Updated: Nov 6, 2019
The medical office staff you hire has a direct effect on the success of your practice. A good hire can help you retain patients and increase revenue, while a bad hire can hurt patient satisfaction and limit your long-term growth.
“From the moment a patient walks through the door, to being brought back [to the doctor], to being checked out, they are interacting with a member of the staff that is not the physician,” said Dr. Omar A. Ibrahimi, founding medical director at the Connecticut Skin Institute. “Those interactions become a large part of the patient’s visit and experience,” he said.
“People think it’s all about the doctor, and that’s the furthest thing from the truth,” said Tammie Simao, a certified medical practice executive and the founder of Independent Practice Advisor, an organization that helps physician practices achieve a better work-life balance.
In fact, the front office staff often has the most influence on patient satisfaction. According to a 2016 study published in the Journal of Medical Practice Management, only 4% of respondents who rated their healthcare practice two stars or fewer were upset with their diagnosis or treatment. The other 96% of patients complained about poor communication, disorganization, and delays, issues that come down to customer service and the medical office staff.
“Your staff creates your culture and your culture matters,” said Simao. “If the office culture is bad,” she explained, “or if the staff doesn’t have good communication skills or is not providing the best service, that patient will never come back again.”
Indeed, medical staffing affects everything from revenue to patient referrals. If you’re in the process of hiring, follow these six healthcare recruiting tips to get the most out of your medical office staff.
Before you start searching for candidates, get clear on why you want to hire someone. Maybe you want to expand your practice, for example, provide better patient care, or streamline operations. Figuring out your reason for hiring will help you determine which types of roles you need to fill, whether it’s medical receptionists or office managers.
You can also approach medical staffing by considering what your practice struggles with — whether it’s patient record organization or marketing — then think about the employees that could help resolve these issues.
Once you know the role you want to hire for, make a list of job responsibilities and day-to-day tasks the position would entail. From there, consider the credentials, experience, and skillset the ideal candidate needs to have. For example, someone who answers phones and coordinates appointments needs to be organized, efficient, and willing to learn about insurance policies and treatment costs.
Compiling this information and following these staffing tips will help you write a clearer, more detailed job description to post to job boards. It’ll also give you a better idea of where to look for candidates and what qualities to prioritize.
The recruitment process for new medical office staff can be long and tedious. Thus, it’s crucial to put the right person in charge. Hiring responsibilities shouldn’t fall to physicians, but to someone at the practice with experience in human resources.
“Ideally, the person would be a manager or supervisor,” said Simao, “so they would understand the culture and the expectations of the physician.”
If your practice is small and doesn’t have a designated HR employee, you could also hire an outside consultant, staffing agency, or medical staffing network. Just make sure someone comes in to meet your staff and physician before beginning the process, Simao said.
Ultimately, whoever handles hiring the medical office staff should have a firm grasp on your practice’s mission. They should also be familiar with your values, communication policies, operations processes, and goals. These factors all come together to inform the hiring process and dictate your practice’s needs.
And remember this healthcare recruiting tip: physicians won’t be involved in every part of the hiring process, but it’s still important that they play a role. “The staff is part of the physician team and will be representing the physician and practice,” Ibrahimi said. “It’s important that the physician and the staff, especially when a staff member will directly support the physician, have the opportunity to meet each other and determine if it’s a good fit,” he explained.
It’s a good idea to note the skills and experience level you want to see in potential candidates. But, it’s even more critical to consider the qualities you want healthcare professionals to have.
Take some time to consider your culture and core values as a practice. This may be transparency, empathy, collaboration, etc. Then, consider what qualities best reflect those values.
Simao said the top traits she looks for in medical office staff are flexibility, accountability, positivity, productivity, and initiative. “If you’re trying to have a patient-centered culture,” she said, “what’s going to create that? You need staff who will engage, people who will be positive, upbeat, and friendly, and have a can-do attitude.”
Being a good medical employee goes beyond attitude. There is so much administrative work involved in healthcare. As Simao said, productive people are essential to keep the business running and ensure patients get the care and attention they need.
The right hire for a medical practice should be able to work efficiently and adapt to difficult situations. They should also follow through with their responsibilities and be willing to handle tasks outside their typical job duties. Clarifying these top qualities is a healthcare recruitment tip that can help you vet and interview candidates more thoroughly. It can also help you identify what you don’t want in a candidate.
Every new hire needs to learn your practice’s systems and policies, but certain people will require more training than others. To ensure the onboarding of a new medical office staff goes as smooth as possible, it’s smart to consider how much time and resources you have to dedicate to training a new employee.
Start by thinking about staffing tips. For example, this can include what type of specialized training a new employee will need beyond basic introductions to the practice. Next, consider who’ll be training your new staff member and how much time it will take.
If, for example, you’re hiring a recent dental school graduate to assist with teeth cleanings, that person may only need a couple of days of shadowing before they’re comfortable working with patients. On the other hand, you may be hiring an office administrator with no medical background. in this case, that person may need a full week to familiarize themselves with the patient portal system, insurance policies, and various treatments and procedures offered.
“No two environments are the same,” said Simao, “so there’s going to be some base training. If you’re going to be training anyway, invest in a little more training with the candidate who’s going to get you the best end result at the end of the day.”
The interview process is a prime opportunity to learn more about your candidates’ personalities. It’s also the chance to see whether or not they would be a fit for your practice. The best way to do that for medical staffing, Simao said, is to ask open-ended questions.
“Many people make the mistake of leading the candidate by asking closed questions,” Simao said, but this doesn’t get you the most honest answers.
For example, instead of asking someone if they’re comfortable working three shifts a week, ask how many shifts they prefer to work per week. You need to find out practical information about someone’s ability to complete the job. Additionally, you’re looking for information that alludes to a candidate’s temperament.
The more creative and open-ended you can make your questions, the more likely you are to tap into someone’s personality. Instead of asking someone their strengths, for instance, Simao suggested asking the following: “What would you say are the three most important personality traits you need to see in your co-workers in order for it to be a successful culture?”
Here are examples of other potential questions to ask a potential future member of your medical office staff:
At the end of an interview, you may be tempted to ask for references, but Simao recommended a different approach. “I ask them to give me a copy of their last performance appraisal. That will be the most honest reflection of their work,” she said.
It’s tempting to hire the most stereotypically qualified individual when interviewing potential medical office staff. However, a better approach is to prioritize personality over experience.
“You can hire the most knowledgeable and intelligent individual,” said Simao, “but if they have a negative attitude or are not flexible and motivated, they will present more problems than benefits.”
Ibrahimi agreed: “Don’t write someone off due to lack of experience. As long as the individual is smart, motivated, and a fast learner, you can train them for the position,” he said.
One of the best staffing tips is to think long-term when hiring. It’s a better use of medical practice loans, additional funds, and resources to train someone who has less experience but more long-term potential than it is to hire an experienced person who may not fit in with the culture. If you do that, you risk increasing turnover and eating up precious resources.
According to a 2018 MGMA poll, over 60% of healthcare practices said they’ve experienced a shortage of qualified candidates for non-clinical positions. To ensure your practice doesn’t end up in that position, you need to focus on medical office staff retention — before, during, and after hiring. That means implementing a good benefits package, sending out regular staff satisfaction surveys, and creating a culture where staff feel empowered and excited to serve patients.