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Upping your game as a medical office manager

Managing an efficient and profitable medical practice depends upon your ability to master a specific set of management skills, implement best practices, and maintain specific identifiable behaviors and attitudes that are proven to drive management and career success.

Those skills, best practices, and attitudes are at the heart of successful medical office management and can be mastered by virtually any office manager to maximize career success, according to Shane Carter, president of Carter Healthcare Consulting. And they are what you will rely on to get your practice through times of change.

“Managing from a steady state is dangerous. The reality is that medical groups that are not willing to change who they are over time are simply not going to find success in the future,” says Carter.

Competition and pricing are the two great equalizers in healthcare and the more competition there is, the narrower the price becomes—a situation that squeezes profits. And the more profits are squeezed, the fewer medical practices can exist on those shrinking market factors, he warns.

According to Carter, substantial changes are being demanded of medical practices by the US government and by American taxpayers. He adds that too many medical practices focus on the needs of their physicians, the needs of the insurance companies, the needs of the staff and the needs of the office, rather than what their patients need.

“In order for us to survive going forward, we’ve got to be more like a gazelle rather than a dinosaur. We can’t simply lean back and say ‘This is the way we’ve always done it. This has always worked for us in the past, so let’s keep doing the same thing.’ We’ve got to be much better and more pragmatic about how we develop a plan.”

“You have to be able to stop and shift on the fly. What I mean by that is, you can’t be slow (to respond to the need for change.) You have to be agile. You have to put the pieces together in the most innovative manner,” says Carter. “That’s going to make you a better manager and put you in a position to succeed.”

Successful managers are able to bring ideas and thoughts to the owners and lead the team. Leadership is not a “sitting-around” word, but rather an action word, he says.

“Never assume that just because you are the boss, you’re the leader. In the absence of effective leadership, you’ll find that staff will follow just about anyone, and usually, that’s the most vocal person in the room,” he warns.

If you are spending most of your workday sitting in your office, you are not an effective leader.

“It’s got to be done cubicle by cubicle, station by station, office by office,” says Carter, adding that a medical office manager’s visibility in front of the staff and the physicians is one of the most important functions of a leader.

How to be a better manager

One of the first things to learn as a manager is that perpetual optimism is a force multiplier. When you are positive and your enthusiasm and optimism are spread among your staff, you will be shocked at how great your ideas will become and how much your staff will embrace your ideas, according to Carter.

“You have to constantly fight against a culture that says ‘I want to leave things the way they are,'” he says.

Another tip for improving your skills as a medical office manager is to know that problems often lie far below the surface and you need to dig deep to determine why something is a problem and find proactive ways of resolving it.

“Putting a Band Aid on a problem today only makes you a firefighter tomorrow. You can’t get out of crisis management if you don’t stop and resolve the crisis.”

Other effective management tips include:

  • Striving to become a great simplifier: Effective managers can cut through arguments and debates and offer solutions that everyone can understand. Placing a mission statement on a wall does nothing to change staff behaviors, according to Carter, who adds, “You’ve got to sell what you’re selling and you’ve got to believe in what you’re selling. Don’t expect your staff to follow your vision if you’re not following it. Don’t expect your staff to show up on time if you are late every morning.”
  • Never forgetting the details: When everyone else is distracted, bored or bogged down, you as a leader must be vigilant and ensure that your strategy equals execution. “All the great ideas and visions in the world are absolutely worthless if they can’t be implemented rapidly and efficiently,” he says, adding that a vision without a plan is just a daydream. “The reality is, if your mission statement or vision doesn’t produce any actions, then it’s worthless.”
  • Having a strategy connects your vision with your reality: Actionable steps that you develop describe the details of your path. Carter says actionable steps should include detailed outlines, drawings, timetables, capital investments, project lists, training initiatives, work flow redesign and improvements to customer service that can make your vision a reality.
  • Hiring curious staff and removing entrenched players: Carter says curious workers are people who have a desire to challenge the status quo. They like to search, find and embrace new solutions. For far too long, medical offices have tolerated employees who are there simply to cash a paycheck and do the bare minimum to get by. “The reality is, a healthcare group is simply not going to survive in the future if we don’t consider removing the barnacles who are hanging on for the ride.” If your medical practice’s owner is an entrenched player, all you can do is encourage him or her to change to keep up with the times. If your efforts fail, you might need to make a career decision, according to Carter.
  • Rewarding work excellence: Denying valued staff members a pay raise or paying new workers the bare minimum is not a good recipe for hiring and retaining the best of the best.
  • Investing heavily in technology training and support of your staff: Carter says having the latest technology is no good if your workers aren’t being trained to utilize its features. After undergoing technology training, your workers should be asked to demonstrate an understanding of that training. “How many times do you go into an office and only two people know how to use the copier?” he asks. Carter recommends ensuring that training remains a continuous process.
  • Communicating your vision to your workers: Your message must be heard over and over. “Never expect that a memo or an email will get the message across,” warns Carter. He adds that medical office managers who are not talking with their physicians daily are not communicating with them often enough. However, a good communicator never scolds or gives feedback to one worker when others are present. Hold such conversations in private.
  • Challenging your workers: “Good managers challenge their people. Poor managers always find a way to comfort them,” says Carter.


Healthcare offers a chance for real positive change, says Carter. But in order to stay competitive and profitable, medical office managers must ensure that the transformation occurs sooner rather than later, and that everyone is involved in it.

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