By April L. Jasper, OD, FAAO
Create and enforce staff policies that enhance the patient experience. To make it work, involve staff in the process.
Delivering the best possible service to your patients requires a clear mission statement, reinforced with staff policies that keep your entire staff on track to deliver on the goals and aspirations of that mission statement. There are offices that provide the minimum direction to staff, training staff to simply rely on their good judgment, and there are offices like mine that rely on more structured, policy-based responses to patient needs. I have found that providing policy-based guidance to staff members results in a more consistently high-quality patient experience.
Many ODs are reluctant to create structured staff policies that dictate office flow and the handling of patient needs because it requires time to create the policies and then discipline and organization to enforce them. But offering staff a set of policies to guide their work life can ensure consistency of service thereby elevating the patient’s experience in your practice. Here are key staff policies that enable my office to exceed my patients’ expectations.
For Best Policies, Set Mission Statement
and then Strategize with Staff
Determine your mission statement, then have your team:
Strategize. In a meeting to review the mission statement and make plans to implement it.
Challenge staff. Ask: “What business that you visited recently totally impressed you?”
Implement. Write these things down on a chart and discuss how this relates to your business. Then lead staff into collaborating with you to establish policies for your office. Collaborating with staff to create policies, rather than dictating policies to staff, makes buy-in more likely.
Match Policy with Mission Statement
If your mission is to provide patients with superior service, examine the staff behaviors that conflict with that mission. The way I approach it is to think of those areas that are too tempting to all of us to slide into the grey areas. Then I try to determine what is best for the practice and the patient while not infringing on the employees at the same time. Look at your mission statement and then determine how staff behavior fits into it.
Here is our mission statement: “At Advanced Eyecare Specialists we are committed to providing our patients with the ultimate in eye care. Combining advanced technology with a spirit of compassion and respect, we aim to render the highest quality of service and satisfaction to our patients thereby superbly enhancing their quality of life.”
One policy we have that comes directly from the mission statement is to “keep no patient waiting in the reception area longer than 10 minutes.” We try to respect our patients’ time and give them outstanding care. When we are with a patient we are all theirs, listening for ways we can make their day.
Set Policies that Eliminate Nuisances to Patients
Cell phones can be a slippery slope. Not one person reading this article likes it when they are paying for service and the service provider is more concerned about something taking place on their phone. The best cell phone policy is no cell phones. With HIPAA requirements and Data Breach concerns it is very important to have cameras (cell phones) put away and patients’ privacy protected.
Same Rules for Everyone
When we come up with policies in the office we try to think of what is needed to keep our office functioning smoothly and to be fair to everyone in the office. Along this line of thinking we have instituted an attendance policy including a tardy policy. We also have a dress code (uniforms show authority and respect and keep costs down for employees, so this is our dress policy), computer browsing guidelines and e-mail policies.
The biggest mistake I see in small business is not having a policy for cell phones, internet use and customer service standards, which results in “back stage” business conducted on “stage” in front of customers, or patients.
One of the umbrellas with the practice logo on it, which Dr. Jasper’s staff uses to walk patients out to their cars during rain storms. The practice also gives the umbrellas to some patients as special thank you gifts. The umbrellas are part of a policy which staff members and Dr. Jasper follow on how to maintain patient comfort during bad weather.
Collaborate with Staff to Develop Staff-Patient Policies
Policies relating to patients and patient care are determined by all of our team. For example, my staff determined they preferred to be able to follow the same patient through the office from check-in to check-out. In most cases we accomplish this and have found that it truly helps us to establish relationships with patients and promotes patient loyalty. All of the team members in the office had to learn every aspect of patient care for this to be effective and they have done so and truly enjoy having it this way.
If you do not get the input of the team on patient policies then the policies become like walls in a prison. There are some policies you must put in place like the tardy or absentee policy without staff input, but others can and should be done as a team. You the doctor and CEO know what you are looking for as an end result of a well run and customer-first business, so it is up to you to lead your staff in the creation and implementation of policies.
It is imperative that you create a vision of your perfect practice (or business) and what it would look like. Then use the concept of “policies” to paint that picture. Some of the walls and the foundation of that picture have to be created by you as practice leader, but the rest of the picture should be painted by the team. If it is painted by the team then the blueprint of your practice will be one with a strong foundation.
Acknowledge When a Policy Isn’t Working
The great thing about a small business is that you can change your mind and change your policies if you need or want to. One of the policies we implemented that made no sense, and so went away, was to close our office at lunch. We tried time and again to find a way for the entire office to eat lunch together every day. My staff wanted it that way and I thought it wouldn’t matter so we tried it. The result was that the staff would stretch lunch longer than allowed and patients would get upset when the office was closed over their lunch break making it harder for them to pick up products or have repairs done. We realized this would not work in our setting and had to change this policy.
New Policies Are Always in the Making
We come up with new ideas every week. One of our latest simple policies is that when we have a rain storm (common in Florida) we add more floor mats in the front and put out an umbrella catcher to put all the wet umbrellas in so water is not tracked through the office. We have a small mop we put close by (but hidden from patients) that we can use to clean up wet spots quickly. We then had umbrellas made with our logo to walk people in and out of the office so they don’t get soaked. We use the umbrellas for special thank-you gifts for our customers as well.
Related ROB Articles
April L. Jasper, OD, FAAO, is the owner of Advanced Eyecare Specialists in West Palm Beach, Fla. She is featured in a cover story in the Spring 2012 issue of MBA Insights. To contact her: firstname.lastname@example.org.