Article Submission Guidelines for Practice Management, EHR, Glaucoma, and Managed Care

Exclusive Date: July 2, 2014

Texting by Staff Members

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I believe in making my practice a great place to work. If employees have a high level of job satisfaction, they have better attitudes on the job. But there are a few situations where I believe the practice owner must set a firm policy and allow no exceptions. Personal smart phone usage by staff members is one of those situations.

I recently experienced a trend in my practice where staff members were texting on their mobile phone during some down time. As one employee saw another one texting, they assumed it was OK and they started doing it as well. Occasionally, a manager observed a staff member texting in front of a patient. Amazingly, we even had staff texting each other in the building! These are not work-related texts; technicians, opticians and front desk staff do not need cell phones for work communications in my practice.

Office policy
You need a written office policy to prevent texting and cell phone usage by staff. This should be one of many rules of employment that you write down and save in a Word document. You can refer back to it as needed and modify it as new issues arise. The essence of my policy is that we do not allow cell phone usage at all during work. Cell phones may not be carried on your person while at work. We provide lockers or other safe places to store personal items and that is where the cell phone belongs. Phones may be used at lunch and on short breaks in back office areas.

I realize that some employees have a need to communicate with a family member, like a child or an elderly parent. There can also be emergencies when the employee must be contacted. My policy allows for that, but not via personal cell phones. I tell staff to have those calls come to our main office phone line. Our staff will transfer the call, take a message or notify the employee to return the call. When the communication occurs via our office phone system, I can prevent abuse and overuse.

I allow associate doctors and office managers to be an exception to the no phone policy, with the understanding that they limit personal cell phone usage to private areas. I sometimes text these employees for work-related communication.

Nip it in the bud
During my recent uptick with texting, I reviewed our office policy at a staff meeting and explained why we can’t have cell phone usage during work. It is poor customer service and it is not fair to co-workers. I announced that if a manager or I observe any employee using their cell phone during work hours or in areas of the office visible to patients, that person would be sent home immediately. I said the employee would have to speak to me before they could return to work. Since that meeting, we have not seen any texting or cell phone usage. The staff accepted the policy very well and we did not see a drop in morale.

Related issues
Along with your cell phone policy, you should include a statement that office computers may not be used for personal use or internet access. I make this policy firm and I do not allow office computer use even when the employee is off duty and punched out. It is too easy to pick up a computer virus or malware when some websites are visited or email is accessed.

Cell phone usage by patients is a related topic. It can obviously be annoying to the doctor if a patient takes a mobile call or text during the eye exam. But I try to remember that the rules of behavior in society are changing, and we try hard in our practice to please patients. If my patient’s cell phone rings, I wait patiently to see if they take the call. They usually don’t, but if they do, I just say “I’ll give you a moment” and I get up to leave the room. The patient almost always ends the call at that point.

Best wishes for continued success,

Neil B. Gailmard, OD, MBA, FAAO
Editor, Optometric Management Tip of the Week