Optometric Management Tip # 95 - Wednesday, November 12, 2003
Cross training is a key to efficiency
Most optometric practices are staffed for the normal times, but how does your office perform when the inevitable rush occurs? Or does your office always feel like it's in a rush mode? Short of hiring an additional staff person, cross training existing staff members to perform more duties may be the answer to providing excellent patient service during the busy times.
A staff member, who is skilled in multiple areas, and flexible enough to shift gears on the fly, becomes very valuable to the practice. Larger offices often have departments, and the work becomes more specialized -- but having 10 employees does not help much if only one can submit insurance claims, and that person is absent for 3 weeks. You might think that employees in small offices are already "cross trained", but there are probably additional skills that could still be mastered.
Here are a few examples of job descriptions that could cross over effectively:
Of course, it's easy to recommend cross training, but how will employees receive it? Practice owners and managers must be ever mindful of staff morale and attitude, and if a change is imposed that is simply perceived as more work, the concept will backfire. On the other hand, many optometric staff members complain that there is "no opportunity for advancement" in their jobs. Well, this is that opportunity. The practice owner must think of the added skills in that spirit, and reward the successful cross-trained staffer with an appropriate salary level, and plenty of praise and recognition. A "can-do" attitude is invaluable in the optometric office.
- A receptionist could be trained to perform a basic dispensing of eyeglasses for pick-up. Since the receptionist is involved anyway, at the greeting and in the payment of the balance, it is very efficient for her to just deliver and adjust the frames (if the optician is busy). If the adjustment turns out to be more advanced, the receptionist can be trained to spot that and turn it over to a seasoned optician.
- Lab technicians who normally make glasses in the in-office lab are naturals at filling-in in the optical. Since they already have advanced knowledge of optics, these personnel can easily do a frame selection, measurements, adjustments and repairs. A fine balance is needed, however. We want a tech who is willing to drop the lab work when really needed in optical, but management must recognize that this can be difficult and frustrating, and it slows down the lab work. If the lab staff is pulled very frequently, to the point that lab work is continually hampered, it may be time to hire an additional staff member.
- Clinical technicians can perform optical dispensing duties. Some practices require this routinely, while others have separate people for clinical and optical work. My practice has always had the techs do it all: clinical, contact lenses, and optical. In additional to having someone available for whatever type of work is needed, the staff tells me the variation in work prevents them from getting repetitive burnout.
- Clinical technicians can be trained to substitute in the business office. What happens to the front desk when the receptionist has to look for a remote file, or run an errand for the office, or go to lunch, etc? While it may be smart to limit the number of people who can handle money, or enter charges, or even make appointments, a technician can be trained and approved for these tasks.
- Opticians can do clinical pre-testing. With today's automated instruments, most pre-testing is fairly easy to learn and the results are computer verified.
Best wishes for continued success,
Neil B. Gailmard, OD, MBA, FAAO
Chief Optometric Editor, Optometric Management