“As the nation’s population continues to grow, there are fewer doctors graduating from optometry school and more insured patients, leading to a gap in the healthcare provider network,” Peter Cass, OD, explained to Optometry Times. This gap represents a significant revenue opportunity for optometrists and ophthalmologists that want to improve their practice’s operational efficiency to handle more patients. Dr. Cass has successfully tapped into this gap by optimizing his clinic’s patients-per-hour ratio to 6+, a significant increase compared to the average of 1.2 per hour.
However, increasing patient capacity can’t come at the expense of patient care, especially since patient expectations are rising. According to a white paper from Notable, nearly two-thirds of patients skipped a healthcare appointment due to scheduling challenges. A Harris poll found that the same proportion of patients desired a healthcare experience akin to the ease and convenience of services like Amazon or Uber. Clinics have a double opportunity to embrace the digital experience to increase operational efficiency and meet patient expectations.
A growth-minded optometrist can get even more returns for their clinics by outsourcing to reduce costs, solve staffing challenges, and standardize processes across various locations. Done well, outsourcing can offer numerous benefits, such as cost reduction, improved patient care, and boosted performance metrics. But when done poorly, it can mean wasting time correcting administrative errors, a deterioration in patient care, and even reputational damage.
Avoid outsourcing mistakes in optometry by providing thorough training, developing comprehensive SOP documentation, and ensuring quality control. Similarly, it’s crucial to take your time with the implementation process and not excessively reduce staff.
But how can you avoid these pitfalls, and what does it mean to implement outsourcing properly? To answer this, let’s look at corners not to cut when optimizing your clinic’s operational efficiency through outsourcing.
Inadequate Documentation and Insufficient Training: The Twin Pillars of Outsourcing Errors
When outsourcing, two corners that often get cut are thorough documentation of patient interactions and comprehensive training for the outsourced staff. Both are crucial for seamless workflow and quality eye care, requiring time and attention that might seem like too much upfront effort.
First, consider documentation. Optometrists and staff may not dedicate enough time to document each step of patient interactions, instead relying on memory or meeting notes. This approach can lead to uncertainties when an outsourced staffer isn’t sure what to do, which may impact the quality of care provided. For example, an outsourced receptionist could incorrectly schedule a patient’s comprehensive eye exam because they didn’t understand the medical necessity of the patient’s condition.
Similarly, the notion that external staff requires less training is flawed. The impact of such an oversight can degrade the quality of patient care and increase the burden on in-house staff, who have to spend extra time correcting these errors.
What’s the solution? Documentation starts with dedicating enough time to document every step of patient interactions, implementing standardized documentation protocols, and ensuring the outsourced team can access these comprehensive notes. This will help reduce chances of error and miscommunication, improving the patient experience.
For training, the answer is comprehensive, tailored training for the outsourced staff. This doesn’t just mean a general training session; it means training that familiarizes the outsourced team with the clinic’s specific needs, protocols, and best practices. An outsourced receptionist, for example, should understand the clinic’s booking system, cancellation protocol, and handling of emergency appointments. It’s particularly critical for an optometry billing service or medical billing outsourcing partner. Your outsourced team member will need detailed training on your billing process, especially how to do optometry coding.
Documenting interactions thoroughly and providing comprehensive training ensures your outsourced team can perform their duties to the same standard as your in-house staff.
Optometry clinics cater to various patients, each with unique needs and preferences. In an attempt to increase operational efficiency, some clinics may opt to implement generic, one-size-fits-all solutions such as standardized chatbots or pre-made administrative software. These can offer the allure of immediate implementation with minimal customization.
These generic solutions often fall short in addressing the unique needs and preferences of patients. They can also feel impersonal, leading to patient frustration and decreased satisfaction. Additionally, these systems may not perfectly align with your clinic’s specific workflows and protocols, leading to inefficiencies or inaccuracies in tasks like appointment scheduling or medical coding.
When implementing AI tools like chatbots, ensure they are programmed to understand and respond to various patient queries and can guide patients to a human representative when necessary. When adopting new software, look for customization options, so it can be adapted to fit your clinic’s existing protocols and workflows.
Limited Patient Interaction Channels
Modern technology has brought a multitude of communication channels, from email and online chat to video calls and social media. However, this doesn’t mean older methods like phone calls are obsolete. A clinic’s patient base likely spans a wide range of ages and technological comfort levels.
Some ambitious clinics might eliminate traditional communication methods like phone lines, instead favoring digital platforms or AI-based chatbots.
While many patients appreciate the convenience of digital communication, others may find it impersonal or even intimidating. Some, particularly older patients, simply prefer the familiarity of a phone call. You risk alienating a segment of your patient base by eliminating this option and potentially losing their business.
While embracing new technology is essential, it’s equally important to maintain multiple channels for patient communication. This includes both traditional methods like phone calls and modern ones like chatbots, emails, or video consultations. Ensure your staff and outsourced service providers, like your medical billing company or optometry biller, are trained to handle interactions across these platforms. Additionally, the chosen methods should be adaptable based on individual patient preferences. This approach ensures that all patients feel comfortable and accommodated in their interactions with your clinic, regardless of their preferred communication style.
Overly Reduced Staff
Outsourcing doesn’t mean eliminating all of your in-house staff. Clinics that drastically cut down their in-house staff can put excessive pressure on the remaining staff, leading to stress, burnout, and a decline in the quality of service. With less personnel available for face-to-face interactions, patients may also feel a drop in personalized care, which can impact patient satisfaction and retention.
When outsourcing, retain a core team of in-house staff who can maintain the personal touch and handle critical tasks. The outsourced team should complement your in-house staff. A proper balance allows your clinic to leverage the benefits of outsourcing while ensuring top-quality patient care.
Neglect of Patient Feedback
Patient feedback is a gold mine of insights that can help optometry practices improve their services and overall patient experience. Ignoring it can be a costly mistake. It’s also a common mistake.
Some clinics may not prioritize collecting or responding to patient feedback after outsourcing optometry billing, particularly during a transition period when resources might be stretched thin.
This can result in missed opportunities to adjust and improve new processes based on actual user experiences. Moreover, patients might feel disregarded if their concerns and feedback are not addressed, leading to dissatisfaction and potential attrition.
Actively solicit and respond to patient feedback during and after the transition to outsourced optometry billing services. Use various channels for feedback collection, such as surveys, suggestion boxes, social media, and direct communication. Act on the feedback by making necessary adjustments and improvements to the new processes. Communication is key: letting your patients know their opinions are valued and impactful. Not only does this help improve your services, but it also fosters a stronger relationship with your patients.
Steering Your Clinic Toward Prosperity
Outsourcing can boost the operational efficiency of optometry clinics, reduce costs, improve cash flow, and increase patient care capacity. However, it’s not a process to take lightly or rush through.
As we’ve discussed, cutting corners can lead to significant problems, including miscommunication, patient dissatisfaction, and damage to your clinic’s reputation.
If you’re considering outsourcing, start by analyzing your clinic’s current operations, identifying tasks that could be outsourced, and defining clear goals for what you hope to achieve. Investigate potential outsourcing partners thoroughly, ensuring they have the capability, experience, and cultural fit to meet your clinic’s specific needs.
Once you’ve found a suitable partner, develop a detailed implementation plan, including comprehensive training for both your in-house and outsourced teams. Establish robust quality control measures and create a strong system for documenting patient interactions.
Remember, it’s not about reducing your in-house team to the bare bones; instead, it’s about balancing your internal resources and outsourced services. And, as always, keep your patients at the center of all decisions, ensuring their needs are met and their voices are heard.
You can avoid outsourcing mistakes in optometry today and set your clinic up for success and longevity.