Article Date: 9/1/2006

In-Office Emergency: Are You and Your Staff Prepared?

Taking a preemptive approach to this situation will leave you better prepared to deal with unexpected crises.

Webster's dictionary defines emergencies as unforeseen events or conditions requiring prompt action. Consider the following scenario: It's 4:30 p.m. on December 23. You and your staff are 30 minutes away from your Christmas holiday, when suddenly and without warning, your last patient of the day, an 80-year-old grandmother, slumps over in the chair and becomes unresponsive.

Would you and your staff know what to do? Would there be panic in the office or would a plan of action go into effect? If you practice long enough, you are sure to encounter some type of emergency in your office. There are three main components to dealing with any emergency: be prepared, develop a plan and practice.

Preparation is key

The first component is to be prepared. This begins before the patient comes to your office. Set a time for you and your staff to take a CPR course together. This is relatively inexpensive and can be accomplished in your office in a couple of hours. If you don't know someone personally who is certified to teach the course, call the American Heart Association, the Red Cross or your local ambulance/fire department for suggestions. You may also want to consider a basic first aid course. Both of these courses will benefit you in the office, but also may one day help you or a staff member save a loved one's life at home. Put together a first aid kit of your own or purchase one from the store. We don't work around a lot of blood, but when your contact lens technician slices her hand while opening a box with a pair of scissors, you will be thankful you planned ahead. Assess your office for objects that can be broken, dropped or encounter other potential problems, should some of your younger patients reach them.

Action speaks loudest

The next key is to develop a plan of action. Everyone in the office should have one or more specific duties should an emergency occur. Often in times of crisis, individuals may panic or lose their focus on what their job is. So having two people assigned to call 911, for example, is not a bad idea. Someone should assist the doctor or staff member who is attending to the patient. Someone should call 911 and serve as a "lookout" for emergency service personnel or first responders.

In some offices, the "back office" is separated from the "front office." Is there a way for staff in these locations to communicate should an emergency occur? In our office, we operate on a light system. When all of the lights come on and flash several times, everyone in the office knows to drop what they are doing and find the emergency. It's our signal that someone needs assistance with a patient and cannot leave him or her. You should never leave a patient in an emergent crisis unless it is absolutely necessary. Therefore, it is vital to have some way to communicate with other areas in your office.

Once an emergency has occurred, all of your attention should be directed to the individual in crisis until it is resolved. Review your plan every six months or so to make sure everyone knows his or her role. If you hire new employees, make sure they are aware of the plan and assign them responsibilities as well.

Update regularly

Lastly, continue to update your CPR/first aid certification. Even though you may have taken the course several times, things change. Occasionally, the Red Cross or the American Heart Association will change and update their guidelines for CPR. It's important to keep up with these changes. Set some time aside to practice the plan. Let the staff know that occasionally you will have an in-office drill to evaluate their responses. By practicing and staying current with your certification, you and your staff will be better prepared to handle an emergency situation should one occur.

Dr. Young serves as an adjunct faculty member at the Southern College of Optometry and has worked as a clinical investigator for the FDA and ophthalmic manufacturers.



Optometric Management, Issue: September 2006