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From the Olympics to primary care practice administration – a coach shares some tips

July 28th, 2017

Is it bragging (or just blogging?) if I told you I was invited to be a guest writer for one particular reason? While away on a European vacation, Ewa Matuszewski, who usually occupies this space, asked me to put on my coaching hat and share some ideas about applying coaching strategies to physician organizations. Apparently, Ewa was impressed that I coached the USA Curling Junior National Team to a silver medal at the World Junior Championships in South Korea in February 2017.

Surely you didn’t miss the games? Wait, you don’t even know what curling is? Curling is a sport where players slide stones weighing 38 to 44 pounds on a sheet of ice towards a target segmented into four concentric circles.

My strong suit is not the “locker-room” pep talk.  Instead, I look at what motivates each individual athlete – in this case, high-school aged boys. Is it the fear of losing? While that may motivate some, it doesn’t move the needle for others. Is it the joy of winning? Ah the podium, the medals, the acceptance speech! For some, that’s the least favorite aspect of winning.

How do you address your team – as individuals, or as a collective body?  My suggestion would be to do both. The pep talk can work in firing up the troops, but the reality is it takes individuals who understand and perform their specific roles to achieve a collective victory. When implementing a new program or process, address the team, but then take the time to meet with staff individually to explain their role and responsibilities and their contribution to the bigger picture. No two people in a practice have an identical skill set. Are they self-starters? Finishers? Tech-savvy? Assign roles and responsibilities according to skills and abilities. Empower them to perform the job in the way that works best for them while also satisfying the practice’s needs.

It takes a lot of wins (amid a few losses) to become a world champion curler. In the office setting, small victories can lead to meaningful change and, ultimately, big wins. Take the PCMH process, where administrative tweaks may garner improvements of 10% to 15% of productivity over the course of a year. Not a monumental change, but improvements tend to build on themselves. Or quality scores that improve by the same amount. That can be huge for a patient’s quality of life! Practices that started making incremental changes in patient-centric care five years ago may now be recognized as Patient-Centered Medical Homes. And patients may seek them out because of that designation.

Unlike some other sports, curling is not a sport where raw power and aggression can lead a team to victory. It’s dependent more on controlling one’s emotions and thinking a few steps ahead. I ask my team, “Do you remember when we did X and Y was the result?” Such reminders of past practices – whether the outcome was favorable or not –can have the desired effect to either repeat or not repeat the behavior. That applies to physician practices, too. Without rehashing negative experiences, looking back with the appropriate tone and attitude can produce positive results in new endeavors.

Many assume that the leader of any practice is the physician. And it usually is. But sometimes it is the office manager or nurse practitioner who is the change agent. And the physician leader respects and encourages that. Interestingly, curling teams are not hierarchical. They do not assign a captain. The “skip” directs the game strategy on the ice, but the lead can be anyone on the team who knows how to motivate individual players. He or she is the glue that keeps the team together. Be generous in sharing the lead in your practice, too. That’s my parting shot.


Mark Lazar is Director of Corporate Affairs at MedNetOne Health Solutions (MedNetOne). He was an Olympic curling trials competitor in 2006 and remains a nationally ranked curling athlete.
Mark Lazar of MedNetOne with silver medal winning curling team - Team Stopera 2-26-17

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