - sustained, long term success is inseparable from the success of the team driving the patient, referring physician and radiologist experience.

The support team begins with the front desk and clerical staff who answer calls and greet patients and referring physicians as they enter the department or imaging center. The team includes the technologists who perform the examination and prepare the case for interpretation by the radiologist. The team is completed by the billing staff responsible for properly preparing the patient’s bill and answering question from the patient and third party payers. Hovering over this team are the “middle managers.” These professionals are outside the upper leadership circles and act as the bridge between the radiologists, the CEO or business manager and the team that supports them.

Forward-thinking practices that want to make great gains in patient satisfaction, client retention, overall productivity and profitability will work to cultivate a team approach, involve team members in planning and take time to listen to what their team has to say. Creating a new culture around team participation, honesty and respect will result in greater gains for the organization and ultimately drive practice growth.

From a middle manager’s point of view, there are four things that every great medical organization needs to do to create a successful team environment:

1. Be brutally honest - now. A poor leadership team brushes things off, deflects questions when the answers are negative and doesn't respond to staff concerns. Although answers may be hard to come by, providing your entire team with an answer, no matter how painful, is always better than silence. Team members don't hate bad news as much as they hate no news. Silence from the leadership will breed more dissatisfaction and stress among the staff than the realization of even their worst fears. Even if they don't want to hear it, in today's economy it has become expected that tough decisions must be made.

Between the health care reform bill, slashed reimbursement rates and hospitals attempting to take over independent practices, radiology has a large target on its back. A successful practice will acknowledge these facts to everyone - not just partners and board members. If your staff is aware of the difficulties the practice faces, and hears directly from the group leadership what is being done to prepare for these challenges, the team can go to work with greater confidence, even if they are going into a tougher day-to-day job.

2. Have a bottom-up action plan. If a middle manager comes up with a great idea, validated by those doing the work, it would be prudent for the leadership to give it some consideration. If the idea has merit, a timely course of action should follow.

Keeping the middle manager in the loop throughout the decision-making process will create transparency. If the answer ends up being a no-go, be sure to give feedback on what didn’t work. When your team knows explicitly what didn’t work, a good manager will motivate the team to come up with alternatives or changes to the original suggestion.

A specialty as medically and technologically sophisticated as radiology needs to allow room for growth and experimentation. Many managers who find themselves locked in comfort zones will shy away from trying new workflows, adhering to the familiar adage "this is the way we've always done it." It is important to recognize that not every idea is successful. Your team works just as hard trying new things and being open to radical changes that don’t pay off as when they hit a home run. Ensuring your team will remain open to changes and trying new things depends on how the senior leadership rolls with the positive and occasionally negative outcomes of the changes that are implemented.

3. Encourage feedback from all channels. When your practice is considering changes, ask your team what you are doing well and what could be done better. Hearing nothing or only that you're "not doing anything wrong" is not the same as doing everything well. If your team believes something can be improved, discuss those items and have the team work out the needed modifications.

Take suggestions from your patients. You would be amazed how many of them work in similar process-driven environments and can point out areas where their experience would have been improved. This can also be done via online surveys sent to a patient’s email following their visit. This information can furnish your practice critical data for advertising, such as “over 90 percent of our patients are satisfied with our practice.”

Finally, take time to listen to your referring clinicians. Remember, these are your target clients. Their experience in obtaining information or improving their patient’s care will impact what they think about your service. Have a support team in place to investigate and consider any suggestions they make. Your next great workflow idea could be standing next to you asking if you could take a quick look at this case.

4. Create a reward culture to keep your best team members happy. Providing incentives and the potential for upward mobility within the company are paramount to keeping your best team members happy. Taking care of your “all-star” team members sets a precedent that hard work and innovation are appreciated and rewarded. This not only keeps your staff working hard, but incentivizes every team member to reach that goal.

When your team finds and implements workflows and changes, these can be tied to performance goals for departments, individuals or even those across different sections. Whether it's done as bonuses, team target goals or outside the box rewards like additional time off and flex hours, giving team members and managers a goal to strive for will keep the gears moving and promote an entrepreneurial atmosphere.

Make no mistake - each of these items is very difficult. They may require extensive commitment, planning and a possible cultural shift from the top down of your entire organization. Practices that do these things well will be positioned not only to have happy, committed team members for the tough road ahead, but the potential for even greater gains in the new business atmosphere of modern radiology.

Frederic Smith is the client operations manager for St. Paul Radiology in St. Paul, Minn., one of the largest private practice radiology groups in North America and serving the greater Twin Cities metropolitan area for more than 90 years.