Optometric Management Tip # 111   -   Wednesday, March 03, 2004
How's Your Office Manual?

Every eye care practice, no matter how big or small, should have an office manual. In my view, this document is a guide for employees that is always evolving and changing. If you don't have an office manual, or if it is out-of-date and not used much, it may be time to dive in and get the job done.

Office manuals can mean different things to different people, but I would break them down to two main categories: policy manuals, and procedure manuals. Both are very valuable, and a comprehensive office manual could contain both.

A policy manual seems like the first one to start with, because it includes the basic rules of employment. It's really a matter of fairness to have the rules of the office recorded in writing for all concerned. Relying on memory for "how we do things" can lead to misunderstandings, even in a small office. Some items that may be included in a policy manual are: work schedules, vacations and holidays, lunch breaks, requesting time off for illness and personal needs, dress code, employment benefits, eye care discounts, confidentiality of records, staff training, and much more.

The policy manual need not be formal, or even very long. Just start writing down the rules of the office and save them in a Word file. As it is tweaked and expanded, it becomes a very valuable document. I think it's a good idea to start the manual with a mission statement and short reference to the philosophy of the practice. Some background information on the practice and the doctors is also helpful to new staff members.

A word of caution: be careful what you put in your manual. Employee manuals are legal documents and they can have a big impact on lawsuits and employment rulings. They can be construed as a contract of sorts, and if you state specific rules, you may be held to them in ways you never intended. If you are an employer, it is your responsibility to know something about employment law. Keep your manual simple in the beginning as you research the field of employment law. Read books or take courses, and if you're not confident with your knowledge, discuss your specific office policies with an attorney - before you need one!

A procedure manual is a guide on how to do things. It is usually separated by job descriptions and departments, like business office, clinic, contact lens lab, optical dispensing, optical lab, etc. This manual can be short and simple, or very detailed. It can start with business office procedures, like how to schedule an appointment, recall system, insurance billing and making daily bank deposits. It can be expanded to include other departments and cover everything from how to perform lensometry and do a pre-test work up to how to order and dispense eyeglasses.

You could assign some of the writing tasks to your existing staff, having them use some office down time to develop the rough drafts in a word processing program. The owner or manager can edit and organize these drafts and compile them into a manual, which is printed and given to employees and new hires. The original text is stored as a computer file for future revisions.

While I don't usually give product plugs in these weekly tips, I will mention two office manual guides, which were written by optometrists, and can serve as useful tools and as a prototype when writing your own manual. Both publications are in printed format and have a computer disk so the reader can modify and print his or her own manual and forms. I have no financial interest in these products, but I think either or both would be great resources.
  1. Employer's Guide for Optometrists, by Craig S. Steinberg, OD, JD. Craig is both a practicing optometrist and an attorney in Sherman Oaks, CA, so this publication provides valuable information on employment law, in addition to providing a model employment handbook. You can read a description of this guide at the following website: http://www.odlawyer.com/empguide/guide.htm To ask questions or place an order send an e-mail to the author at guide@odlawyer.com (the online ordering system is currently being rebuilt).
  2. Master Office Manual, 2nd Edition, by Wayne Wood, O.D. Wayne is a partner in a very successful group practice in Jacksonville, Florida (Drs. Wood, Lanier, Bowman and Rogers), and his book is an actual copy of his own office manual, which can be modified by the reader. This office manual has sections that cover both policies and procedures, and offers useful practice management ideas. It is published and sold by Anadem Publishing. Visit http://www.anadem.com/ for more information and to order.
A good office manual not only makes your office function better, but it adds value to the practice as a recipe for success when the practice is eventually sold to a new owner.

Best wishes for continued success,

Neil B. Gailmard, OD, MBA, FAAO
Chief Optometric Editor, Optometric Management