A version of this blog post was originally published on our partner site, TheraPlan.
In the business world, the term “organizational culture” is quite commonly used. You may not have thought of what it means to have a therapy clinic culture. Or, you may envision it like many of us have: that it’s all about putting patients first.
Having a patient-centered approach as a clinic owner is certainly key, but there are some other important, but not so obvious, elements of culture we’ll cover in this article.
First, let’s talk about what office culture is, both within and beyond the therapy world.
What is Office Culture?
At its essence, culture is a subconscious feeling. Much like a culture that’s unrelated to work, the one you create as a business owner is not a thing you can always actively create.
By its more traditional definition, culture consists of all those things your family and community do that make them what they are: what you eat, what you wear, the way you greet one another, and the way you celebrate, to name a few elements.
In the same way, culture in the context of work is an overall perception based on the cumulative picture of your business. It includes things like:
- outcomes you value as the leader
- your staff’s attitudes
- how much your employees trust you and their higher-ups
- the way all of you interact with your patients
- the execution of your company mission
- the presence of hierarchy and how it’s communicated
- your office traditions
Because it includes so many factors, culture cannot be faked. Ultimately, the real you and the real way you run your company will come through.
Think about any job you’ve had in the past. What words would you use to describe the feeling of being part of that organization? People-oriented? Respectful? Motivational? Or maybe something less positive?
That was the culture you were sensing.
The Importance of Having a Clear Culture
No one description of company culture is correct or applicable to every business. Values can vary, so it’s important not to assume your employees and customers or patients will automatically know what you care about.
That’s why you must make your culture abundantly clear in addition to modeling it in your behavior, speech, and actions. Include what your company stands for in a training manual, refer to it in sales and employee meetings, talk about it on your website, and share it creatively in your marketing efforts. This will ensure there’s no gap in understanding amongst everyone connected to your business.
Your company values need to be obvious because any deviation from them will trickle down to your patients. They’ll see how your employees act and simply take it as a reflection of the business as a whole. You can see this tendency when you look at online reviews. Often, a client has one bad experience with a representative and it tarnishes their entire impression of that company forever.
While you shouldn’t just be interested in creating a culture because of how the public might view your business, it’s one effect you can’t avoid.
Therapy Clinic Culture Defined
As you’ve no doubt figured out in your time as a therapy clinic owner, what applies to the general business world doesn’t always apply to therapy clinics. The idea of company culture certainly does, but some elements are unique to the therapy industry.
Your therapy clinic’s culture is built on a foundation of connection between your staff, admins, and therapists. Since these are three different areas of the business that may not have much overlap or interaction, it’s crucial to bring them together. Here are some ways to achieve this:
- Task admins with overseeing your onboarding process, so every new staff member or therapist gets to know them well
- Consider using a web-based EMR with built-in messaging to make it easy for people in all departments to communicate
- Investigate how using a specialized third-party billing company can increase your efficiencies and leave more time for your admin staff to dedicate to your therapists’ needs
- Get the whole clinic involved in celebrating important personal moments, such as birthdays, for employees, contractors, and patients
- Hold regular company-wide gatherings to review your clinic’s accomplishments and thank everyone for their involvement
In particular, therapy clinic culture is also about staying on top of ongoing details like therapist credentialing, which makes it possible for the people you hire to have a seamless work experience with no interruption. The same applies to insurance authorizations — a critical element of uninterrupted patient care. These details demonstrate your dedication to your team and patients and help you retain quality therapists who represent the heart of your business.
What Culture Have You Established as a Clinic Owner?
As we mentioned at the very beginning of this article, culture is not just about patient care. The HIPAA ASSIST team has combined decades of experience interacting with therapy clinic owners. What we’ve found is that many of them believe they have a strong culture because of their focus on the patient experience.
How your patients feel coming away from a therapy appointment — about your office staff, their therapist, and the general quality of service they receive — is hugely influential in your overall success. However, it’s not the only thing that impacts your clinic’s larger culture.
At its core, culture (like character) is reinforced by the daily efforts you make when no one is looking. As a clinic owner, it’s up to you to actively prioritize the things you, your team, and your patients care about most.
How Solid Data Security Sets up a Positive Culture
You know that respect and protection of a patient’s PHI is important. But do you understand the breadth of that requirement? It goes well beyond using an EMR that is HIPAA-compliant.
That patient who comes to your clinic to improve their quality of life following an accident or help their child with activities of daily living needs to be able to count on you to keep them safe in every way. That means keeping their data safe.
So, security must be top of mind, and it can only be so if it’s emphasized in your company values and procedures.
Awareness of digital security measures is becoming more and more important with each passing year. With the threat of cyber thieves and ransomware no longer being anomalies, protecting PHI while still ensuring patients’ timely right of access to it is more difficult than ever. At the same time, the consequences for not doing so are even greater.
To combat these common threats, clinics can use Multi-Factor Authentication (MFA) for all staff, therapist, and patient online accounts. This is the process that takes place when you’re asked to enter an SMS or email code to verify your identity upon logging in to any type of website. MFA is one tool we highly recommend implementing if you haven’t already.
Once you have data security handled and ongoing procedures in place to keep it up-to-date, you can look to build the other elements of your culture on this foundation.
HIPAA Compliance as a Building Block of Therapy Clinic Culture
This focus on data security should translate into a mindset that permeates every department of your business. Your staff, business associates, and contractors should maintain HIPAA compliance above all other priorities.
Ask yourself the following questions:
- Are your new hires HIPAA trained within their first week of coming on board?
- Is your staff (including employees, contractors, and business associates) HIPAA trained every year?
- Is your patients’ data being encrypted every single time it’s being emailed?
If the answer to any of these questions is no, it’s time to do a thorough self-evaluation of your HIPAA procedures.
Integrity is a non-negotiable element of therapy clinic culture and should therefore be instilled in the minds of all who work with your clinic. PHI protection and the other elements of HIPAA compliance often comprise a behind-the-scenes operation that doesn’t feel as glamorous as the fun parts of establishing a culture. Yet, they’re still just as critical.
How to Build Your Therapy Clinic Culture of Excellence
Whether you have a brick-and-mortar operation or you’re running a team remotely, you can build a solid organizational culture. Chances are, you’re already on your way and just need to mesh together with the things you already do for your team and patients with a deeper daily focus on components like data security and HIPAA compliance.
Let’s consider an example:
Sarah owns a pediatric ST, OT, and PT clinic. She recently had a couple of HIPAA-related close calls when her staff nearly failed to provide timely access to parents who had requested their children’s medical records. As a result, Sarah wanted to figure out how to make HIPAA compliance a habit for everyone involved in her clinic’s operations.
The solution for Sarah and her team was regular, customized, and role-specific HIPAA training provided by HIPAA ASSIST’s compliance experts. Paying attention to the details that go above and beyond protecting PHI made Sarah’s staff and therapists less likely to violate HIPAA regulations and more connected to their colleagues and patients in the process. Now, every new hire immediately adopts the culture of compliance Sarah has established because it’s ingrained in employee life at her clinic.
Evaluate Your Compliance Culture Now With Help From HIPAA ASSIST
Establishing a culture has typically been the goal of most clinic owners and managers, but not all of them consider what that truly means. In our experience, it’s a big category that includes factors you may not have previously considered.
We recommend starting with HIPAA ASSIST’s simple self-evaluation checklist to find out where your clinic stands with the compliance piece. This way, you’ll ensure any steps you take in the name of culture are also helping you to stay compliant!