Article Date: 1/1/2003

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Who's Fault Is It?
If you're continually seeing problems with tasks in your office, re-evaluate the process before you blame someone.
By Gary Gerber, O.D.

It's Thursday night at your office -- the busiest night of the week. Imitating a frenzied octopus, your receptionist is dealing with a constantly ringing phone, a family of four who just walked in for some "quick" check-ups, a patient at the desk who's asking, "What referral form? I thought everything was covered" and a patient on hold asking, "How much do contact lenses cost?"

You notice that after the receptionist books the appointment, she forgets to ask, "Does anyone else in your family need an appointment?" You become frustrated because you've told her multiple times that this question is office appointment protocol. In fact, you just reviewed this exact point at last night's office meeting! How could she forget?


Take a closer look

My contention is that she didn't forget. The problem here isn't your receptionist's memory -- it's all of the events, systems and other tasks that were going on simultaneously.

Even an octopus can't do nine things at one time. If your receptionist can remember to answer the phone when it rings and hang it up when she's done, then she obviously has the mental faculties to remember to ask if others in the family need an appointment. The problem is that doctors and staff have the tendency to become so immersed in the particulars of a task that they can't see all of the elements that affect a person's ability to accomplish the task. Before you blame someone, ask yourself if the environment in which you've asked her to perform her job is conducive to doing so.

In this example, the environment lacks the ergonomics, technology and systems that are necessary to perform the task at hand. The optometric environmental engineer -- usually the doctor -- has failed.

Revealing the real problem

Clients often ask us to help with staff education. What our consultants typically find is a staff that needs only a small amount of additional education but an office infrastructure that needs an overhaul.

Staff members, being on the front lines of administrative tasks, often acknowledge these issues sooner than the doctors/owners. Staff typically refer to the related grievances as the classic "over-worked and underpaid," when in reality they're being paid correctly but not working efficiently.

Finding a better way

Regularly ask yourself:

1. Why do I perform this task this specific way?

2. Is there a better way to do it?

I have my clients do this and it usually proves helpful. Maybe technology can help fix your problem. Maybe changing office forms or changing the order of how you do certain tasks could help. Always challenge yourself to find a more efficient way of accomplishing a task -- ask your staff for their opinions too.

Other areas that we usually find in need of a procedure renovation include collections on accounts receivables, dealing with insurance company claims, following through on lab orders, spectacle lenses and contact lenses, scheduling log jams and duplication of paper work or data entry.

By addressing each of these areas, we've seen stress levels decrease, profits rise and staff members remark about increases in job satisfaction. You won't have to hire as many octopi and you'll experience less stressful days.

Dr. Gerber is the president of the Power Practice, a company specializing in making optometrists more profitable.  Learn more at or call Dr. Gerber at (800) 867-9303.

Optometric Management, Issue: January 2003