August 2010 Archives

“To Have an Office Manager or Not to Have an Office Manager?”

Some people might not think this is really a question at all, but in a large percentage of health care offices, this is a major issue.  Often times there is an “Office Manager” who is really a receptionist and, many times, no OM at all.  Even in those offices where there is an Office Manager on the job who has assigned duties, many things are left up to the owner that could be handled the OM.

The most major bottleneck in any practice is always at the top.  The practice owner is typically the chief executive as well as the primary patient care provider.  As a result, anything that needs to be done in the practice—decisions, problems, confusions—will all float up to the top if a lower level was unable to handle them.  Besides the already overwhelming demands of routine duties, the practice owner now has to handle completely random emergencies and make decisions without adequate information.  To top it off, somehow the owner is supposed to stay bright, happy and expansion-minded….  Not likely.

All too often, the grind of everyday production is itself a chore.  When unexpected problems are added into the mix, it is simply too much.  The owner just tries to survive the day and get home to “decompress.”  However, the future survival of the practice and its ultimate expansion depends on the owner’s attitude, planning and foresight.  Those plans set in motion today will result in more business and a more organized practice tomorrow.  What if the owner is too harassed by the everyday problems of the practice to even establish plans?  What if they are so harried that their outlook on the future isn’t all that good?  Sometimes, even if they do have a good viewpoint of the future, they simply don’t have the time to implement their plans.

It is against this backdrop that we can see the ultimate success of the practice depends on the owner having a good outlook and enough free time to plan and build for tomorrow.  How does one achieve such a thing?  In the middle of pressure and confusion, how to possibly free up the owner’s time and attention?  There is one surefire solution: train a strong Office Manager who actually runs the practice on a day-to-day basis.

After the delivery of good technical results on patients, having a strong Office Manager is the single most important component of any practice.  Having an OM who does their job can make or break a practice.  This is the missing link in countless practices.  There must be someone on the job every day who is able to make the right decisions, direct the staff and handle the practice’s problems with no further attention from the owner.  This last part is important.  The owner has to be able to do whatever it is that they want to do without having to have their attention on the problems.

An OM has to be trained enough that they can themselves handle any administrative problem that arises.  They have to know what to do in stressful situations and they have to handle things in such a way that the doctor would trust them.  They have to be the kind of person who can actually manage the practice.

If the practice owner honestly has someone on the job who can make the decisions, handle the problems and steer the ship, he has an Office Manager.  If he has something less than this…well, he might have a front desk person.

In many practices the “Office Manager” really isn’t one.  They are just a glorified receptionist who either doesn’t know how to handle their job, or conversely, who isn’t allowed to fully do their duties and so feels their hands are tied.  Though they might be capable of handling things on their own, they aren’t given enough leeway to make decisions and so everything (yet again) winds up on the owner’s plate.

So long as the owner has to make all the decisions… so long as the owner has to handle the problems, the practice will not grow.  No matter what fancy marketing they do, the practice will stay pegged at that level.  A practice simply cannot expand past the level of one overwhelmed owner who is also the doctor and handling parts of everything.

The solution to all this is just to get a stable OM on the job at all costs.  If you’re in the unlucky position of having no OM, do whatever you can to get one.  Any OM is better than no OM.  If it comes down to it, blindly select your best staff member and convince them to be the Office Manager.

If you already have an Office Mange, ask yourself these questions:  When a problem comes up, who handles it?  Who do the staff really report to?  Does the Office Manger actually have the leeway to make decisions on their own?  Would the Office Manager honestly be able to run the practice if you weren’t there?

That last question is probably the most important one as it is really the most telling.  It is sort of the acid test: can the office still run if the owner isn’t there?  What if there were a different doctor or an associate there and you were gone for a day?  What about a week?  What about a month-long vacation?  The answer to these questions will tell you the strength of your Office Manager.  If the practice could continue to run, you’ve made it!  That’s the ideal.  This would mean that your Office Manager would be capable of handling everything they should.  If this isn’t the case, then it is a guarantee that you are being pulled into the OM role on a regular basis—and as a result, having less time and energy to be the business owner.

Now, this sounds ideal and great, but how does one get there?  How to actually bring this to fruition in the real world?

All too often, the “solution” of the practice owner who is facing incompetent staff or an Office Manager who can’t do the job is to just to blame them.  Even if not done overtly, it might be done internally to themselves.  It takes the form of frustration or upset at being the only one who can get anything done.  It takes the form of blaming the OM for not “stepping up to the plate.”  There are many versions of this phenomenon, but they all boil down to one thing: the owner—being the brightest one in the office—gets frustrated with others around him not being up to proper standards.

Is the problem that the owner’s standard are too high?  Not at all.  This is the only way to honestly expand a practice.  Those standards better be kept high.

Is it that the owner just doesn’t have the right staff?  Sometimes, but not often.  Most of the time the staff who are there care about their work and would like to see the practice and owner succeed.

Most often, the problem lies in the field of staff training.  The amount of work it takes to honestly train up an Office Manager is usually very underestimated.  The amount of skill and know-how it takes to really get an OM to know their job can be quite daunting.

In truth, there are no perfect people.  Of course you try to hire the best you can, but in the end, a business owner always end up with someone who could be improved in some way.  They aren’t perfect, but here’s the main point: they can get better.  And this is where training comes in.  The owner must, must, must put a significant portion of their attention training their staff and their OM in particularly.

An OM can do the full scope of the job, but that job must be taught to them over and over until it is second nature.  And the person doing the training must have the skill and know-how of training.

Staff training is itself a skill and an art.  It has its own set of rules and laws.  It isn’t just a brush-off activity.  It is a precision drill and must be treated as such.  A business owner who has grasped how to actually train staff will be prosperous for the rest of their life.  Those who have trouble training their staff will always be hit-or-miss, hoping or relying on chance.

The ability to honestly train staff was never taught in school and is one of the most valuable skills a practice owner could have.  It is a far better guarantee of continued financial security than investments, insurance or annuities.  Those who can really train staff right are the masters of their destinies.  There is a whole subject of staff training.  Learn it well.

At Hanses Management, we’ve got decades practical experience applying the know-how of how to train staff effectively.  There really is a subject there to study and it must be treated as one.  If you have any questions about the best way to train your staff, or have any questions about how to get an Office Manager really doing their job, don’t hesitate to contact us.  We’re interested in your well-being.  That’s why we’re here.


Mark Hanses

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