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  • Dr. Nichole Kingham

Stop Holding Your Breath and Smell the Money

My granddad was an intelligent man with a knack for snarky sarcasm and profound witticisms. His humor had a way of planting seeds of wisdom that still come to mind on a regular basis. I remember as a kid, traveling with him through Oklahoma where the cotton fields are vast and the cows, plentiful. Ever driven past a stock yard on a hot summer afternoon in the panhandle of Oklahoma? I can tell you, the pungent aroma is enough to wake an 11 year old up from a dead sleep. "What is that SMELL, Grandpa!?" I asked. "Oooowee! Smells like money!" he exclaimed, with a smile in his eyes. I never looked at cows the same way again.

It's all perspective, isn't it? In that moment, as I sat with my eyes watering, fingers pinching my nose tightly closed and gasping for breath, hoping for an escape from the oppressive fumes, I was caught up in the experience and only wanted relief. My granddad, though, had the wisdom that let him smile through the adversity, knowing that through tough experiences comes success if you can just work through it.

Fortunately and unfortunately our practices get hectic. With crazy busy days, repairs and orders to handle and patient and employee issues to solve, the business of being in business can get overwhelming. We may even get to the point that the experience isn't enjoyable. In fact, it stinks! It can be exhausting and seems to take up all our free time. Working IN the business starts to feel like a chore and the day-to-day things keep us from working ON the business. Finding ways to decrease the feelings of overwhelm can help us to get back on track. Here are 5 easy things to help you get started:

1. Review Your Processes

Clinics that succeed are ones that ensure their business processes and rules are well designed and that they are consistently applied the same way every single time. Consider having regular meetings to review processes with staff members to keep them top-of-mind. Processes to look at are:

  • How walk-ins are handled

  • How and who handles insurance verification

  • Best Practice Protocols for Human Resources, Infection Control, Front Desk, Lab and Hearing Aid Evaluations

Need an HR Best Practices Protocol? Contact me and I'll send you one FREE!

Taking a look at how things are scheduled can also reveal some inefficiencies. Are you often running late? Are patients showing up to their appointments on time but without paperwork completed, causing your appointment to start late? Do you have a lot of walk-ins? Are you scheduling yourself too full to do the important work in the lab? Reviewing and fine-tuning these processes can help make your day run smoother and relieve some of the feeling of "busy-ness" that can happen if the schedule isn't functioning smoothly.

2. Improve Communication

Just being busy can create a challenging environment. When communication lines between employees and supervisors are not running smoothly, the issue can be magnified. It is vital for communication to happen clearly and often so that employees feel safe, comfortable, motivated, and clear in their goals when they are at work. Poor communication is the easiest way for a clinic to lose sight of what it can achieve. Poor communication between team members often results in people becoming unmotivated and unhappy, which often starts to show when they deal with patients or perform their daily tasks. The best way to increase productivity is to have a happy work environment and communication is the key to achieving that.

An easy way to improve communication is to create easy-to-use check lists and inter-office bulletins that can easily relay information. In our clinic, when patients walk in without an appointment, they are given a checklist to fill out that allows them to tell the audiologist what is happening. By having the patient fill this out, the patient care coordinator can continue with what she was doing and the audiologist can read what is happening with the problematic instrument without it having to be relayed from the front desk.

Want the Checklist? I can send it to you here.

We also have a weekly meeting that lasts just 15 minutes. But it's amazing what information can be relayed in just a short time: What's the plan for the week? What events are coming up? Who will be out of the office? Taking a little bit of time out of the schedule is a simple way to make sure everyone is on the same page, can create team cohesion and improve communication.

3. Are the Right People on the Bus?

When things get busy, teamwork is crucial. Make sure that each team member knows and understands their job duties and your expectations of them. But it is equally important for everyone to be cross-trained in order to improve patient flow and increase productivity. For instance, if the patient care coordinator is on the phone with a call holding, everyone should know how to pick up the call holding, how to answer the call with the clinic greeting and how to triage, schedule or forward the call effectively. We are not each an island in our clinics! We should be willing and able to help each other and in so doing, create efficiency in the practice. If you have a team member who often says, "but it's not my job..." you may want to consider if that person is a good fit for your clinic. If there is a lack of teamwork, there is a lack of efficiency. Be willing to create a cohesive team and spread the workload so that all share in making the day a little less busy.

Also consider if it's time to hire another team member. Are you scheduling 2 weeks out? Are you staying past 5 o'clock to finish up the important work of ordering hearing aids and sending off repairs? Are you taking paperwork home on weekends? It's possible that you are at the point that you need to hire another team member. If you're not quite ready to hire another audiologist, consider an Audiology Assistant. Hiring an assistant is less expensive than hiring another audiologist but can increase your patient engagement by as much as 45% in just a few short weeks of training. And, having someone to help with the essential lab work can improve patient care by having someone easily accessible for walk-in appointments and to make sure orders and repairs are being handled quickly and efficiently. If you don't think you have time to train an audiology assistant, let us help. Audiology Academy has a 10 and 15 week course that is self-guided but supervised by you. In just 10 short weeks, you can increase your productivity but decrease your work load. The short time it takes to get a great Audiology Assistant trained will be worth it in the long run!

Need help hiring an Audiology Assistant? We have a Free Guide. You can find it here.

4. Is Your Office Layout Set Up for the Most Efficient Flow?

Recently in our clinic I came across a process that was ridiculously inefficient. Fee slips that were filled out by me had to be sent to the front desk for payment, then returned to me for entry, then returned back to the front desk for scanning. With some thought and conversation with the front desk staff, we were able to come up with a way to save time and energy on both our parts to decrease the ineffective process and it relieved some frustration, too. Take some time to talk to your team members and see if they have ideas about improving processes and be open to doing things differently. All ideas should be welcomed and considered. You may be surprised at the brain trust you have right under your nose!

Considering how your office is laid out can also improve efficiency. I'm not talking about whether your stapler is on the right-hand side or the left-hand side of your desk. Think bigger - Do you have patient charts? Where are they located? Is your front desk staff constantly looking for them? How does your front desk staff notify you that your patients are ready for the appointment? Are they continually leaving the desk to communicate with you? Where is the Fed Ex and UPS pickup? Could they be in a better spot that makes it easier for pick-up and delivery? Are the computers in the office easily accessible? Can your booths or consultation rooms be reorganized to be more efficient? Take some time to think of the patient flow from beginning to end - from the time they call to make the first appointment until they have been scheduled for a follow-up appointment 6 months after delivery. Is there a way to decrease time-intensive tasks? How can you make the process work smoother? Writing out your patient flow can illuminate inefficiencies you may not even be aware of.

5. Use the Right Tool for the Job

I recently had a computer in my consultation room that was a 32-bit processor. This computerwas awesome. It had been a workhorse and my constant friend for 9 years. NINE years. Over a 6-month period, it got slower and slower. I put up with it because, well, computers are expensive! But if you think about the cost to the practice in lost revenue due to the extra time it takes to program hearing aids or send a simple email because of a poorly functioning computer, it is worth the expense to replace it. Making sure you have the right (and well functioning) tools is one of the easiest ways to improve efficiency and decrease the time it takes to do your job well.

Being busy in your clinic is a blessing and a curse in more ways than one. Taking some time to look at the processes inside your clinic, improving communication and strengthening your team can have long-lasting effects on how effective and efficient your clinic runs. When things are running smoothly, the feeling of busy-ness will decrease while successful patient care increases. And, you'll have time to enjoy your accomplishments and maybe, just maybe you'll even have time to stop, look at the cows and enjoy the scenery.

Dr. Kingham is a knowledgeable clinician and audiologist who has a passion for private practice and helping her colleagues pursue their goals. To see more of her posts, follow her on LinkedIn and Facebook.

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