By Ian G. Whipple, OD
Feb. 23, 2022
Your practice’s efficiency can be impacted by changes to work flow and new ways of getting tasks done. One of those new ways of doing things is moving certain staff positions offsite. Here are a few newly offsite positions in my office that are improving my employees’ efficiency in completing back-end work, so our office runs more smoothly and our patients have our undivided attention.
You Need to Be Set Up First for Remote Work
Any job that does not involve direct patient face-to-face time can be moved offsite–if you have the right technology.
We have been using an online technology, TeamViewer, to access our office computers from a remote location. The subscription to this technology is around $35 per month.
We are in the process of implementing in a new technology, network-attached storage (NAS), which works like a virtual computer, enabling offsite employees to access and work within a computer based in our physical office space.
We moved our billing specialist offsite about six months before the pandemic started. The billing position can be done at any hour from any location.
We had a few spare computers in the office, which allowed me to give the billing specialist one to take home with her. She was able to easily set it up and access the office computer. As we transition to NAS technology, we will be able to have a remote employee like this connect to a computer located inside our physical office from the employee’s own personal computer or tablet, or even their phone.
Moving our billing specialist to a remote location was a seamless transition for our patients. When patients call with questions about their bill, they have no idea that our staff member is working remotely.
The transition has been a big win in efficiency, as our newly remote billing specialist is now able to dedicate 100 percent of her attention to each patient who calls without distraction from other staff members or patients standing in front of her waiting to be helped.
The billing specialist’s efficiency has increased by roughly 25 percent since we moved her position home. She is doing the same amount of work in 30 hours from home that took her 40 hours a week in the office previously to complete. Better yet, we found that there are fewer errors now in billing. Initial billing errors went from around 4 percent to 2 percent when our billing specialist started working from home.
With the cost-savings realized from the added efficiency and accuracy, we were able to offer a raise to this billing specialist, who is a high-performing employee.
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One unexpected challenge we ran into was that when our billing specialist runs monthly statements she has to physically come to the office to print the statements. This could be remedied with a printer at her home, but she doesn’t mind coming in for an hour in the evening once everyone is gone.
We wanted to build on our billing specialist’s success working from home by moving our receptionist to a remote location. About four years ago, we moved all of the telephones off of the main floor and put them in a business office. So, we’re already used to not having phones ringing and answered on the floor where our clinic and optical are located. This was a natural evolution of that process.
For a while we had a virtual assistant/receptionist who worked remotely from the Philippines. She was placed as a contract employee with our practice through a virtual employee hiring company, My Mountain Mover. This amazing foreign worker was able to answer phones and keep our office running while we researched and implemented more robust international phone systems. My Mountain Mover was comparable to, or slightly less, than what we pay receptionists who become our full-time employees. We stopped using My Mountain Mover when we discovered that the U.S. and Canada have an electronic “geo-fence” set up that makes it hard-to-impossible for some phones to dial into the U.S.
We ended up choosing RingCentral as a VoIP phone system for our office. This phone system allows for us to access inbound and outbound phone calls in our office, as well as multiple locations, including our receptionist’s home.
We used the virtual assistant we found through My Mountain Mover for about three months, and then had the opportunity to rehire an employee who got married a few years ago and moved to another city. She now lives a few hours from our office, but it doesn’t matter since the position is now entirely remote. Our receptionist will use a computer at her house to operate the NAS/virtual computer. She is able to login to the same computer that the billing specialist uses.
Our patients love that there are no distractions when they call in. Our office has struggled in the past with noise issues. I like to think it’s because our people really enjoy working with each other and have genuine friendships. In the past I would listen to recorded phone calls and hear side conversations and background chatter. This is no longer an issue.
It’s only been a few weeks since our local offsite receptionist has taken over that position, but we are already finding major benefits. Similar to our billing specialist’s experience, our receptionist is able to do more work in significantly less time than what was previously possible because she has no office distractions while doing her work. We are giving her additional duties and side projects, including making a personal phone call to every patient a couple of weeks after their contacts or glasses have been dispensed. We’ve always had a follow-up mechanism in place, but it was automated. This is much more personable, and makes it easier for the patient to ask questions or express concerns. Her primary responsibilities will be to answer calls and schedule appointments. She will be the only person in our practice who does those two things.
We plan to track no-show rates to measure the efficiency of this position. Now that there is only one person in charge of answering the phones and scheduling appointments, there is better accountability.
The insurance coordinator has full responsibility for looking up insurance benefits for vision and medical plans. We have a patient coordinator who greets every patient as they enter the office and takes copies of their insurance cards. The insurance coordinator then uses the information obtained by the patient coordinator to obtain benefits.
The patient coordinator has a brief discussion with each patient prior to their exam about their benefits and their out-of-pocket costs. This discussion has been important for us as we try to improve transparency and reduce surprise costs at the end of patient visits. We found that if a patient is going to be surprised by the cost of a product or service, it is best to have that discussion before, rather than after, the exam.
The insurance coordinator doesn’t have any direct patient responsibilities even though she works with the patient coordinator to provide information about the patient’s benefits. This position in theory can be moved to a remote location. We have not yet moved this position home, but our plan is to get this position offsite by the end of quarter one 2022.
To make this position work offsite, we will need to invest in new scanner technology. When our patient coordinator scans an insurance card I would like it to automatically show up on the remote screen of our insurance coordinator. We are still investigating scanner/software options that would enable this. Once we purchase this technology, we will provide training to the insurance coordinator on how to use it from her home.
The patient coordinator and insurance coordinator will need to have a highly effective mode of communication. We just implemented the work group communication platform, Slack, in our practice. We are currently using the free version of Slack. If necessary, we can upgrade to a version with greater functionality that will cost around $70 a month. We anticipate that Slack may be a good way for the patient coordinator and insurance coordinator to communicate, so our patients’ experience in our office is unaffected, and even improved, by this new remote position.