Katie Greiner, OD
Jan. 4, 2023
Your staff connects you to your patients. They are the first people your patients interact with, often before the appointment is made, and the last people patients talk to on their way out the door.
In our office, we speak in terms of “core values.” Here are the details on the system we developed to spotlight a different core value each month, and how this has resulted in more engaged employees and a significant positive impact on our bottom line.
A Process Each Month for Analysis & Enacting Improvements
For each of the spotlighted values, we meet with our administrative team consisting of a few doctors, practice managers, head technicians and front desk leads. We start by reviewing the dictionary definition of the value, and then discuss what it means to us, including how the value affects the work staff members do with each other and how it affects the work we do with patients. We also discuss how the value plays out in our interaction with the public, and their perception of us. The goal is that by month’s end, we have a plan in place to do even better in how we live out the value.
Core Value of: Community
In August 2022, we put the spotlight on community. We talked about how to have a sense of community among co-workers in our office and how to have a greater sense of community with the public.
To further internal community, we started a walking club at lunch in which participants did laps around the neighborhoods where our offices are located. We had spoken about the importance of having friends in the office, and this was one way we thought that both good health and better relationships could be furthered. There is ample time, after all, to talk and get to know each other while walking together.
To show how having a sense of community plays out in how we serve patients, we posted staff recognition on the wall. Each post tells the story in brief of how a staff member helped a patient. For example, “I’m here [posted to wall] because I helped someone with an eye emergency get in to see the doctor and was part of the team that helped save their sight.” We are showing with these posts how we are building a community of patients through our high level of care and service.
Core Value of: Teamwork
No one works in isolation in an office, we discussed in September 2022. The best individual employees will falter without colleagues to pass the baton to and receive support from. We wanted to analyze how well we collaborate to care for patients and create an overall positive experience for everyone who comes into our office. Like most other offices, we had significant turnover during the pandemic. That meant there were tasks that were slipping through the cracks. For example, we needed a way to ensure contact lens trials were always available and organized so that we could quickly find them, that cornea culturing was ordered and sent in properly and that medication samples were always on hand.
We had our employees pair up using a buddy system, so that each employee now has a designated person they can turn to for extra support getting these side job tasks done, and they (and we) know that if one of them is absent from work, their buddy will automatically pitch in to get the tasks done. The buddy system adapts as needed, so when necessary, an employee may buddy with a different employee. We regularly review who is buddying with whom.
Another way we looked at teamwork was in how we work as a team with patients in delivering their care. Without the patient themselves buying into the treatment plan, and following the doctor’s and staff’s instructions, the treatment will often fail. We talked about ways to better work with patients and encourage them when they are doing well. One day we gave patients smiley face stickers, which may seem like a silly gesture, but it made patients smile and we heard them talking about it their entire visit .
Core Value of: Accountability
In October 2022, we looked at how each of us is accountable for positive outcomes in both our patients’ lives and the life of our practice as a business.
We walked through the patient journey from front desk to back office to optical and check-out. Each participant in the discussion was asked to identify their role in the journey, including the specific responsibilities that went with that role. Team members shared what is at stake if they don’t do their jobs well. For instance, if the front desk doesn’t listen carefully to the patient on the phone, they could be scheduled with the wrong doctor and would have to be inconvenienced and come back a second time to see the doctor they need.
We also talked about how employees are responsible as members of the patient’s care team, including making sure patients leave with a clear understanding of the doctor’s diagnosis and instructions for treatment and return visits. We also emphasized the importance of holding patients accountable for their role in complying with the treatment plan.
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Accountability also means celebrating wins. We created the Greatest of All Time (GOAT) Awards to highlight employee achievement in accountability. For example, in one of our offices, we were at closing time with everyone but one employee, an optician, gone for the day. A patient called saying that his contact lens was causing such discomfort that he could not open his eye. We are based in Northeast Ohio, but the patient was in Michigan at the time.
As an optician, the employee had no expertise in contact lens complications. However, she knew that our practice had sister practices (owned by the same company that owns our practice) in Michigan. She got on the phone and made the patient an emergency appointment with one of these offices, which she knew we had worked with in the past. Contact lens emergencies were not part of this employee’s job, but she took responsibility to make sure the patient got the help he needed.
We are all accountable for doing our jobs well, we emphasized during our discussions. We put a new system in place for making sure the front desk collects co-pays starting with ensuring that the patient stops at the front desk. The scribes are held accountable to walking the patient to check out and personally handing them off to the check-out employee.
Instead of being hesitant to ask for payment, the check-out staff are taught to ask, “How will you be paying for your co-pay today, with cash or credit?” This training, which facilitated greater accountability, resulted in approximately 20 percent higher collections at the front desk. The staff now tally the percentage of co-pays they collected compared to what they could have, and it’s become a daily challenge to hit 100 percent. It’s been really fun!
Similarly, we discussed the need for accountability in verifying patient insurance and making sure all the numbers related to their insurance cards are correctly inputted. We experienced a 50 percent decrease in claim rejections following this accountability discussion of the importance of catching errors before they happen, rather than waiting to receive a denial and then having to resubmit.
Like our other core values, accountability changes both the level of care a patient receives and the level of profitability a practice can achieve.