Jonathan Burkett

3 Biases that Exist in Every Medical Office and How to Overcome Them

Managing the people dynamics of your specialty medical practice can be overwhelming. It’s all about patient care and satisfaction...

3 biases in medical office staff


  • Understand the Neuroscience Behind the Behavior
  • Building a Team to Overcome Psychological Biases

Specialty physicians, surgeons, and owners of specialty practices of all sizes often become overwhelmed trying to manage the people dynamics of their clinic. It’s all about patient care and satisfaction, but assembling a staff who collectively lives and breathes that mission can be challenging.

When reflecting on your team after a long day, if you’ve ever said to yourself…

  • It’s hard to find people with the right attitude
  • I train them and they leave
  • There’s too much office drama
  • Seems like I have to do everything myself

…you’re not alone. We’ve talked with many specialty physicians and owners and they’ve all felt this reality at one time or another.

If you want to create an office environment where everyone is rowing together, it starts with really understanding some of the human biases that drive our behavior. Like it or not, these are hardwired into our software and heavily influence our decisions and mindsets.

Understand the Neuroscience Behind Behavior

In a recent webinar, Zed Williamson, President and CEO of TrackableMed, shared some proven insights and actionable knowledge — based on behavioral science — that are sure to get your entire team rowing in the right direction. At the core of the webinar was a descriptive breakdown of the cognitive biases that cause issues in medical practices (from both your employee and patient perspectives) and ways to overcome them. Here’s a recap:

  • Negativity Bias: Things of a more negative nature have a greater effect on our psychological state than neutral or positive things.

    You have an employee who works hard every day but you don't notice anything that they do. In their mind, they feel they don’t mean anything to the practice. “They ignore me unless I mess up, I just know I’m dispensable.”
  • Confirmation Bias: The idea that we will find the proof to justify what we already believe.

    Think about this one from a patient perspective. They call and get a staff member who’s really busy… "Doctor's office, please hold." The patient may immediately think, "They don't care about me. I'm just a number. They're too busy for me.”

    When they’re taken off hold the first thing they’re asked is for their date of birth so it confirms the patient’s preconceived notion: “I knew it. I'm just a number. They don't even care about my name. They don't care about my problem."
  • The Elephant and the Rider: The idea that we have two sides that influence behavior change — an emotional side (the Elephant), and an analytical, rational side (its Rider).

    This is why a patient may leave a poor review about your practice because they were on hold for two minutes. Is that really worth a poor review? Probably not. But everything started compounding: negativity bias, confirmation bias, and the fact that they're the emotional elephant and the rider on top has no influence. This is what drives human behavior.
3 cognitive biases

If we understand “why things are,” and the reasons behind the actions and behaviors of our employees and patients, we’ll have better access to the solutions that can help us fix them.

Building a Team to Overcome Psychological Biases

Overcoming those biases within your office culture may seem difficult, but it’s possible! Here are a few simple steps to help you build a team that feeds off one another’s positive attitudes and is united around common goals and core values.

Start now by:

  • Determining/fine-tuning your practice’s core values. Make sure your core behavior values are clear, and you hire, review, reward, and terminate around them.
3 core values
  • Evaluating each staff member based on your core values. Does each employee align with your values? It’s important that the people in your organization are “the right people” (they fit our culture and share our core behavioral values).
  • Ensuring everyone is in “the right seat.” Do they get it, want it, and have the capacity to do their jobs well?

Using “Bill” in our example above, we see that he gets it and wants it, but doesn’t have the capacity to do it. Can he be trained? If yes, go for it. If no, it may be time to part ways with Bill.

By completing this simple exercise, you will have much greater visibility into who on your team is the right fit, and who may need some intervention in order to overcome their biases.

Want More Best Practices to Manage Your Medical Staff?

For a much deeper dive into the simple solutions that can help you address negative behavior, boost morale, and make your practice a rewarding place to work (along with more detailed templates and worksheets), watch the full webinar anytime, on-demand: Practice People Problems: How to Get Everyone Rowing in the Right Direction.