Doctor Patient Relations

Set Conversational Boundaries

By Ally Stoeger, OD

There is a crucial difference between being socially friendly vs. being a friendly professional. Excess social conversation between staff members, or between staff members and patients, can be highly detrimental to the efficient operation of an eyecare practice. There are four areas to pay attention to:

1. Limit social conversations between staff members: One 10-minute social conversation with another staff member (or doctor) results in a loss of 20 minutes to the practice because the services of two staff members are lost. That can easily be a loss of $35-$50 or more when you consider payroll and associated tax expenses–just for a 10-minute chat! Sometimes when the chat circuit gets going, several employees may be involved. And if one of those people was in the middle of something when they were interrupted for social conversation, it may take that person a few extra minutes just to regain their train of thought.

Social conversations between staff members often occur because one staff member may have finished with a patient and is waiting for the next patient to arrive. They start chatting with their co-worker, without realizing how much this costs the practice in lost efficiency. The co-worker does not want to be rude, even though they are busy, so it’s the practice that gets short-changed.

It’s important for each employee to make a list of tasks that can be accomplished in short/medium/and long breaks between patient encounters so that they use their time to the fullest capacity and don’t spend time chatting up co-workers. Five-minute intervals can be used to check in glasses; call patients for glasses or contact lens pick up; clean, dust and adjust frames on the board; clean mirror and countertop surfaces; check insurance information for upcoming patients; check practice e-mail; or look ahead on the patient schedule to make sure there are no errors.

2. Limit social conversations between staff members and patients: Social chats with patients should not go beyond a few sentences or one or two minutes. Because of the open layout in reception and optical areas, social banter may be disruptive to other patients and staff members. Not every patient wants to have personal conversations with staff members. They may go along with it, but maybe they would rather be checking their messages or relaxing with a magazine.

Those patients who do enjoy a long chat, may end up monopolizing a staff member for too long. It’s not unusual for other staff members to become resentful when they have to pick up the slack because one of their colleagues is consistently chatty.

3. At patient check-in, staff members should try to limit or eliminate patient discussion about details of the patients’ eye problems. The patient will have to repeat the information to the pre-test technician or doctor, so it’s a waste of time if they also tell their story to front desk staff. To avoid this, savvy employees should gently cut off the conversation and assure the patient that the doctor will discuss their problem in detail during their examination.

4. Avoid social conversations with patients during checkout. Once a patient has made a decision to complete the transaction, it’s time to streamline the encounter. Checkout conversation should be limited to:
–Payment transaction
–Asking if they would like to set up an appointment for a family member
–Thanking them for coming in
–If appropriate, asking them to write an online review or recommend the practice to their friends

By the time the patient has seen the doctor and purchased glasses, they have typically been in your office for an hour or more. They are ready to move on, and so are we!

What guidance do you give staff on conversations in the office with each other and patients? How do you create an office that is both friendly, as well as efficient?

Ally Stoeger, OD, was a founding and managing partner of a multi-doctor practice and has recently opened a new practice in Gainesville, Va. Contact: ally@realpracticetoday.com. You also can follow Dr. Stoeger on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/gheyedr.

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