More often than not, staff members are the first people patients speak with when they come to your practice. Of course, you want your staff to do their tasks and process the patients in an efficient manner, but what is more important? Serving patients or doing the job in an efficient manner? It is more important to serve patients in whatever form that takes.You need to train your staff to meet their purpose, not just fulfill their function.
What’s the difference between the two? Staff members who fulfill their function do only what is explicitly required. They do what is in their job description. Staff members who fulfill their purpose do both what is in their job description and do extra for patients – such as helping someone who just had a procedure to a waiting car.
Why does this matter? As important as it is to have staff who can do the technical and administrative aspects of their job, they also need to serve the needs of the patient which aren’t directly related to eye care. But what about HIPAA and triaging patients? Yes, those things are very important and you need to stress to your staff the importance of keeping patient information private and to train your staff how to prioritize which patients the doctor is to see and in what order. Filling out forms and entering information in a computer isn’t what differentiates your practice from other practices or the online services. How you and your staff attend to the nonmedical needs of patients will set you apart.
What can you do to help turn the tide? Try having your staff members take turns at the reception desk so that registering patients isn’t the sole responsibility of one person. Also, make an effort to step away from the exam room and greet patients as they come into the practice. Having staff take turns at the reception desk and take time to greet patients will help create a culture of service.
Micah Solomon, a customer service consultant found that these things help:
Reinforcement—In healthcare, those who provide patient care are admonished to, “Wash your hands. Wash your hands. Wash your hands.” The repetition of that phrase reinforces the importance of handwashing as one of the best ways to reduce the spread of germs. You can have a weekly meeting where you reiterate the importance of addressing both the visual and non-visual needs of patients. The meetings don’t have to be long, just 5-10 minutes at start of the work day. Repetition is key.
Positive Peer Pressure—Encourage employees to observe each other and copy positive behaviors, like assisting patients with frame selection or helping a patient with limited vision fill out a form. Peer pressure has a negative connotation since it is usually associated with teens and risky behaviors. However, peer pressure can also be good. Employees can encourage each other to do the right thing for patients and pick up the slack when one employee is helping a patient.
Standards—Don’t just have rules and processes, explain why you have these standards and how they help the business run smoothly. While something might seem obvious to you, it might not be as clear for another person. The time you take to explain procedures will pay off when an employee understands why something is the way it is and can then follow or even improve procedures.
Employee Empowerment—Of course, be sure to stress that if there is a choice between filling out a form and helping a patient, helping a patient comes first. Helping patients with forms or calling a cab for a patient with limited vision are just as important as entering patient information into an electronic patient record and making sure that payments are processed in a timely manner. In fact, when a staff member does these things, he or she is to be congratulated for doing extra on behalf of the patient, not penalized for not answering the phone.
Having your staff do extra for patients means that routine tasks may be delayed. Of course, patients won’t remember how quickly their insurance form was filed. They will remember how your staff helped them while they were in your practice and they will return because of how your staff treats them.