I’ve always had great pride in my staff; since opening my practice cold with one receptionist to the present day with a very large staff of opticians, technicians, front desk specialists and managers. I’m a teacher at heart and I’ve always worked to continuously train my staff in clinical eye care, optical dispensing and customer service. I’ve held staff meetings every week for over 30 years. I send staff to major conferences like Vision Expo or SECO as well as local meetings. I recently learned it is not enough. I need to do much more with staff training and if I do, I’m quite sure it will help my practice.
What I learned about scribes
We have had our clinical technicians working as scribes with our doctors for a very long time and I have studied the various benefits we derive from that approach. I just came across a new one: having the technicians listen to the doctors as they perform tests, diagnose, treat and educate patients has made the techs very knowledgeable in clinical eye care. They now have the confidence to intelligently talk to patients all by themselves and explain eye conditions and treatments. This is a benefit for our practice. Patients often don’t think of everything they want to ask when they are with the doctor and talking to an assistant can be quite comforting.
We still need staff to continue learning about clinical eye care and billing and coding, but observing an expert every day provides a great knowledge base.
More optical training
The area that I think my staff needs much more training in is optical dispensing. Staff members don’t typically get a chance to observe others in optical. Of course, we hire opticians with excellent training and experience whenever we can, but the reality is that their backgrounds are widely diverse. Many were trained on the job at a previous employer. There are a wide range of skill levels among opticians and optometric technicians. We may have a new employee learning from someone who is not performing at the highest level.
This becomes more difficult because optometrists themselves are not always well-trained in optical dispensing. And most ODs know nothing about sales techniques. It is very hard to design an in-office training program if you are not an expert in that field.
Because of these issues, I think most optometric staff members need much more training in optical products, proper eyeglass fitting and measurements, and sales.
The third topic area we need to train staff in is customer service. This is vitally important in order to increase patient demand and it must be continuous. We need specific training programs in patient satisfaction, but it also should become part of the office culture. When great service and convenience is woven into the day-to-day policies and procedures, no one has to think about what to do; it is just the normal way we do things.
I think the core training program in a practice should be designed and provided by the owner, doctor and manager. Staff members can also participate in training their co-workers by sharing areas of expertise. All it takes is knowledge of the subject matter and organization.
Training may be as simple as just talking about real world situations. You could begin by sharing with staff exactly how you would perform a frame selection and lens design. What would you say if you were the optician? How would you explain each optical product? How would you respond if the patient asks tough questions about price? Let your staff share their experiences and challenges.
At a higher level, you could choose a topic and give a mini-presentation. Pick a clinical topic or an optical product or a customer service issue and talk about it. Prepare a handout with bullet points.
Training can occur at weekly staff meetings, but I’m beginning to think we need more than one hour per week. That staff meeting is often used up with administrative issues and we don’t have time to do real training. I’m certain the investment in training is more valuable than the patients we could have seen in that time period.
In addition to your own core training sessions, there are many benefits to providing your staff with professional training. Some of these resources have a cost, but I believe that is money well spent.
Major eye conferences. Send one or two staff members and they will return very excited about their job.
Lab, frame, contact lens, and equipment reps can make presentations to your staff during regular staff meetings.
Professional speakers or consultants can come to your office and present a workshop for a fee. Close the office for a half day.
State optometric meetings. There are special programs for staff and the cost is low with minimal travel.
The AOA is now accepting optometric staff as AOA associate members and they have a strong training program. Visit http://www.aoa.org/paraoptometrics for more information.
Essilor has a wonderful staff training program that includes online videos for in-office education. It is called ECP University.
Join a doctor’s alliance group that has staff training programs and meetings.
Many companies in the industry offer webinars on a variety of topics of interest to staff.
Best wishes for continued success,
Neil B. Gailmard, OD, MBA, FAAO
Editor, Optometric Management Tip of the Week