Staff Management

Training Staff for the New Normal: Essential Points to Cover

By Steve Sunder

June 10, 2020

The new environment we find ourselves in after reopening is one that requires significant staff training. Employees must learn new protocols to keep patients, doctors, and themselves, safe. Here are key points to address with your staff to ensure everyone is well prepared.

Infection Prevention Protocols
The most important training item for support staff is infection prevention. This sterilization life-safety training will protect everyone who comes into the office, whether they are patients, staff, doctors, vendor reps or others. This new normal for practices will enhance the overall cleanliness of the practice, in addition to helping to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

Create New Standard Operating Procedures
Each new staff task will require the creation of a new standard operating procedure (SOP) with staff trained in each of the new procedures. For example, staff needs to be trained in the the new steps that need to be taken before patients can enter the office, such as taking patients’ temperature, ensuring they are wearing an adequate face covering and spritzing their hands with sanitizing cleanser.

Another example would be the need to train employees in managing patient intake when all of the needed paperwork is done online ahead of the visit or how to manage the use of tablets for patient check-in. Staff would need to learn to sanitize the tablets after each patient use, rather than having multiple people passing around paperwork and using the same pens.

Use Experience with HIPAA & Other Compliance Training to Help You
These new SOPs should be adopted and addressed seriously in the same way HIPAA and OSHA protocols are addressed and enforced. To ensure that happens, the practice owner should delegate oversight of the new SOPs to a senior member of the practice leadership team such as the practice administrator or office manager, as well as the department heads if applicable.

Each SOP should have sign-off documentation by employees as they are completed for each patient. It is important to communicate to staff that the new protocols require 100 percent compliance, as lives could be in jeopardy if they are not followed.

Don’t Forget to Also Train the Practice’s Doctors in the New SOPs
The new SOPs are not just for support staff, but doctors, too. All providers should take the same training as support staff to ensure the new SOPs are followed. For instance, ODs would need to ensure all exam room equipment is sterilized, including exam chairs and counters. No practice provider/owner/staff member should be exempt from these SOPs.

Train Opticians in New Way to Interact With & Serve Patients
Opticians need training in the process of social distancing, managing the patient by having them sit at a dispensing table with the optician making the frame selection from the frame board and placing those frames in a tray for frame styling. The optician also must be trained in how to thoroughly disinfect the frames after frame styling before re-stocking the frame boards. They also need to learn how dispensing tables should be disinfected after each patient, including the chair arms and other areas that might get overlooked.

All optical equipment the patient comes into contact with, such as custom lens measurement systems, should also be disinfected after each use. If the optician processes payments then the optician would also need to be trained to disinfect the credit machine and/or how to use no-touch digital payment systems.

Each employee under the new SOPs should have their own workstation, so they are not sharing computers or other equipment. If that is not possible, then staff would also have to learn the new protocol of cleaning workstations before another employee uses them.

Create New Materials to Help Staff Educate & Screen Patients
New pre-visit communications need to be composed that address the new social distancing protocols in the office.

The American Academy of Ophthalmology has provided this checklist for reopening eyecare practices.

Click HERE  to download an excellent patient questionnaire from the American Medical Association.

Create & Implement New SOPs to Limit Number of Patients in Office
Here are actions to limit the number of patients in the practice at the same time. All of these new SOPs will require employee training.

• Streamline the check-in process using digital intake forms and patient questionnaires that can be either integrated into the practice management system or downloaded and saved into the PMS.

• Reconfigure patient appointment scheduling to limit the number of patients in the office at the same time and to allow time for cleaning.

• Prepare your patients for their visit — discourage bringing someone with them, recommend arrival times and educate them if you plan to take extra precautions such as waiting outside or asking them to wear a mask.

• Have patients wait in their vehicles until you’re ready for them, then take them directly to the pre-testing room.

• Lock the front doors, post a sign telling the public you are “Open by Appointment Only” and instruct patients how to check in for their appointment (call from their car, ring a doorbell, etc.)

Monitor New Protocols
Video surveillance in common areas of the office (not the exam rooms) can be a great way to ensure compliance with the implementation of these new SOPs. These videos would be used by the management team daily for training, as well as documenting that procedures are followed and completed properly to ensure the safety of everyone in the office.

One note of caution: Laws regarding workplace monitoring by camera vary by state. Be sure to consult with both your attorney and state board of optometry before beginning use of video monitoring. If video monitoring of employees is legal in your state, you may need to notify employees and post signage in the office to also alert patients that they are being recorded by video surveillance. To maintain HIPAA compliance, the videos must not be watched or used by anyone outside of the practice.


Steve Sunder is a health-care consultant with over 20 years of experience in the eyecare industry at a multi-location practice, and as a consultant to other practices. To contact him:


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