Is your physician practice reliable? (Hint: It's a yes or no question)

Of all of the qualities that are important to me in order to maintain a relationship with a medical office, an employer or a friend, reliability (and its cousin, trustworthiness) rank near the top. But while most people understand the "Boy Who Cried Wolf" concept as it pertains to honesty, individuals and organizations often underrate consistency as a prerequisite to reliability.

Think about it this way: If you come through in fulfilling peoples' needs and expectations even 90 percent of the time or more, it's not substantially better than zero. That may sound harsh. But without a crystal ball, how are people to know if any given instance represents one of the nine times they can count on you or the one that they can't? Therefore, any margin of uncertainty can be bad for business.

While perfection isn't possible, striving for it every time certainly is. And if your patients and employees know that reliability is woven into your culture, they'll better understand what you need from them as well.

Take test results as a classic example. Do patients know they can expect to hear from you, with good news or bad, within a certain timeframe? Furthermore, do they know you expect to hear from them if they don't receive such information by the end of that window? You can write policies and implement systems all day, but they're virtually worthless if you adhere to them only sometimes. At best, you'll get a lot of avoidable phone calls. At worst, a critical test result could fall through the cracks. Throughout the continuum, there will be frustration.

As managers, are you accessible and responsive to employees in practice or just in theory? Is your door "always open" except when it's shut? If you're 10 minutes late for a meeting or go more than a day without responding to an email, would your employees generally assume you've forgotten or ignored them--or that you had an unavoidable conflict and will follow up with them as soon as possible? We most often think about how reliable an employee is to an employer, but leaders also determine their own worthiness of the benefit of the doubt.

But all business relationships--particularly in medicine--depend on each party holding up its end. And the more steadfastly you uphold yours, the more confidently you can enforce others' adherence to your written and unwritten contracts. Want patients to show up for their appointments? Pay their balances when due? Take their medications as prescribed? Want employees who respect your time? Who tell you when there's a problem? Who don't take shortcuts?

There are many factors that go into all of these examples, of course. But if you want to create a culture in which they happen with the very rarest of exception, start by becoming 99.9 percent reliable yourself. - Deb (@PracticeMgt)