August 2000 Bulletin

Put a dollar value on your meetings

If a topic isn’t of equal or greater value, send it elsewhere

By Sandra Lee Breisch

Ever host a meeting that was a time- and money-waster for both attendees and your organization?

Perhaps you didn’t give attendees an agenda or handouts beforehand? Maybe the meeting started late? Or, the key topic was barely discussed due to chitchat? To top it off, because nothing was agreed upon or finalized, another meeting had to be scheduled.

As everyone knows, most organizations—large or small—cannot afford to host unproductive or inefficient meetings.

"I don’t think anyone would say, ‘let’s take some valued professionals, put them in a room and bore them to death,’" says Bruce A. Johnson, a Medical Group Management Association consultant. "But practices of sponsoring organizations need to know how to make their meetings more efficient."

From a management standpoint, Johnson says one of the first things an administrator or group director should do is "determine the value" of a meeting. "That value is what you want to achieve by holding the meeting," he explains. "For instance, in a finance committee meeting, if Dr. X thinks the latest brands of adhesives or screws are cost-savers, this would create value for holding the meeting. But often, an issue not on the agenda will get raised and physicians will spend the next 45 minutes talking about it when they don’t have data or enough information about it—and it’s all opinion."

You can also calculate how much a meeting costs, says Thomas A. Girton, a physician practice manager at Good Shepard Rehab Hospital in Allentown, Penn. "Take the previous year’s W-2 amount for each meeting attendee, divide that amount by an estimate of total hours worked, and add a 25 percent benefit increment to arrive at an hourly cost value," he explains. "If the physician cut into billing hours such as patient scheduled hours, to attend the meeting, instead assign the hourly billing rate. Then, tack on all travel-related expenses, including hotel, airfare and your costs for food or the meeting room."

Girton says you will conduct a "more efficient" meeting by ensuring that the topic discussed is "of equal or greater value" than the hourly meeting rate. "Any item deemed of less value than the hourly rate should be delegated to a lower line of authority—either an individual or a subcommittee," he explains.

Johnson suggests Girton’s compensation formula may provide some leverage to "try and change" poor physician behavior at meetings. "Unproductive meetings point to a lack of accountability and other problems in the practice or organization sponsoring them," he points out. "If there are physicians in the group that for whatever reason don’t see the value of efficient meetings or their behavior in some ways impacts the efficiency of a meeting, I could see a wise administrator who knows these costs saying, ‘we just spent an unproductive hour. Do you have any idea of what that costs the group?’"

This might also be a good time, says Johnson, to "reconsider your approach to decision-making and the use of meetings in your group, if the meetings are viewed to be unproductive due to an inability to complete the meeting agenda or make decisions due to distractions, lack of focus or lack of interest."

Also, physicians who are displeased at a meeting’s value should inform the meeting’s chair, notes Johnson.

Paying stipends to meeting chairs provides incentive to both attendees and the chair to conduct an efficient, productive meeting, notes Johnson. "You might find that the value of an hour of meeting time, based on a hypothetical calculation, might be $500," explains Johnson. "The group might elect to pay something for the meeting—though typically an amount less than the $500—to clearly show there is value associated with the person’s time. So it’s a token provision of compensation, but it does send the message that their time is valuable."

Moreover, Johnson notes, the compensation can help promote responsibility and accountability. "Physicians who are being paid by their group (and peers) for participating in the meeting frequently feel the need to become more focused and task oriented, thus promoting real outcomes and effective meeting," he says.

"Creating structure" for all meetings is necessary, says Johnson. This includes distributing an agenda beforehand, commencing the meeting on time and summarizing critical conclusions. "You should have all the options clearly defined and frame the issues," he stresses.

Keeping a written document of what decisions were made is also important. "One of the main reasons consultants get called into a group is because groups make decisions that they don’t write down," he says. "Then, time passes and all they have is an ‘oral history’ of the meeting. A dispute is created and one doctor says one thing and another disagrees. This argument festers for a while and the decisions are memorialized. So if you’re going to spend time having the meeting and making decisions, keep a written record of what the decision was and when—especially if you do not have a consultant there."

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