Many of the difficult situations faced by doctors and staff members can be prevented or resolved by having office policies. Over the next few articles, I’ll take a look at office policies and provide some tips on how you can develop them and use them in your practice.
We can think of office policies in two major divisions: some designed for patients and others for staff members. This article will focus on policies for patients and we will look at employment policies next week.
I have two questions for you to consider with regard to office policies: 1) Do you have actual policies (specific rules for handling recurring situations)? 2) Are the policies in writing? If the answer to either question is a no, let’s work on it.
Office policies for patients
I’ll provide a list below of some situations that often arise in optometric practice, which could result in designing a policy. Use this list to discuss how you currently handle these issues with your staff. If there is some uncertainty, get staff input and use your judgment to make your policies stronger.
As you develop your office policies, be careful to not make them too tough. Remember that practice growth occurs when you let the patient win and when you satisfy the patient’s wants and needs. Some of that can occur by making exceptions to your own policies to achieve patient satisfaction in any given situation. I believe this is an important aspect of customer service and I’ll cover when to make exceptions in a future article.
Examples of situations that call for policies:
• Returning glasses or contact lenses for exchange.
• Patients who ask for a refund.
• What types of insurance the office accepts.
• How vision plans and medical insurance works; what is covered and when?
• When payment is due from the patient.
• Appointment cancellation or rescheduling. How the office handles no shows.
• Getting more contacts after Rx is expired.
• Seeing a doctor about problems with new glasses.
• Progressive lens non-adapt and lens changes.
• Changes to lens prescriptions/doctor’s change remakes.
• If we break your frame while making new lenses or adjusting it.
What to put in writing
The next step is what to put in writing and who should see it? I don’t believe it is necessary or smart to show all your policies to patients, but you may want to select a few of the more contentious issues that occur in your office and find an understated way to distribute those policies to patient (see below).
Don’t publicize policies that could create a poor image of your practice. The public often sees some factors differently than you do. For example, if you routinely double-book patients after they no show, I would keep that policy internal. You might think letting patients know about that could serve as a deterrent, but I think it would cause more harm than good.
Your staff, however, can benefit from learning office policies for all the issues above and more that I may have missed. You should have a policy manual for staff to refer to as part of their initial training and to occasionally go back to as a reference. Many offices try to simply remember how to handle various issues, but the rules can change without management approval over time or may be simply forgotten. It is best to write them down. Having policies in writing keeps you from reinventing the wheel each time a problem presents itself and keeps management consistent.
How to release written policies
I have several office policies in my practice printed on the back side of our superbill receipt slip. Each patient gets a copy of this paper form at the end of every visit and it is used to indicate services, products and fees, along with procedure and diagnosis codes. We don’t mention the existence of the policies on the back, but they are there for anyone to read.
We also give patients a receipt that is produced by our practice management software and is printed on plain, 8.5 X 11 white paper. You can put your policies on the back of this form as well by having your local printing company print the text on one side of reams of copy paper. Then simply load this paper into the printer for printing on the blank side.