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Better office communication? There’s an app for that

Hendricks Therapy is a private, out-patient, mental health practice in Danville and Plainfield, IN. The practice currently has 16 psychiatrists, psychologists, and therapists, a combination of full- and part-time. There are an additional 10 staffers and three managers to keep everything running at the two locations. Due to the nature of the practice, most schedules do not fall within a typical business day; many staff members work after hours.

“Communicating with clinicians and staff effectively was a major concern for the management team, as it took a lot of time to make sure everyone actually got the information they needed,” says Matt Roberts, assistant practice manager.

There was also an issue about the best way to communicate, he explains; some preferred emails while others never checked them.

In addition, the second office and telecommuters felt cut off or forgotten. For them, email itself wasn’t effective; it was often slow or cumbersome. Important memos were frequently never received, lost or misplaced. As a result, managers often found themselves answering the same questions again and again. In addition, because communication was lacking, meetings were hard to schedule.

A communication solution was needed.

Embracing technology

Because everyone in the practice has a smartphone and access to a work computer, the practice decided to implement a “team communication app.” The app, available on smartphones and computers, would consolidate all office communication into one place.

Hendricks Therapy chose an app (Slack, that provides customizable notifications and is easy to use. Ease of use was particularly important for employees who are less tech-savvy, Roberts explains. In addition, this particular app offered the option of push notifications on smartphone, computer or both, and/or email alerts.

Employees could still choose the method they like best, the app was flexible enough to keep information focused and organized, and offered a strong search feature to recall information quickly, Roberts tells Medical Office Manager.

It was decided that the team app would replace other communication methods for anything in the practice that was not patient-specific (that remained in the EHR).

To get started, the management team did a trial run for a month to learn the program themselves. They then announced it to the practice with a generous learning period, in this case about two months.

Employees were encouraged but not required to start using the app right away to get familiar with it, and training was provided for anyone who wanted or needed it. During the trial period, announcements were sent both in Slack and via the old methods, so people could see how it worked.

Basic guidelines were given on how it would work, including an updated office policy on online behaviors and harassment, Roberts says.

Channels were set up in the program to help focus information and discussions, such as one for staff, one for providers, one for software and tech updates, etc.  Managers would add employees to the minimum channels, and employees could choose any additional channels they wanted to follow (i.e., receive notifications).

Once the learning period was over, everyone was expected to regularly check the app during their workday to make sure they were receiving the latest news and updates for the office. “Most employees chose to get instant push notifications for their channels, and nearly all have it on their smartphones and work computers,” Roberts says.

Getting results

Has the app been a success?

“Now that Slack is fully up and running, everyone knows what is expected for all communications,” say Roberts. “Managers find it easy to get information out quickly, and it allows for instant feedback and discussions with everyone able to see the conversation and participate.” 

This has reduced the need for staff meetings, and managers spend less time planning meetings or repeatedly sharing information, which allows more time to focus on other practice matters. If someone has a question, the easy, go-to answer is, “Did you check Slack?”

Morale in the office has gone up, because everyone feels “heard” and “in-the-know,” Roberts says.

Meanwhile, managers like how easy it is, and that they rarely have to answer a question more than once. The physical distance between offices or to telecommuting employees doesn’t matter, and it no longer has them feeling forgotten or cut off.

Although it is not a requirement, many employees choose to still check notifications on their off days, because it’s so easy to do. They remain in the loop and there is no catch up the next work day.

Employees have even embraced it for themselves. An office health committee decided on their own to use Slack for their meetings (so they didn’t have to find a time to meet up), and staff set up a daily steps challenge group within the app without management having to get involved at all. Clinicians can share information with colleagues about new resources or conferences without needing to bother management. The office Christmas Party date last year was chosen by voting in the app (RSVPs were also taken through the app), and a “random” channel allows one employee to advertise her upcoming stand-up comedy gigs.

Managers can monitor everything and enforce policies as necessary (though it’s been rare), Roberts says. Should they need to, they can easily and quickly redirect a conversation from public chat to private.

With regard to security, there is a written record and audit. All information is password protected and only visible to employees who have to be invited by a manager. Managers can remove employees instantly when they leave the practice.

“It has really been a game-changer for us and we are looking for ways to integrate Slack more,” Roberts tells Medical Office Manager.

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