Staff Management

COVID Coping: How Making Staff Part of Your Inner Circle Can Help

By Pamela Miller, OD, FAAO, JD, FNAP

July 22, 2020

If you are like most of us, you have pretty much reached the end of your rope with the ongoing pandemic, and tied a knot just to continue hanging on. OK, so just how in the world do we make it any easier?

One of the elements that makes it easier is when we work with our staff as part of our inner circle. This is particularly important in maintaining staff cohesiveness – our office family is the key to making it easier to make it through. If you function as a team it truly makes getting through a crisis like the pandemic easier. I keep my staff informed of the challenges I am experiencing managing a practice during COVID-19, and value their input in the decisions I make.

Here is what I have learned about keeping my staff close–and tapping their expertise and capabilities–during this time of crisis.

Make Your Staff Part of the Decision-Making Process
Serving patients in a pandemic has meant finding ways to keep our patients, staff and ourselves safe. When it came time to make these decisions, I asked my staff for help. After speaking with my staff, I found that they were amenable to wearing not just masks, but gloves, as personal protective equipment.

It was my staff who took the lead in suggesting the signage we would need in the office to ensure patient compliance with the new mask-wearing and social distancing requirements. They also worked with me to find the best protocol for sterilizing frames. They suggested UV light as disinfectant, and after I did research to follow-up on their recommendation, we decided that washing the frames with soap and water would be better. We also sometimes use alcohol and hydrogen peroxide for disinfection.

Ask Employees to Track & Help Grow Revenues
One of my employees is adept at working with numbers, so I have her track our metrics month to month, comparing the current numbers to where we were a year ago. Like most practices, April and May were not good for us, but June and July were much stronger. When my numbers-tracking employee showed me proof that we were on the upswing in patient volume and revenues, I decided to proceed with a plan I had been thinking of before the pandemic to increase wages on July 1.

Let Your Opticians–the Optical Experts–Take the Lead in Ordering Frames
The ultimate decision of what to buy in optical inventory, and how much, lies with the practice owner, but that doesn’t mean you can’t let your opticians take the lead in making purchase recommendations.

I have a specific staff member in charge of making recommendations to me on what products to order, and how much, for our frame board. She might come to me, noting the popularity of a particular brand, and asking if she can order another 30, or she might suggest that we stop selling a particular line of frames.

I am the medical eyecare and refraction expert in the office, but I let my optical staff know that I consider them the experts in optical sales, and what our patients most like to buy.

Ask Staff to Help You Research Insurance Panels
The decision of whether or not to enable patients to use an insurance policy in your office is big, impacting both patient accessibility to care and practice profitability. I ask one of my staff members to research information on insurance panels I am thinking of joining, or eliminating, from my practice. Asking staff to help with such decisions builds the knowledge of employees about the industry and gives you a second opinion to compare against your own. This increases the chances of making the right decision, and shows the employee how integral to your practice they are.

Now Especially You Must Rely on Staff to Enforce Practice Rules
Front-line staff have always been the ones to do the heavy lifting in rule enforcement, and this has never been more true. Some patients are resistant to new mask and social distancing requirements. My staff and I recently had to explain to a patient that he couldn’t come into our office without a face-covering. He ran back to his car, took his undershirt off, and wrapped it around his face as a makeshift mask.

In the optical, my staff explains to patients the new procedure of leaving frames on our optical counter after trying them on rather than placing them back on the board. One of my employees has mobility challenges, making it hard for her to continuously get up and down putting frames back on the board, so after the frames are cleaned, another employee puts them back on the board. We worked together to create a system that would maintain patient safety while meeting the needs of our staff.

Follow the Golden Rule In How You Treat Staff
The Golden Rule of treating others as you would have them treat you is always good guidance when serving patients and managing employees, and never more so than now. We all are taxed by the current crisis. If a staff member tells me they need time off, I almost always find a way to make it work for them.

I ask frequently how they are doing–both on the job and personally–and we talk about ways to make the office work flow more manageable. When you know your employees are doing well, it makes it easier to manage your own stress and anxiety, and helps the practice as a team better serve patients.

Pamela Miller, OD, FAAO, JD, DPNAP, has a solo optometric practice in Highland, Calif. She is an attorney at law, holds a therapeutic license, is California State Board-certified and glaucoma-certified to prescribe eye medications, and offers comprehensive vision care, contact lenses, visual therapy and low vision services. To contact her:

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