By Dr. Oona Hayes

In my last instalment in this series, I highlighted the benefits of increasing one’s “Joy in work” and the necessary conditions for this work. I agree with Dr. Stanley that this is the time to lean into quality improvement work. I’m doing a project about increasing the “joy in work” of my Medical Office Assistant (MOA) as part of my Physician Quality Improvement (PQI) level 3 training. MOAs play a vital role in primary care provision, and they experience the storm of the primary care crisis along with the rest of us. I know clinicians reading this appreciate the value MOAs bring to their teams. I am devoting this instalment of the Health Data Coalition MD Corner series to the value of the MOA in the primary care team.  

MOAs are the first point of contact for patients; as such, they set the tone for the patient experience. Remember that people seeking health care are often vulnerable, “on edge,” and sometimes express themselves in challenging ways. Multiple times a day, MOAs guide patients through triage, information exchange (e.g., appointment reminders, updates from care team members), and interact with other offices (e.g., medical, educational, insurance, police, pharmacies) and the care team.  Their role is like that of air-traffic controllers, who balance multiple competing priorities while making decisions on the fly.  MOAs relay an impressive amount of information, all while witnessing and managing a range of human experiences. Recruitment and retention of MOAs is a challenge in many primary care practices, and training new staff adds pressure to an already stressful job.   

When I asked my MOA about her days, she said she is in crisis air-traffic controller mode every day, frustrated that she can’t do her other tasks. She wants time to balance her roles and communicate with the rest of the team. Crisis mode is not sustainable, and she has insights about patients and team function that could help transform how our team delivers care. She’s excited to partner on this project. We aim to reduce her daily phone time to increase her task completion and allow her to liaise with the rest of the care team. We want to mitigate tedious, low-value work and increase work which improves the quality of care (promoting accessible, effective, efficient and equitable care). The PQI program supports non-clinician staff, such as MOAs, to learn about QI through an online course or by attending a seminar.   

I suspect most MOAs have ideas on how teams can adapt their work to meet patient needs and improve care delivery to the practice population. MOAs can help with patient panel management and participate in proactive patient recalls. Part of this work is deciding what conditions to prioritize and whom to recall. The HDC Discover platform can provide MOAs with valuable data about your practice’s proactive care and chronic disease management compared to others in the community and province. For example, the data may show that the practice is doing a great job at recalling people for cervical cancer screening but has low numbers of people with diabetes coming in for care. Physicians and teams who choose to invest in panel management have multiple financial and practical supports to do this work. 

One of the truisms about quality improvement is that it’s a team sport. MOAs are valuable team members, and I encourage all providers to nurture the relationships with their MOAs and listen to their insights. The HDC team would love to connect you with tools to help your MOA participate in practice management. Email if you’re interested in getting HDC Discover access for your MOA.   

The next admin professional’s day is April 26, 2023. Diarize this now. Your future self will thank you!