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Right-Staffing Your Practice for Reopening
Wednesday, June 17, 2020 9:00 AM
As practices continue their reopening efforts this month, they are discovering that the COVID-19 pandemic has provided a new opportunity to retool and redefine their staffing models. Fortunately, the most efficient process for defining the right staffing model for your organization remains consistent. This post provides organizational structure guidance to practice leaders as they prepare to bring people back to work and rebuild their organizations.
Building Your Staff Model
While it can be difficult to consider an organization chart without adding people’s names, it is important to first clearly define staffing needs, job functions, and skill requirements. Identifying those items and building the organizational chart with titles and functions only will allow practice leaders to align the very best person for each position.
The primary objectives to keep in mind when beginning to re-evaluate practice staffing needs are:
- Aligning roles and staffing numbers with anticipated practice needs, primarily expected patient volumes; and
- Following best practices and adhering to all applicable laws when making objective decisions around individuals and their employment.
Keeping those objectives in mind, practice leaders should ask themselves the following questions when making staffing decisions:
What knowledge and skills are required to ensure quality patient outcomes?
For a medical practice, the quality care of patients must always be top-of-mind. Therefore, as decisions are made around future staffing needs, it is critical to maintain high standards and expectations around the appropriate level of clinical knowledge required for specific role/s. Everything, including a general understanding of eye conditions, a detailed understanding of the critical components of an eye exam, expertise in patient triage, note- and history-taking capabilities, and skills in using diagnostic testing equipment, will need to be carefully considered by practice leaders and teams to ensure that the best patient outcomes will be upheld in the revised staffing model.
Staff members in our new environment must also possess the ability to adapt quickly because reopening practices will experience changes to their pre-COVID-19 operations, including:
- New cleaning protocols,
- Minimized patient time in the office to maintain social distancing,
- Increased use of technology and telemedicine to conduct significant portions of the exam.
Only those who have the above knowledge, skills, and abilities should be among the first to be called back to work.
How many services are being provided?
Across the country, there is some uncertainty as to when patients might be ready to seek out practice services, although there are some good indicators from reopened practices. Those practices have seen a commitment from patients to schedule and keep their appointments and surgery time. According to a recent BSM Consulting Hot Topic Survey, nearly 50 percent of the 208 practice respondents said they were at least at 51 percent of pre-COVID activity levels
As they reopen, most practices are prioritizing the categories of patients they want to bring back first. Naturally, the more critical the condition, the sooner the patient needs attention, so making sure those people are contacted sooner rather than later for an appointment is important for their continued care.
Overall, the number of services provided and expected patient volume will drive the number of required staff members.
What experience do you want for your patients, staff, and doctors?
As you think about reopening your practice and getting back to some level of normal operations, it is important to consider the level of customer service you aim to provide given the anxieties created by the ongoing pandemic. Ask yourself:
- How can the practice treat patients as if they are family members?
- How can the time and concerns of patients be managed respectfully?
- How can the practice communicate changes to patients and employees in a clear, positive manner?
The way team members treat patients is typically a reflection of the core values of the practice and the efforts taken by leadership to model and uphold them. The reopening of the practice is a good time to revisit core values and evaluate whether they are aligned with the behaviors of your employees. The need for compassion will be key, and leaders should be eager to look for tell-tale indicators. For instance, compassionate staff are those who will be the quickest to consider what is right for patients as new protocols are established.
All this helps not only in selecting which staff members to bring back first, but also the type of training that should be considered and implemented to make sure the practice team is meeting customer service expectations.
Are you meeting your fiduciary responsibilities?
The purpose of most practices is to ensure the health of local communities. To serve that purpose, you must protect the integrity of your businesses. Sometimes that involves making the difficult decision of eliminating positions. If revenues are down, it follows that the business cannot sustain expenses at the same levels that were in place prior to COVID-19. Building out a financial forecast for the remainder of 2020 and closely monitoring actual practice performance against that forecast will help you make the right adjustments, including staffing.
How will you communicate tough decisions?
With kindness. Start with compassion for the people you are speaking with, be transparent about the thought process and decisions being made, and express gratitude for their service. Also, be considerate by offering transitional support when necessary. Lastly, follow-up with anything you have committed to do. (For more information on how to thoughtfully handle tough staffing decisions, read BSM President Judy Williams’ blog post “Keeping a ‘People-First’ Mindset During COVID-19.”)
While a crisis should not change an effective process for building a staff model, it can certainly prompt careful consideration of additional factors that may lead to a better experience for patients and the practice. Now is great opportunity to examine your own staff model and make thoughtful and appropriate adjustments as patient volumes begin to return toward normal levels.