YOUR STAFF IS AN INVESTMENT IN YOUR PRACTICE. With that in mind, it’s surprising how often staff members state that they feel limited by their chiropractor, expressing frustration that they don’t feel trusted with more responsibility and hindered by doctors of chiropractic (DCs) who try to do it all. This is particularly problematic when paperwork ends up being delayed that subsequently holds up timely billing. When job dissatisfaction ultimately results, employees become bored or uninterested in their jobs and either perform poorly or move on.
With the evolution of a healthcare system that is patient-centric, your staff makes a big impact, so ensure it’s a positive one. Even if you pay a lower wage for basic reception help, the impact made is large by the first person your patients see and even this staff person should be willing to do all he or she can to help you. Staff should always be hired with a thought toward future growth.
Health care reform values patient satisfaction and physician efficiency at a reduced cost. Your staff plays a starring role from making first impressions to managing paperwork and keeping their DCs on time through efficient and thoughtful scheduling. Whether it’s the first intake call or an ongoing in-office welcome to patients, your staff can significantly affect patient impressions, attitude and satisfaction, all of which make a significant difference in retention, patient compliance and statistical data.
Staff will cross all areas of your practice. Here are some of the more important ones:
• PATIENT CONFIDENCE: A staff that is not enabled is not a confident one, and this is noticed by patients. A simple question related to billing, referrals or other types of issues that surround the core of patient care should be well within your staff’s boundaries of knowledge. If not, they should at least be willing to ask the appropriate person and respond personally to the patient. It’s not only concerning to patients who direct a question to the employee whom they think should have an answer, but it’s also inconvenient when the employee does not. Your staff and their abilities to do their jobs are a direct reflection on you.
• TRUST BUILDS STAFF LOYALTY: A stagnant, bored, uneducated and underserving staff is not a loyal staff. Sooner rather than later, you’ll either fire them thinking they were not up to the job, or they’ll leave for someone who values their input. This is a huge distraction and waste of time.
• YOU CAN’T DO IT ALL: As business owners you have enough to do. During the day, your primary duty is to treat patients, comply with note-taking requirements and manage and coordinate patient care. This is a lot on your shoulders, but the load gets heavier when you add billing and collections, report generation, accounting, public relations, marketing, building clinical expertise and general business matters. An enabled staff can take the lead with several of these categories and at the very least help you with research and preparation. A team environment is a great one to foster.
• PROTOCOLS HELP DEFINE RESPONSIBILITIES: Your office should have clear protocols. Without them, doctors often fall behind or rush to meet reporting deadlines, delay SOAP notes and feel distracted moving from task to task. Protocols not only help put procedures in place, they help define responsibilities and accountability. From simple tasks like making sure the restroom is clean, to stocking supplies or daily reporting obligations, your staff should not only know their own responsibilities, but also know when yours are falling behind so they can put measures into place to help clear your schedule or take on additional tasks. Defined protocols prevent confusion and inefficiency.
• TIMELINESS: Running a practice can at times be overwhelming and as your own boss, it’s easy to deflect job duties especially if you are trying to do everything yourself and not enabling your staff. Your patient paperwork is critical and should be up-to-date with all patients as they come and go from your office. With electronic records, the reporting process is simplified, which has made billing easier for staff. Many office staff report that they are constantly waiting on their doctors for reports and SOAP notes in order to bill and so are often more than 30 days late in submitting a bill. That’s not satisfying for staff — it’s frustrating, and it’s frustrating for patients. Delayed billing means deductibles are not being met, the patient must wait for flex-spending submissions and will be asked to pay bills for services that occurred months ago.
• SETTING THE TONE: Staff interactions with patients is critical. You can be the best chiropractor in your area, but if your staff is unkind or incompetent, you’ll find your practice is losing patients. At a minimum, staff should be greeting your patients warmly, learning patient names quickly, apprising patients of unusual wait times, collecting co-pays and deductibles in a firm but friendly manner, and in general, insuring that from the time patients arrive to the time they leave, that everything possible was done to ensure the patients felt important and valued. Proper, effective, friendly and compassionate care must be a priority at all times.
• IMPROVED STATS: When your front staff is enabled with clear protocols and duties, you’ll find better collection activities as well as more compliant patients and fewer missed appointments. If you want your practice to grow, you want your staff to be able to grow with you.
• INTEGRATED CARE: These days, meeting health care reform requirements and finding affordable marketing options weigh heavily in provision of integrated and coordinated care. From patient feedback to the MD, scheduling, billing and sharing of medical records to general medical outreach, protocol implementation is mandatory.
Staff’s calm attitude, allowing for the taking of time to develop and adjust protocols, results in a more efficient office. To accomplish this, your staff must be people you work side by side with, not just a voice at the front desk. What you get out of your staff is directly related to how much you put into them.
Dr. Christina Acampora is the founder of Aligned Methods, which offers online medical marketing courses and resources, and is the author of Marketing Chiropractic to Medical Practices, a 2007 Jones and Bartlett publication. She speaks for chiropractic and university organizations and is a consistent contributor for ACA News. She can be reached at www.alignedmethods.com