Referral Generator: Work Smarter At Patient Education

Author(s): 
By Chris E. Vance, DPM

Emphasizing Staff Education And Staff ‘Contributors’
Education starts with the initial phone call to our office. Callers are given feedback regarding their condition and potential treatment plans. These initial educational “bites” are based on the extensive training program that all of our medical and front office staff undergo.
The staff education is supplemented with educational seminars and monthly staff meetings that are focused on treating patients. Our meetings are the same day and time every month in order to allow the part-time staff to adjust their schedules so they may attend. We have an educational lecture each month by one or more staff members. At least one of us is prepared to share new pharmaceutical information, biomechanical principles, insurance problems, surgical criteria and other topics of value. Each staff member is encouraged to share an idea, insight or observation during the course of the meeting.
A typical meeting may be held on the third Tuesday of the month from noon to 1:30 p.m. with lunch provided in the office. If the lunchroom is too small or non-existent, have the meeting in the reception room or hallway.
The meeting starts with a flexible agenda that is prepared ahead of time. The agenda usually lists the contributors, topics and time allocations. Notice that I said “contributors” and not “speakers.” Not everyone is a speaker, but everyone can be a contributor.
We start with prepared topics. Last month, Lisa shared how to take impressions for a diabetic shoe and I spoke on the biomechanical examination. Peggy, our primary receptionist, shared how she was able to educate and encourage a caller to come in as a new patient. Rhonda shared her recommendations on durable medical equipment and how more insurance companies are not paying for durable medical equipment. She recommended and followed up with a “No Durable Medical” sticker to place on appropriate patient charts.
Angie shared her positive experience with Lidoderm Patches and we resolved to share the topical treatment with appropriate patients. Chris shared her experiences with Neurontin when she worked with a neurologist and we adapted her recommendations for our neuropathy and restless leg patients. Colleen shared our new patient feedback forms to elicit input from patients regarding their care. We moved to review the input received from patients at our next staff meeting.

Understanding The Benefits Of Having Two Medical Assistants
During the course of one of our monthly meetings, one of the staff members asked, “Why couldn’t we have two medical assistants during peak treatment times?” Peak times are those high demand appointment times that are most frequently requested by patients. For our patient population, these times usually fall between 8 and 8:30 a.m., 11:30 a.m. and noon, 1:30 and 2 p.m., and at times relative to the commute between 3:30 and 5 p.m. Initially, we started scheduling an additional back office medical assistant at these peak times. We have since found that our patients appreciate having two medical assistants as it results in more care and less delay. After a two-month trial, we now employ two medical assistants for each doctor at all times.
All medical staff undergo six weeks of training. Both front and back office staff have three notebooks of reference material they are tested on. Each new employee has a checklist that a senior staff person oversees. Front office staff are trained in eliciting information over the telephone and how to handle the irritated patient in the office. Our training staff report weekly progress to our office coordinator who helps both trainer and trainee reflect on the process and career fit.
Most of our staff is part-time, which gives us more flexibility. Some of our staff are trained for both front and back office duties. This advantage allows the front office staff to help the back office or vice-versa during times of increased patient flow. For example, when one medical assistant is busy taking off a BK cast and the second medical assistant is interviewing a new patient, the multi-talented front office staff can take an X-ray of an emergency ankle fracture that was referred on an emergency basis by the patient’s primary care physician. To uncork the discharge desk, back office staff can set up appointments and answer the appointment phone.

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