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Role-playing turns front and back office staff into one team

When there’s a people issue, especially when the front desk butts heads with the nursing staff, the manager of a Virginia family medicine group office brings it to light via role playing at a staff meeting.

Afterwards, staff not only come up with a solution, but also draft and sign a commitment to follow it.

The manager organizes the role playing three or four times a year, and the topics are issues she and the nursing supervisor identify, as well as problems staff bring to them. They take the lead parts in the presentations, and staff enjoy seeing the manager and supervisor chewing each other’s heads off.

One program, for example, illustrated the problem of patients being taken to the exam rooms late. The person assigned to the job was working at full speed while other people were standing around “chatting about weddings.”

She played the part of the frazzled staffer trying to weigh patients and take blood pressure readings while complaining that the doctors are angry because these patients are late, and there the others sit just talking. The nurse and another staffer played the part of the chatty co-workers. Then the manager turned to the group, saying, “Now let’s hear from you. How can we make this better? What solutions can you come up with to make sure this doesn’t happen again?”

They discussed how patient care and office operations are everybody’s responsibility and came up with a commitment to be “part of a single team working for patient care.” Another program focused on telephone triage. In the past, if the schedule was full and a sick patient requested an appointment that day, the front desk transferred the call to the triage nurse, who was often too busy to take it. The solution was to add work-in slots so the front desk can schedule sick patients without interrupting the nurse.

Before the role playing, the manager says there was great division between front and back offices. Now, however, staff realize that their jobs are intertwined and that everybody is expected to help out in all areas.

There’s also a means of enforcing that realization. The manager puts a copy of the signed commitment in each staffer’s personnel file. When somebody fails to follow a commitment, she pulls out the copy and says, “You agreed you would do this, and you signed off on it.”

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