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Roundtable discussions focus on ‘whatever anybody needs help with’

Staff meetings are important, but they aren’t enough, says Martha King, practice manager of Portland Surgical Associates in Portland, ME. Generally, staff meetings cover things staff don’t have a hand in. What King has found is that staff also need time to discuss operational matters and talk about “whatever anybody needs help with.”

So for those other things, King holds monthly roundtable discussions.

These roundtable discussions aren’t a time to make announcements or hand down edicts, she says. Instead, they are a time to answer questions and exchange ideas. To promote productive conversation, she brings in lunch and keeps the setting informal.

King began the meetings years ago when the office was relocating and at the same time setting up an electronic health records (EHR) system. Staff needed to talk about what was going on and what their roles would be in the new setting, and she knew nobody would speak up at “stiff meetings with the physicians present.” Thus, the roundtables were born. And they have continued ever since.

A few days ahead of time, she decides on a topic and also asks staff what they want to talk about. Usually the focus is on something everybody is having difficulty with, such as scheduling certain types of appointments. When the office was preparing to merge with a hospital, the topics for a while were more about how procedures and responsibilities will change.

King also uses the meetings to get ideas. At one meeting, for example, staff discussed which publications were best for advertising the practice. At another, they talked about ways to make visits more comfortable for patients getting varicose vein treatments.

“I’m not in control all the time because I control the regular staff meetings,” she says. She mostly just listens, and sometimes she leaves and allows staff to talk among themselves.

There are no minutes. King takes notes on whatever is decided and then during the month lets staff know what has been done, or if something has been put off, why.

To keep the discussion positive, she told staff at the beginning, “this is not a time for negative remarks” and that complaints still had to be brought to her. And when someone does bring up something negative, the response is, “let’s discuss that later in my office.” As a result, she says, the meetings are pleasant. Staff like the camaraderie and the time “to sit back and enjoy lunch” and solve issues with no phones ringing.

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