The Personality of Your Practice
Occasionally someone will ask me if there is any one
constant in the characteristics of successful eye care
practices, and the answer is always a resounding “yes.”
It doesn’t matter if the practice is large or small, in
an urban or rural setting, new building or old. The answer
is always a caring, well-trained staff. When most doctors
think of staff training, they think of the meetings held by
their frame and lens providers, usually over lunch. When we
think of staff training it begins much earlier, usually at
the time of hiring.
This personality is shaped from the top down, and, like
it or not, the responsibility for maintaining or reshaping
it belongs to the doctor. Unfortunately, the amount of
training in optometric practices seems to be going down. A
recent survey found that the amount of practices which
conduct absolutely no training at all rose from 17% in 2009
to 33% in 2011. Yet at the same time, managed care plans are
forcing doctors to spend virtually all their time in the
exam rooms. More and more of a patient’s perception of
your practice is formed by your staff.
Have you ever noticed how the doctors who bring most of
their staff to the annual state optometric conference seem
to be among the most successful practices in their state?
Did you ever consider that perhaps it’s one of the reasons
they are so successful? We believe it goes much further than
enhancing the staff skills from the training at these
conferences. The doctors who share their goals with their
staffs and make it a group effort to attain them also have
the staffs with the least amount of turnover. It costs
doctors absolutely nothing to thank staff members for their
efforts at the end of each day, and to frequently remind
them how important they are to your practice. The more
invested in your practice employees’ feel, the longer they
will remain your employees. Let’s take a look at some of
the important steps in forming your practice personality.
Hiring Employees – there are countless opinions,
books, and consultants out there who will tell you who you
should hire, some of them even offering personality tests
which claim to predict who the best hire will be for your
staff. All of these have differing values to the doctor
interviewing prospects, and all of them achieve varying
amounts of success. Much depends upon the specific position
you are trying to fill. For example, a people-oriented
personality would generally be more important for a
dispenser than an insurance clerk. If there is one overriding value we advise doctors to
look for, it is to find people who care about others. You
can train a person who is caring for any skill, but you can
never train a skilled person to care.
Managing Staff – first, have an updated office
manual. As one former client put it, “If a rule is not
written down, it doesn’t exist.” Make sure each employee
signs a copy of the manual stating they have read it and
understand it; and each employee has a copy of the manual.
The advantage here is two-fold: first, an employee
understands what their job entails and what is expected out
of them. Secondly, in case you have to fire an employee you
have specific duties in writing – and understood by the
employee - that the employee has failed to perform. Here are
some other important tips to consider:
If at all possible, hire an office
managed care forcing doctors to live in their exam rooms, an
office manager oversees staff and ensures that the practice
goals are met. It also removes the doctor from the direct
managing of the staff. The larger the practice, the more
important this is. In small practices, the manager may
function as a float in all areas of the practice. We once
saw a four doctor practice with three locations and over
twenty-five employees try to function without an office
manager. It was not a pretty sight…
Assign a trainer for each department to train new
employees. This staff member ensures the continuity of
training remains the same.
Staff Bonuses. We believe in sharing success in the
growth of the practice with the staff. The doctor should set
the monthly goals based on an increase from year-to-year. It
often is meeting monthly goals for dispensary income, or new
contact lens fits, sun wear sales, or, in MD practices, an
increase in patient capture rates. After the first year the
goals will have to be re-evaluated, but they should always
be incremental goals as you continue to raise the bar. Never
should the staff consider it a part of their base pay. Even
though one department such as the dispensary might seem
responsible for generating financial growth, we believe in
sharing the bonus money equally among the staff. It’s a
team effort, from the person setting the appointment to the
insurance clerk ensuring you actually get paid!
Have weekly staff meetings. Review the events of the
past week and recognize what went exceptionally right and
what could use improvement. Always try to raise the level of
patient care and professionalism. Solicit suggestions from
the staff on improving the practice. When starting with a
client we always make it a point to meet separately with
each staff member for 5-10 minutes to get their impression
of the practice. You would be amazed how many excellent
suggestions they can make. When we ask why they have not
told the doctor, their response it usually “I was never
asked for my opinion.” Remember your staff sees what works
and what doesn’t work in your practice long before you do.
Remind everyone of why they are there and your goals for the
practice. And always, always, always thank your staff for
their work at the end of the day. I can’t tell you how
many staff members have approached me and said, “No one
has ever told me that before. It makes the absolute worst
day seem ok.” No one likes being taken for granted.
Hire a mystery shopper. You don’t have to spend for
a professional to do this. Pick a friend whose judgment and
standards are similar to your own and who is not known in
your practice. Give them a checklist for them to grade their
treatment in all areas of your practice from making an
appointment to checking out. Treat it as a learning
experience for everyone involved.
Successful businesses large and small realize that their
customers will receive the best service only when their
employees feel values and cared for. It‘s easy for doctors
to fall into the trap of thinking that their work is more
important and that the practice revolves around the exam
room. But if the employee setting the appointments does not
make the patent feel welcome, the practice has two strikes
against it before the patient sets foot in your door.
Get to know your staff, their families and interests.
Find out about their personal goals and ambitions, and
encourage their continuing education in their job field.
Empower your staff to make the small decisions that arise
every day while you’re in the exam room, and hold them
accountable. An empowered employee will show more initiative
and creativity. The staff knows far better than you what
little glitches interrupt patient flow on a daily basis.
So, what’s the personality of your practice?
Cliff Capriola, Practice Management