By Diane Palombi, OD
Attention doctors! You may be the most knowledgeable, experienced, professional doctor on the planet but your staff can sink your practice. Take it from me: Your receptionist, insurance staff, opticians and technicians can make or break a practice. My husband was seriously considering switching his internist. The gentleman was knowledgeable, friendly, personable and even humorous. However, his staff was a different matter. They were curt, uncooperative and just unpleasant to deal with. Lab tests were not ordered up. They would not check into insurance coverage. His staff acted like the patient was a bother to them.
I knew the importance of hiring good staff. When hiring, I tried to pick friendly, upbeat people, the kind of people who don’t mind going the extra mile for a patient. Let’s admit that the general population can be a bit demanding or even unreasonable at times. You need employees who can roll with the punches. Insurance, in particular, can be frustrating. It can drive us crazy, so you can imagine how overwhelming it can be for the patient. I made it a rule that before the patient came in, insurance coverage was confirmed. We knew in advance whether they were eligible for the exam and materials. That way there were no unpleasant surprises when patients arrived for their appointments.
We tried to be flexible about scheduling appointments. Instead of saying what we had available, we would ask the patient what was convenient for them. We would get as much pertinent information as we could on the phone, especially about insurance coverage. I stressed being friendly and sounding knowledgeable on the phone. This is the first impression a new patient has of your office. It needs to be a good one. We tried to accommodate patient requests like overnight shipments of contact lenses or rush jobs on eyeglasses if possible.
A negative employee can affect the morale of the office. It can even influence your mood. I once had an employee who was a constant complainer. It got to the point that I hated to be around her. She would put me in a bad mood. I made certain that her replacement had a cheerier personality.
Your staff also should be treated in a way that shows you understand their importance to your practice. Do not order them around like they are livestock. Treat them with respect. Staff who are well treated are more likely to reflect that same level of respect back toward your patients.
Remember that without our patients we would not have jobs. They need to be treated like the important people that they are to our practice.
How do you ensure that your staff is both efficient and competent, as well as people your patients will like spending time around?
Diane Palombi, OD, is the now-retired former owner of Palombi Vision Center in Wentzville, Mo. To contact her: firstname.lastname@example.org