Too frequently, nonclinical staff members toil anonymously, noticed only when things go wrong. As a practice's only employee segment without a path to professional certification and recognition, nonclinical staff members often battle a perception that they are somehow less important members of the healthcare team. That is a misperception … and a big mistake.
Why Your Unsung Heroes Deserve Your Respect
Your nonclinical staff—primarily your front office team—deserve to be held in high esteem by even the most decorated members of the management and medical teams. When properly vetted and trained, they form an interrelated unit of competent, dedicated professionals whose overall impact on a practice is much greater than most realize or recognize. They are a practice's unsung heroes.
To understand the true significance of your nonclinical staff, regularly take a moment to review this checklist of the ways your unsung heroes positively impact your practice.
Nonclinical staff members generally are the first representatives of a practice to make contact with a patient (who may or may not decide to become a patient based on this brief but important initial contact). They are the first to be judged and they set a bar against which everyone else in the practice will be judged. Like it or not, patients make snap judgments; it only takes a few second for patients to form an impression, but it can take a great deal of time and effort to change an initial perception.
They manage a practice's lines of communication: Nonclinical staff members control a practice's primary lines of communication. They are the ones making ongoing, regular contact directly with patients. Whether it is by telephone, email, or a face-to-face conversation in the office, nonclinical staff members are the main players in practice-patient interaction. From smiling and warmly welcoming a patient to clearly spelling out payment options and expectations, a practice's nonclinical staff is charged with the responsibility to convey much of the important information patients need to successfully manage their overall health care experience.
They “touch” patients more than anyone else: Effective, ongoing personal touch is critically important in a people-oriented business such as healthcare. Nonclinical staff members have multiple personal contact points that can impact the overall patient experience. While clinical time spent with the doctor or nurse will be valued, frequently it is a one-on-one interaction with a nonclinical staff member that a patient remembers. A rewarding/disappointing touch point with a check-out staff member at the conclusion of a visit is much more memorable than a routine interaction with a nurse.
They network with a variety of important people: Patients are not the only important individuals with whom your nonclinical staff meets or communicates. Nonclinical staff members interact with a number of individuals and entities vital to the success of a practice, including: referral sources, colleagues, payers, hospitals, and outside sales representatives.
They are a practice's customer service department: Nonclinical staff frequently serves as the “senses” of a practice. Because they are constantly interacting with patients, they become a practice's eyes and ears. They are the staff members most likely to field questions and hear complaints or comments. Sometimes patients won't talk to a doctor because they think the doctor is too busy, so they engage a front staff member with a question, comment, or complaint.
They are important members of the marketing team: Marketing is little more than identifying and employing techniques that position a practice as the provider of choice within a specific geographic area. Marketing can be as simple as a friendly smile or as complex as a multimedia advertising campaign. Nonclinical staff plays a dominant role in simple, everyday marketing. What they do on a routine, daily basis—interact with patients and others in a courteous, professional manner—is an inexpensive but effective way to positively market a practice.
They keep records and collect money: The proper and systematic collection and organization of information is absolutely essential to building and maintaining a successful practice. Your nonclinical employees control this area, gathering and organizing patient information, maintaining and organizing charts, confirming insurance information, collecting copayments, sending bills, tracking payments, and monitoring accounts receivables.
They allow doctors to be doctors: A proficient nonclinical staff directly impacts the overall flow and efficiency a practice. The goal of any practice is to be financially successful. For that to happen, doctors must be revenue producers, not cost centers. Doctors should use time efficiently, focusing on clinical tasks that generate income. It makes little sense for a doctor to limit revenue by becoming consumed by nonrevenue tasks that can be handled by other members of the practice's staff.
As front-line performers, nonclinical employees fill a variety of vital and challenging roles in a practice. They have to be on top of their game at all times. They cannot afford to be cranky, act tired, or conduct themselves in anything less than a professional manner. While a competent nonclinical staff member may routinely appear calm and capable, the reality is that the exhibited behavior reflects a great deal of skill, professionalism, resourcefulness, and talent. They deserve to be called your unsung heroes.
Allan Walker is director of publication services for BSM Consulting, located at the Incline Village, NV, office. In this position, he coordinates, plans, and produces a full range of client media projects ranging from written materials to electronic, Internet-based programs. His responsibilities include conceptualization, organization, design, and layout of various communication and learning products and services, such as newsletters, marketing/advertising tools, electronic learning courses, reports, training manuals, brochures, forms, seminar handouts, slide presentations, and other materials. Additionally, he provides staff oversight and project management. Before joining BSM in 1994, Mr. Walker accumulated more than 15 years of print media experience. During this time, he served in several different positions, including reporter, managing editor, and publisher for various newspapers, newsletters, and magazines. He is author of the book titled “Ten Eyecare Practices: Benchmarks for Success” and is a contributing editor for Administrative Eyecare magazine. Mr. Walker is experienced in all areas of publishing, including editing and reporting, composition, design, typography, layout, advertising, and related marketing. He has vast knowledge of patient and staff education programs and materials.