Many ODs are outsourcing tasks like scheduling appointments, billing, and other administrative tasks in order to focus healthcare professionals on patient care. No doubt there are significant challenges to overcome. From hiring competent individuals to maintaining consistent quality of customer service, we’ve identified six major factors to address. This article captures our key learnings in helping hundreds of clinics with Business Process Outsourcing (BPO). Whether you’re already using virtual assistants or considering incorporating them into your eye care clinic, these tips and best practices can help your optometry practice overcome the hurdles and achieve more effective operations.
1. Overcoming Hiring Challenges
When hiring virtual assistants for your optometry practice, the initial challenge lies in sourcing. Finding the right person with the right skills and qualifications takes a lot of work. And they need to align with your clinic’s ethos and patient care philosophy. Here are some best practices we’ve learned:
Sourcing Candidates: Finding the right virtual assistance depends heavily on whether you are looking to hire domestically or internationally and considering individual contractors or partnering with a company that provides VA services.
Consider various resources like online job boards, recruiters, and social media platforms for domestic sourcing. You can also leverage your network and ask for referrals to connect with potential candidates.
There are also platforms dedicated to connecting businesses with international talent for international sourcing. Hiring internationally may involve additional considerations, such as time zone differences, language proficiency, and cultural compatibility.
Alternatively, if hiring and managing a VA seems complicated, consider partnering with a company that offers virtual assistant services. These companies have processes to match you with a VA that suits your needs, taking care of the recruitment, training, and management aspects. They may even specialize in the healthcare industry This approach can simplify the process and provide additional layers of oversight and accountability, ensuring a higher quality of service and a better fit for your clinic.
Creating Behavioral Profiles: Outline specific behavior-based questions and personality profiles to help identify candidates with the right work ethic, attitude, and cultural fit for your clinic. This can help determine how a candidate may respond to the job demands.
Vetting Applicants: Screen potential candidates for essential skills such as English proficiency and typing speed. We can’t emphasize enough the power of a comprehensive resume review and job application assessment. These can provide a glimpse into the applicant’s background, work experience, and skills. IQ scores can offer additional insights.
Running Multiple Rounds of Interviews: The first interview can help evaluate basic communication skills and gauge the candidate’s fit for the role. A second, more in-depth interview could serve as a platform to further explore behavioral attributes and to test skills specific to your practice.
Implementing Quality Audits: Use these audits further to validate the potential hire’s suitability for the role, assess their English skills, and evaluate their ability to learn quickly.
Once you have the right people on board, proper onboarding and training are essential for ensuring your new virtual assistants can provide the best patient service.
2. Bridging Cultural Gaps to Enhance Communication and Patient Interaction
Virtual assistants often interact directly with your patients, so they need to understand the culture and communication styles that your patients are used to. If you’re not hiring someone locally, here’s how you can ensure smooth communication:
Cultural Training: Introduce your virtual assistants to the specific characteristics of your patient demographic’s culture and society. This can include basic social customs and etiquette, naming conventions, and common phrases or colloquialisms. Understanding these aspects can enhance the virtual assistants’ ability to connect with and assist your patients effectively.
Language Training: Even if your virtual assistants are proficient in English, specific training on colloquial language, phrases, and terminologies prevalent in your patients’ demographic can enhance their communication skills.
Custom Training for Social Interactions: Roleplay and simulate everyday interactions with patients to help your virtual assistants navigate various social scenarios they might encounter in their role. This can include greeting patients, handling sensitive information, and navigating difficult conversations.
With these training practices in place, your virtual assistants can be better equipped to foster a respectful and understanding interaction with your patients, which improves the overall patient experience.
3. Fostering Industry Knowledge with Industry-Specific Training
Sometimes a clinic hires a VA that is new to optometry and needs to get them up to speed with the industry-specific knowledge and processes. Here are some steps to tackle this challenge:
Develop Comprehensive Study Material: Start by providing the assistants with basic terms used in optometry, certified paraoptometric training material, and, if possible, in-house training material. This can help them understand the nature of the work, the specific terms they will come across, and the standard procedures followed in your practice.
Assess Understanding: Use tests and assessments to gauge the assistant’s understanding of the material and industry knowledge. Regular assessments can also help identify areas where further training might be needed.
Provide Process-Specific Training: Create training material with standard operation procedures (SOPs) specific to your clinic. Use diagrams and flowcharts to make these processes easier to understand. To ensure understanding, run mock calls and assessments based on these processes.
Ongoing Education: As medical best practices and technologies continue to evolve, your virtual assistants must receive regular updates and training to stay current. Consider holding periodical training sessions or workshops to introduce new concepts, discuss regulation changes, or reinforce the application of existing knowledge.
Through a rigorous and systematic training approach, your virtual assistants will be well-versed in the language and procedures of optometry. They will also be able to handle patient interactions more effectively and professionally.
4. Ensuring Data Security and Patient Privacy
As virtual assistants will have access to sensitive personal information, it’s crucial to ensure they are trained and understand the significance of data security and patient privacy. Here are some steps to incorporate this important aspect:
Data Security Training: Make sure your virtual assistants are aware of and trained in the necessary protocols and guidelines for data security. This includes educating them about phishing scams, securing their Wi-Fi connections, and the importance of regular password updates.
Patient Privacy Laws: Depending on the geographical location of your practice, ensure the virtual assistants are familiar with relevant laws such as the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) in the United States or the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) in the European Union. Compliance with these regulations around medical records is paramount and non-negotiable.
Privacy Policies and NDAs: Ensure the virtual assistants sign a non-disclosure agreement (NDA) and are fully aware of the clinic’s privacy policies. They must understand the legal implications of breaching these agreements.
Regular Audits: Regular audits of data handling practices can also help identify any potential breaches or weak spots in the system.
5. Ensuring Quality and Consistency with Quality Audits and Performance Metrics
When integrating virtual assistants into your optometry practice, use audits and performance metrics to maintain a consistent quality of service. Here are some of the audits we do:
Regular Quality Audits: Regular audits help assess the quality of work performed by virtual assistants. Audits can focus on call handling, patient interaction, and understanding of processes. After each audit, provide feedback and create an action plan if necessary. Increase the frequency of audits for those needing improvement until you see consistent, high-quality performance.
Set Performance Metrics: Define key performance indicators such as quality score, talk time, service level, and patient satisfaction, among others. These metrics can provide insights into the performance of your virtual assistants and indicate areas for improvement.
Monitoring and Feedback: Continuous monitoring of service quality, alongside regular feedback sessions, can help keep performance levels high and address any issues promptly. Consider using software solutions for real-time tracking and data-driven decision-making.
Reward and Consequence System: Establish a clear system of rewards and consequences based on the results of the audits and metrics. This can include incentives for consistently high performers or additional training and supervision for those needing improvement. This system motivates the virtual assistants to strive for better performance. It ensures that any drop in quality is promptly addressed.
Maintaining quality service is not a one-time task but an ongoing process that requires regular monitoring and continuous improvement efforts.
6. Progressing from Training to Actual Operations
Successfully transitioning your virtual assistants from training to actual operations can be daunting. A well-planned ramp process can help smooth this transition.
Define Ramp Projections and Targets: Before your virtual assistants go live, set clear performance targets for the initial weeks. This can include targets for quality score, talk time, number of calls answered, and patient satisfaction scores. Use these targets to track performance and identify areas that need improvement.
Gradual Increase in Responsibility: Instead of putting your virtual assistants directly into full-fledged operations, gradually increase their responsibilities. Start with simpler tasks like scheduling an appointment and slowly introduce them to more complex tasks like insurance coverage verification as they get more comfortable with the job.
Ongoing Training: Even after your virtual assistants have started working, regular training sessions should continue. These sessions can be used to introduce new processes, revise old ones, and address common issues faced during operations.
The ultimate goal is seamlessly integrating your virtual assistants into your optometry practice. Be patient, provide continuous feedback, and make sure your assistants always feel like an integral part of your team.
The Future of Virtual Assistants in Optometry Practices
Employing virtual assistants in optometry practices can bring numerous benefits, from freeing up valuable time for an optometrist to allowing for a more efficient allocation of resources. As we’ve shared, reaping these benefits requires overcoming significant challenges.
Optometry practices can successfully integrate virtual assistants into their operations by effectively addressing hiring concerns, cultural and language barriers, industry knowledge gaps, and quality and consistency issues. A well-planned training program, ongoing assessments, regular audits, and a systematic ramp process all play crucial roles in this endeavor.
That concludes our comprehensive guide to tackling the top challenges in employing virtual assistants in optometry practices. We hope these insights and best practices provide a roadmap for your practice’s journey toward more effective and efficient eye care services. As always, let us know if you have questions along the way. And we’d love to hear your success stories if these tips helped you!