Front-office Staffing It Can Be the Key to a Well-run Medical Practice

Today’s medical practice is both a patient care center and a business. In order for a business to be successful, your customers must be happy, and your operation must be profitable. In a medical practice, the key to both of these is a strong front office team.

When a patient walks through the door, it is your front-office team that is there to greet them with a smile and to make them feel welcome. When dealing with a difficult medical condition, this smile, or lack thereof, can either make or break the perception of the patient’s visit. This first impression of your practice sets the tone for the visit.

Also, it is your front-office staff who are responsible for obtaining a patient’s insurance information and corresponding co-pay. An error in either or both of these tasks could cause an impact on the practice’s bottom line.

So, with these important responsibilities, what are some things that can be done to maximize the production of your front office? First, a practice must develop a sound employee manual, detailing the roles and responsibilities of each position in the practice. Doing so allows each employee to know what is expected of them and can help to potentially eliminate duplicate work and to evaluate their performance.

While developing this manual, the practice should also make a determination as to how many front-office staff members are needed to operate as efficiently as possible. In addition to the standard industry surveys that are available, such as those published by the MGMA, your accountant can assist in assessing the needs of your practice.

The process of determining staffing size and defining roles and responsibilities should be discussed with all team members, which may lead to ideas to better utilize staff, such as separating the reception and registration functions. As stated previously, gathering insurance information and co-pays is a key to a fiscally healthy practice. Trying to do this important task while answering phones and scheduling follow-up visits can lead to unnecessary errors. It can also cause undue stress, which will undoubtedly lead to the loss of that smile that is so important.

A practice needs to invest in training programs if it expects its employees to be productive and to develop professionally. New front-office staff should all undergo a formal, standardized training program. As necessary, a practice should consider looking to external resources if they do not have the internal resources for such a program. Training doesn’t stop with new employees. Ongoing training is necessary to enable staff to keep current with industry changes and technology. Also, cross-training in small to medium-size practices is critical to coverage for unanticipated absences.

Once you determine what your needs are in the front office, it is time to fill the positions. The most important consideration here is not to settle for just any individual. The person that is hired must have the required qualifications and must fit in with the other staff at the practice. If necessary, temporary employees should be considered until the right employee is found. Also, while it is a step that is many times overlooked, background checks and prior employer reference checks can help to avert potentially disastrous consequences in the future.

How does one go about attracting and retaining the best person for the job? First, a practice must do its homework and determine what other practices are offering.

This is an area that your accountant would be able to assist with. Once determined, you may have to consider paying higher than the average, which will typically attract more qualified candidates. In doing so, be careful not to upset the balance of your own practice’s pay scale. Benefits are also critical. If you have good employee benefits, be sure to stress these.

Bonus and reward programs should be implemented and, to be more effective, should extend beyond annual performance evaluations. Spot rewards for process improvements not only keep employees satisfied with their job, but they also motivate employees to take ownership and to find ways to make a practice more productive. Annual performance evaluations should not be overlooked, as they are generally considered the best opportunity for a practice to reward a job well done, and also allow a practice to adjust the focus of their staff if it is not operating efficiently.

Compensation is not the only avenue, though. The owners and directors of a practice must also have a personal touch. Remembering important dates, such as birthdays and anniversaries, or even just stopping to say “hello” or “thank you” can be just as rewarding to some employees as an annual bonus.

Employees need the proper tools to do their jobs. IT hardware and software should be current and state-of-the-art. Having faxes, copy machines, and printers that work properly and are nearby adds to the efficiency of your staff.

With everything that you do, remember that your front-office team is the first step toward a successful and profitable practice. They can either pave the way or make a rocky road for the rest of the patient visit and for the billing and collection functions.

James T. Krupienski, CPA, is manager of the Health Care Services Division of Meyers Brothers Kalicka, P.C., Holyoke, Certified Public Accountants and Business Consultants; (413) 536-8510.