Your new billing clerk looked great on paper. She had all the right credentials, interviewed well, and appeared eager to hit the ground running. Three weeks after you brought her aboard, however, it was painfully clear she was in over her head.
Office managers and administrators often fill vacant positions with new recruits who don't measure up. As a result, they expose their practice to legal risks when they let those workers go. "Most people inflate their resumes," says Keith Borglum, a medical practice consultant with Professional Management & Marketing in Santa Rosa, Calif. "Everybody has skills and weaknesses. That's part of the risk of being a business owner and the burden of being an employer."
By using proper hiring and firing techniques, however, you can find the right candidates the first time around, lower costly turnover, and insulate your practice from the majority of frivolous claims.
• Test run. Before offering any applicant the job, says Borglum, test for the skills you seek. That may include software literacy, diagnostic or procedural codes, math or spelling, or people skills. "If that person is going to be independently performing reviews of a staff member, have them role play a review, or ask them how they'd handle certain situations," says Borglum. You can create your own informal tests, or pay for online assessment tools such as totaltesting.com.
• Trust but verify. It takes 10 minutes, but can yield so much. A quick call to your top candidates' references provides valuable insight on their strengths and weaknesses. You might find out they exaggerated their employment history, lied about their degree, or were fired for harassing coworkers.
• Team effort. When it comes to hiring right, input is the key. Managers should never try to go it alone, says Bo Snyder, a practice management consultant in Kalamazoo, Mich. "Peer interviewing is very effective," he says. "Get your best team players and your most customer service-focused employees to interview all of your candidates. They will help you guard the gates." The act of soliciting their input, says Snyder, has the added benefit of boosting morale. "It's an honor and a perk to be asked to sit on that team," he says.
• Ease in. Before you commit to a full-time hire, and the benefits that go along with that, try using a probationary period to observe and evaluate his performance, work habits, and conduct. Ninety days is standard. During that time, your practice and the prospective employee may terminate employment immediately, with or without cause. If you're still not sold when the three months end, don't be afraid to extend the probationary period, says Snyder. This is your last, best chance to get it right. "Just say, 'Let's make sure and give this a little longer,'" says Snyder.
• Reprioritize. Recruiters in the medical field get too hung up on work experience, says Rob Saunders, a senior consultant with San Francisco-based McKesson Business Performance Services. As the industry becomes increasingly complex, he notes, practices will need to select for adaptability, intelligence, and communication skills to remain competitive. "Too many times this industry tends to recycle people whether or not they're competent," says Saunders. "Just because they've been doing the job for 30 years doesn't mean they were good at it."