Your staff is critical to the success of your healthcare practice.
If your staff is friendly, efficient, and competent, your practice benefits from increased patient satisfaction and correct administrative processes.
On the other hand, if your staff is rude, slow, and incompetent, your practice suffers from a frustrated patient base, administrative errors, and perhaps, worst of all, mishaps with privacy and HIPAA compliancy.
You may not be able to find the “perfect employees” for your office, but you can still build a great office staff by creating employee protocol. A clear but thorough set of guidelines helps ensure your front-of-office service matches the quality of your healthcare in effectiveness and excellence. And it helps keep your staff satisfied, by preventing confusion, anticipating their questions, and making it simple to hire new employees.
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What Should You Include in Employee Protocol?
Creating employee protocol may seem to be a daunting task, especially for a medical or healthcare office that requires a stringent set of rules and guidelines to be followed in order to remain safe, efficient, and private.
In order to simplify the task a little, we’ve covered a broad range of categories to consider including in your employee protocol:
More than likely, your staff are responsible for patient-facing procedures such as appointment scheduling, phone calls, and transfer of valuable medical information.
Your protocol should include:
- Guidelines for appointment scheduling, including cancellations and no-show policies.
- Specific verbiage for answering phone calls; speaking to new patients; calling patients; and leaving voicemail.
- How to handle a phone call with an unhappy or unsatisfied patient.
Office procedures will also cover guidelines for office sign-in, how to facilitate “office flow,” and how to handle (and prevent) long office wait times.
HIPAA compliancy is critically important to any private healthcare provider or medical office, and like it or not, your staff may be the ones who are primarily responsible for ensuring these guidelines are met.
HIPAA (The Health Insurance Portability Accountability Act) concerns itself with two things: ensuring that employees are able to keep health insurance in between jobs, and keeping private information private.
This second aspect of HIPAA is what you will need to cover thoroughly in your employee protocol. Staff may accidentally overshare private information quite easily – whether in basic conversation, over email, or on social media. Regardless, these breaches of privacy are quite serious, and pose a risk to data security and could have legal ramifications.
Here are a few basics of remaining HIPAA-compliant:
- Define what kinds of information can be shared in an email, and what should only be shared in an in-person conversation or phone conversation. You may also want to include a privacy disclaimer in all email communication.
- Do not leave medical paperwork in a place where it will be visible to other patients or non-qualified staff.
- Do not share any information on social media that involves a patient without her/his consent, or that potentially shows patient information in the photo.
- Do not call a patient by her or his full name in the waiting room.
Reporting Violations or Neglect
It’s nearly impossible for you to perfectly monitor your staff, but your other employees may notice violations, neglect, or even abuse of information. In your protocol, include a policy for reporting incidents.
It may be difficult to imagine a fire, natural disaster or act of terrorism or violence affecting your healthcare practice, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be prepared with protocol for your staff.
Your staff must be well aware of how to handle the evacuation of patients, private information, and biohazardous waste in the case of a fire, earthquake, flood, bomb threat, or terrorist attack.
Your staff is responsible for the safe and efficient storage and transfer of your patients’ medical records. Establishing protocol for medical records helps ensure that information is communicated to third parties and to patients themselves without error or breach in privacy.
If you use electronic medical records (EMR), your protocol will be far more streamlined, as EMR reduce administrative burden and errors involved with paperwork. In your protocol, include guidelines for:
- Sending electronic forms to new patients (such as a pre-appointment questionnaire or medical release form).
- Sending existing patients surveys or superbills.
- Accessibility to electronic medical records, including changing usernames and passwords.
- Creating new intake forms.
- Instructing patients how to use EMR.
Pharmaceuticals, Products, and Supplements
If your practice administers prescription drugs – or even natural products or supplements – your employee protocol should include information about how to follow up on prescriptions; store any materials in office; and charge for products (including a return or exchange policy).
If it’s the case that your healthcare practice takes insurance, include all relevant information about communicating with insurance companies and requesting insurance information from patients.
A friendly and helpful staff can help boost patient retention and satisfaction. When your patients are immediately received by a warm and personable staff member, you start their visit off on the right foot…and increase the likelihood of making a great first impression. At the very least, you give your patients one less reason to complain on Yelp or leave a negative review about your practice.
Your employee protocol should include specifics on how to greet patients; how to communicate about billing, insurance, and paperwork; and how to handle any complaints, disputes, or issues.
Depending on the type of healthcare practice you run, your office may be dealing with sensitive materials, such as blood, bodily fluids, or other biohazardous materials. It’s critical that your office remains clean and disinfected, protecting both patients and staff. Include clear guidelines on cleanliness and disinfection.
Time-Tracking and Payment
Finally, depending on how you pay your front-of-office staff, your protocol should include clear rules for time-tracking, PTO, vacation, sick days, and payment policy. This can help prevent any confusion or disputes that involve salary or wages.
Your employee protocol may deal with any number of unique processes or policies. Consider what is first necessary and then, useful, when drawing up your protocol. You don’t want to include a gratuitous amount of information – but you do want to be thorough, and anticipate questions, challenges, and errors before they happen.
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A Final Word: Communicating Employee Protocol to Staff
How you communicate your employee protocol to new and existing staff members is up to you. You may want to use a good old-fashioned paper manual or a Google doc, or even present the information in a staff presentation or meeting. In any case, make the information easily accessible and easy to read. Include subcategories and a method to quickly reference the information, with tabs or sub-pages.
Creating employee protocol is well worth the time and effort of defining and establishing guidelines, and formatting those guidelines in a paper or electronic document. When your staff is well-trained, your practice runs efficiently and effectively. You, your patients, and your employees benefit from better service, more efficient administration, and a warm, friendly atmosphere.