Staff Management

Develop an Internal Communication System for Efficiency

By Brian Chou, OD, FAAO

Establish an internal staff communication system–spoken or electronic–to diminish appointment bottlenecks and staff misunderstandings and to keep patients moving.

Any successful practice requires frequent and open dialog between all staff. Suppose while examining a patient, your receptionist fields a phone inquiry from Mr. Smith who needs your clarification on how to use his prescriptive drops. Or the staff wants to discreetly let you know that your next patient is waiting. Or while in the exam lane, you need one of your staff to come in so that you may delegate to them training the patient on contact lens care with peroxide disinfection, or maybe selecting eyewear. In each case there are several communication approaches, some that are more efficient and professional depending on the situation.

A small optometric practice with just one doctor and a few staff may not need an elaborate in-office communication system – verbal and handwritten notes may suffice. But larger, more complex offices should have more advanced systems.

Verbal: This is often the most desirable form of staff-to-staff communication, whether in person or using a voice-intercom, however it is not efficient in all cases. If you’re seeing a patient, it would be disruptive for your receptionist to interrupt to tell you that Ms. Smith wanted clarification on when to use her eyeglasses. That could wait until later. A handwritten note or e-mail could be better. In other cases, it would be unprofessional for the receptionist to yell down the hallway for a staff member to dispense eyeglasses. And if you have a large office, the receptionist should not leave the reception desk unattended to hunt for an assistant to perform preliminary exam measurements.

Hand-written note: If going this old-fashioned route, all users should indicate date, time, the note’s recipient and who took down the note. If you have a large staff and there is no indication who wrote the note, the doctor is left to guess whose handwriting it is if clarification is needed. The problem with handwritten notes is that they can clutter your desk, and they may not document patient interactions in an organized, consistent fashion. Patient interactions must be consistently documented to ensure continuity of care and for medico-legal protection. For those reasons, handwritten notes may be obsolete given the communication technology available today.

E-Mail: The advantage of e-mail is that there is an automatic date and time stamp, with clear designation of the sender and recipient. If using e-mail, you should use a company-based e-mail, e.g. bchou@eyeluxoptometry.com. It is more professional than using an e-mail address like hotchick@gmail.com. I’ve found company e-mail useful for communicating information that does not require immediate action. Some practice management software have in-office messaging capability which approaches e-mail functionality.

Instant Messaging (IM): There are several different platforms for IM, which is text-based online chat. My practice uses IP Messenger (downloadable from: http://ipmsg.org/index.html.en). It is handy for discreetly sending short but urgent messages to a staff member at another workstation, with no limitation on what type of message is sent. But note that you need enough workstations in the office to use IM as a communication tool.

Visual Call Systems: These systems are useful in directing staff traffic within the office. Most use light signals with or without chimes. Unlike IM, there are limitations in the type of communicated message, but these systems are more efficient at communicating common messages. Possible messages include “Dr. Chou is needed in Exam Room A,” “Optician needed in Exam Room B” or “Optometric Assistant needed at Reception desk.” Some of these systems sequence the order of the messages.

Click HERE to download a PDF listing visual call systems that aid internal communication.

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Brian Chou, OD, FAAO, is a partner with EyeLux Optometry in San Diego, Calif. To contact him: chou@refractivesource.com.

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