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Strong fundamentals, sound practice

By Karen Crouch
It’s all too easy to criticise the performance of admin staff; the instinctive reaction is to blame the employee. However, as KAREN CROUCH explains, it’s important to first examine internal factors.

While practitioners and support staff inevitably focus mainly on delivering high quality eyecare, as they should, the prospect of examining the practice’s administrative systems invariably receives less scrutiny.

Yet, the structure and thoroughness of those very systems are the source of all information and knowledge, including details of the practice owners’ values and the culture they wish to instill in the business – the cornerstone of the organisation.

A sound eyecare practice is based on efficiently documented policies, procedures, reference documents and manuals. These are the foundations that high quality ‘front desk’ service needs to competently support healthcare services administered by clinicians.

"Smarter practices often discover that staff performance is linked to the standard of internal reference literature."

Apart from the detailed aspects of the above areas, several other key factors are often overlooked as being too administratively complex, tedious or burdensome. However, smarter practices often discover that staff performance is linked to the standard of internal reference literature, which provides the basics and common principles all employees should follow.

Examples of ‘foundation’ documents that support efficiently run practices are:

Vision, Mission and Values statements. These should embody the very essence of the business, reflecting values, principles and business goals that all employees are expected to adhere to;

An Organisation Chart that clearly defines overall roles and responsibilities, including reporting lines (chain of command) to enable each employee to fully understand what may be expected of them;

Staff Management (Human Resources - HR)

  • Detailed job descriptions for each position should be made available to each staff member, including measureable Key Performance Indicators to support annual staff performance assessments and to enable employees to appreciate the most important aspects of their jobs

  • Consistently undertaken staff appraisal programs to assess job performance and serve as a useful, periodical communication channel to promote staff relations with valuable two-way feedback

  • Staff appraisal templates, bearing reference to the practice’s values (e.g. does the employee live the values in his/her daily duties?)

  • Induction programs, carefully documented for each position, to ensure new employees are methodically introduced through training materials and their aforementioned job descriptions, so they confirm understanding of their roles and the expectations of the practice

  • Recruitment processes and staff selection criteria. Alternatively, external recruitment agencies may be employed to advertise positions, scrutinise/qualify job applications, conduct interviews and recommend preferred candidates

  • Exit interviewing questionnaires, seeking feedback from employees who leave the business for whatever reason to enable owners to possibly receive useful feedback on positive and/or negative aspects of working in the practice

  • Rostering procedures for larger practices with complex clinician attendance habits that need to be supported by front desk staff. Short notice availability of staff to cover unplanned absences, such as sickness, is a necessary part of any back-up plan to ensure patients and clinicians are adequately supported

Policy & Procedure Manuals: These mission critical records are the ‘practice bible’ and should include instructions on all policies and procedures. Some practices even have a ‘policy on policies’ to clearly define who may formulate a policy, how it should be ‘qualified’ (e.g. reference to another party or group), implemented, reviewed and monitored for effectiveness. Needless to say, this vital source of information and guidance will deserve review and updates from time to time, particularly when changes to industry regulations occur;

Legal: Details of WHS programs, other medico-legal compliance requirements including ‘case histories’ of incidents that may have occurred during daily operations whether actual oversights/errors or even ‘near misses’, all of which should be included in group meetings, training or ‘work smarter’ planning sessions;

Practice Management Operating Manuals:

  • Supplier management program to ensure supplier relationships and cost effectiveness is optimised and contracts are renewed on time or new suppliers explored

  • Complaints registers to record patient issues from lodgement to resolution

  • Asset and depreciation registers

  • Delegation schedules clearly defining authorities assigned to any staff member

  • Staff records should be securely stored, ideally in the hands of the owner

Optometry practices are generally resourced by a relatively small number of staff and if efficiency levels (customer service) negatively impact patient eyecare, the market reputation and image of the practice may suffer. Periodical reviews of these ‘foundation stone’ records are highly recommended.

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