Technology tools and work flow processes might boost a practice's efficiency, but great employees drive long-term profitability, experts say. Successful practices recognize that investing in staff training and retention strategies is a critical part of maintaining a healthy bottom line.
"Turnover is expensive, especially today because it takes a while for employees to acquire the skills necessary to use increasingly sophisticated technology," said Mott Blair IV, a family physician in rural Wallace, N.C., and an American Academy of Family Physicians board member. "Once you have those employees you want to keep them, so it's important that we actually enjoy working together."
Step one is hiring the right people, said Reed Tinsley, CPA, a Houston-based healthcare accountant and business adviser. "If you hire the right people with the right experience, you'll have a lot fewer problems."
After the hire, start off by creating an orientation program to familiarize the new employee with your office's policies and work flow, said Tinsley. Don't make the mistake of hiring a qualified person and assuming they will figure things out on their own.
"One of most important positions in the practice is the front-desk receptionist, and good practices will have a process in place to help them adjust during the first few days," said Tinsley. "Mentoring and training that person from day one is critical."
With a little extra effort, you can cultivate a staff of knowledgeable employees who enjoy coming to work each day. That's an integral ingredient in effective revenue cycle management, experts say. They offered the following tips:
• Hire for the right reasons. A resume can make a potential employee look good on paper but it can't tell you how they will perform in practice, said Tinsley. "I recommend using situational interviewing, where you ask specific questions about real life situations," he said. "If you ask practical, real-world questions about that particular job you'll ferret out people who don't really know what they're doing."
• Commit to training. Training isn't just for new employees but should be an ongoing process. Recently, Blair's staff attended a two-hour seminar on making positive first impressions and being patient friendly. "It's something that really makes a difference and helps us improve the quality of care we provide," he said.
• Teach staff to leverage technology. Why invest in a sophisticated practice management or EHR system only to skimp on training? Unfortunately, it happens with alarming frequency, experts said. "Good systems will allow you to do things like print out reports showing the reasons for your denials so you don't have to manually go through your explanation of benefits forms," said Tinsley. "But it's amazing how many people have no idea what their system can do for them."
• Maintain an operations manual. The manual should detail all of your policies and procedures and be placed where it's easily accessible to everyone in the office, said Tinsley. "You should give the manual to every employee as soon as they're hired," he said. "It puts everything in writing so there is no confusion about how you want things done."
• Take time out for fun. Reward your staff for their hard work by setting aside some time for celebrations or socializing outside the office, said Blair. "When you do that, you have a healthier practice and patients feel that when they walk through the door, he said. "Setting up that kind of atmosphere attracts patients because it reflects on the quality of care you provide."