I am often asked, “What is the key to operating a successful practice?” Being a top-notch professional is first, but a close second is having a key employee who is friendly, efficient, and capable of performing numerous duties. Most practitioners employ at least one person who becomes vital to the practice's success. They do everything from scheduling to billing, to making minor hearing aid repairs, and even calming patients’ nerves before hearing evaluations. They may also make sure that a third party accompanies a patient, coordinate hearing aid repairs, control the intake process for patients, and even increase patient satisfaction by being aware of repair history and recurring problems.
Duties may vary by practice, but its success undoubtedly relies on this person and, if utilized properly, can bring it to another level. It could be your receptionist, but regardless of the title, the role remains the same: develop good patient relationships, generate leads from current patients, and ensure efficient office procedures. Having a key employee should allow owners or managers to spend more time doing what they do best — providing exceptional patient care and generating sufficient revenue to make the practice profitable.
Squeezing every productive moment out of the schedule is an important task for a key employee. Make your scheduling expectations known, such as confirming appointments at least 24 hours in advance, preferably 48 hours, and trying to fill last-minute cancellations. Every open appointment slot is a potential revenue loss. An employee who can skillfully juggle a busy schedule is a valuable asset.
Some employees, however, fail to fill vacancies in the schedule because they do not see it as a priority and may think you enjoy the free time. Most practice owners and managers can easily fill free time with other business aspects, but too many open appointments can lead to a practice's death. The key employee should know if a staff member is overscheduled to avoid unnecessary, last-minute drop-ins without denying legitimate appointments.
You may not think a lot about answering phone calls, but it can have a tremendous effect on patients’ impressions. Have you ever been caught in the seemingly endless loop of an automated system? Press 1 for this, press 2 for that — imagine using this when you have difficulty hearing! A telephone call is often a patient's first interaction with a practice. Sure, they might be familiar with your name, have driven by your office, or visited your website, but a phone call is the first real exchange with a potential patient. A warm, positive, memorable experience highly depends on the employee who answers the phone. The right person can make all the difference in the world, and the wrong person can drive potential patients away forever. Good telephone etiquette is not automatic, but rather something you should discuss and practice with your key employee.
Even good employees need frequent managing. I have read that many people disappoint their employers because they do not know their expectations. Effective management starts with a specific job description and regular feedback to let employees know if you are satisfied with their performance. Formal reviews should be held at least annually; sooner if there are problems.
You have the authority to do anything, but hopefully you do not attempt to do everything. A key employee can assist with marketing, handle your personal schedule, call manufacturers to order supplies, check on orders, stay in touch with patients, and many other functions that will allow you to spend more quality time with your patients. Check the latest Occupational Outlook Handbook to learn what the average wage is in your state for employees. (See FastLinks.) Talented employees can more than pay for themselves through their contribution to a practice's growth and success.
The key employee can also serve as a patient recall specialist by going through records and calling patients who may be candidates for new hearing technology or a re-evaluation. Compensation may include bonuses for bringing back patients after considerable time lapses. A key employee truly represents the practice's success and should be well compensated if her performance is beneficial. It takes many things to run a successful practice, but having an employee you can count on is a good first step.