The Good, Bad and the Costly: Analyzing Staff and Clinical Meetings at Your Practice

This time, here, now. This minute can cost you money. The seconds it takes for you to finish reading this sentence are sometimes quantifiable commodities. “This time,” wrote Ralph Waldo Emerson, “like all times, is a very good one, if we but know what to do with it.”

Now, have you ever sat in a meeting and felt you can literally feel time whisk away? America holds 3 billion meetings per year in its companies, including your staff and clinical meetings at your practice.

Don’t believe it? Let’s check out how much money meetings cost physicians and what you can do about finding a balance at your practice.

The Numbers
In April 2012, MGMA-ACMPE conducted studies to measure the time and cost of administrative activities of healthcare providers. Essentially, the amount of hours each doctor in a medical group loses translates to $21,000 annually in charges from time spent in administrative meetings, and another $28,000 annually from clinical meetings.

This takes into account physicians that extend their workdays, who may be putting their own quality of life at risk. The point is meetings aren’t free time, by any means. To further drive this point home, the last issue of MGMA Conexion reports practice staff members get paid $3,500 a year just to sit in a room and sometimes not even speak.

What Meetings Do To Productivity
According to research conducted by University of Minnesota psychologist Kathleen Vohs and her team, we have a set amount of cognitive “executive” resources, whose depletion results in poor decision-making. Long meetings only promote this reaction, often resulting in a lack of productivity.

This kind of depletion is especially dangerous in the healthcare field. If other physicians and staff members at your practice aren’t cognitively fit to handle clinical tasks, you can endanger patients significantly, and that’s not a risk you should be willing to take.

Furthermore, too many meetings may compromise your practice’s sense of urgency, which probably shouldn’t be missing from a medical practice. Al Pittampalli, former Ernst & Young executive, has written extensively on the danger of meetings, claiming workplace culture in America is addicted to meetings that “insulate us from the work we ought to be doing.”

With that said, it’s probably wise to limit the amount of meetings at your medical practice. Pittampalli’s method is interesting – he believes meetings should be used to make decisions and produce a committed action plan, not for solely informational purposes.

This limits the amount of circular conversation, pseudo-brainstorming and pointless deviation, all of which represent a huge consumption of time, energy and resolve in the healthcare field.

Not to mention, too many of these meetings can promote inefficient practice politics, which can pit staff members and physicians in unfavorable ways.

Fixing the Meetings Mess
There is some good news. Once you and your practice – whether you’ve done so via the abovementioned criteria or have your own method – have determined a meeting is essential, there are steps you can take to make them as efficient as possible.

For one, begin by literally stating the opportunity cost of the meeting. Multiplying the amount of people in the room with their estimated employee productivity, both in terms of patients and capital, will help you value the meeting. You and your staff will treat the meeting as an investment, meaning time and energy becomes more valuable.

Creating a list of topics to discuss limits them, and therefore increases the potential for action. If you gather only with the physicians and/or staff members that need to attend a meeting by laying out themes first, your opportunity cost will be lower and you’ll use your time more effectively.

With that said, avoid laundry lists of menial tasks that can be handled digitally, either via email or project management applications like Asana.

Don’t be afraid to stop at setting topics, however. Try setting time, too. Think of it as a journalistic roundtable or even political debate. Declarations and rebuttals are both time-bound, so people value their time and words more forwardly.

Lastly, set up an outcome expectation for your physicians and staff before the meeting. Review the decisions and changes made after everyone has had a chance to contribute and declare the meeting over after going over them once.

This kind of approach consistently reminds your practice that meetings are expensive and often not as useful as they should be. Help promote a new organizational culture within your practice by reserving meetings for critical concerns.

How often do you meet at your practice? Do you find your meetings could be more productive?