Why would an optometrist hire virtual assistants from the Philippines? It’s simple: value for money and fluency in English. With as little as $5 per hour, you can secure the services of a college graduate proficient in English—an official language of the country. However, providing great quality eye care takes more than being fluent in English. A new team member from the Philippines may not be familiar with the specifics of optometry, your clinic’s unique administrative tasks, or even cultural nuances that can impact patient interactions.
This is where training comes in.
We’ll share what we’ve learned about specifically training overseas VAs to work for optometrists and ophthalmologists. You could skip parts of this training if your VA is based in the US. We cover a wide range from documenting your standard operating procedures (SOPs) to providing cultural and language training, industry-specific insights, process-specific know-how, and instituting a system for ongoing performance evaluation and coaching. We will not cover the hiring process in this article, as we have in our other related articles.
With our guide, you will learn how to effectively address your staffing issues and optimize your operations to impact your bottom line.
Industry-Specific Training: Taking Patient Care to New Heights
Begin your VA’s training with the basics, from understanding eye conditions like myopia and astigmatism to recognizing the significance of anti-reflective coatings on eyewear. Equip them with an in-depth knowledge of the conditions your clinic commonly handles, the procedures you undertake, and the equipment you use. By doing so, you’re empowering your VA to speak your patients’ language.
Leverage the AOA Certified Paraoptometric Training Material
You can’t beat the certified paraoptometric training material provided by the American Optometric Association’s (AOA) to ensure your VA’s training is thorough and top-notch. Available for free to AOA members through the AOA Education Center, this material is a goldmine for those seeking to deliver top-quality care.
Evaluating Industry Acumen
Whether you use materials from the AOA or create your own, industry-specific training is how you start transforming your VA into an indispensable asset to your eye care clinic. And you need to ensure your VA has absorbed and retained your training. It is as crucial as the training itself.
From our experience, regular assessments are the most practical means of tracking their progress and identifying areas that need reinforcement. Start with quarterly tests during the first year, and extend your assessment methods to include real-time feedback, role-play scenarios, one-on-one meetings, performance metrics, peer assessments, patient feedback, and continual learning programs. This multi-faceted approach to evaluation not only ensures your VA’s industry acumen but also encourages continual growth and improvement.
The Role of Cultural Training in Effective Communication
A cultural training module should provide an in-depth understanding of American culture and insights into social customs, etiquette, and effective communication. It equips your overseas virtual assistant to understand the lives of your patients, which fosters a better rapport between your staff and patients.
For instance, imagine a patient calling to report eye pain. An untrained VA, unfamiliar with American social customs, might respond mechanically: “Noted. I have recorded your symptom. We will arrange an appointment for you.” While this response is accurate, it lacks empathetic language, which might leave the patient feeling uncared for, impacting their overall experience negatively.
On the contrary, a culturally trained new virtual assistant would understand the importance of empathy in American culture. They could respond more appropriately, “I’m really sorry to hear you’re experiencing pain. Let’s get you scheduled with the doctor right away so we can address this.” This empathetic response fosters a more positive interaction and enhances the patient’s experience.
As another example, in the Philippines, it’s common to communicate indirectly to avoid confrontation, which is seen as disrupting the harmony of social interactions. Let’s imagine a scenario where a patient demands an immediate appointment, but no slots are available for the day. Adhering to their cultural norm, an untrained assistant from the Philippines might hesitate to deliver the news directly and instead beat around the bush, causing confusion and frustration for the patient. They may say something like, “Oh, today? Let me see… Hmm… Today seems to be a busy day for the eye doctor…”
On the other hand, a culturally trained VA would understand that direct communication is often appreciated in American culture. They could tactfully yet clearly convey the unavailability: ‘I understand that you need an appointment today. Unfortunately, we are fully booked, but let me find the earliest possible slot for you.’ By doing so, the assistant maintains clarity and saves time for both parties, resulting in a more effective interaction.
Nuances of American English
Language training goes beyond basic English fluency. It equips the VA to handle specific professional and regional contexts with nuanced language skills.
Consider an example where a patient calls and reports that they’re “seeing floaters.” An untrained assistant might not understand the term and could become confused, possibly assuming the patient is describing insects or other objects in their environment. An assistant who has undergone our language training program, however, would recognize that “seeing floaters” is a common complaint related to the eye’s vitreous, which can be a symptom of several conditions, including normal aging, nearsightedness, or even retinal detachment in more severe cases.
For your reference, here are some of the other things we include in our English language training module:
- Inverting English sentences for emphasis
- Using reported speech in English
- Correct English preposition combinations for effective negotiations
- Utilizing active and stative English verbs
- Placing adjectives correctly for clear communication
Integrating an overseas VA into your optometry clinic begins with a comprehensive record of your standard operating procedures (SOPs)—the bedrock of consistent and efficient operations. SOPs serve as a manual for daily tasks and provide a roadmap to handle unusual situations, which is crucial for reducing errors and ultimately enhancing patient care.
Effective SOPs must be clear, concise, and highly detailed, breaking down each task into manageable steps. They should outline what needs to be done, when, and how, identifying whom to contact in case of issues or uncertainties. Visual aids like diagrams and flowcharts can make complex tasks more understandable and actionable.
SOPs within an optometry clinic cover a wide spectrum of operations. For instance, they might document the process of scheduling a patient appointment, detailing how to handle different appointment types, gather information from the patient, record the appointment in your system, and confirm the appointment with the patient. SOPs can also outline the protocol for handling patient-reported eye issues and the procedures for specific appointments such as eye exams and cataract post-ops.
Your SOPs provide a step-by-step guide to daily operations, from scheduling appointments to patient follow-up phone calls. They provide your VA with a strong foundation, reducing uncertainties and improving their ability to contribute effectively to your clinic’s operations. Craft a training manual that intricately covers these processes, weaving in real-world examples and scenarios to strengthen understanding. A well-documented SOP not only offers clarity but serves as an invaluable reference point for your VA.
From Mock Calls to Process Assessment Quizzes
To ensure your VA is ready to hit the ground running, conduct mock call scenarios that simulate your clinic’s environment. This real-time practice helps your VA gain confidence while allowing you to assess their problem-solving skills, customer service, and overall adherence to the SOPs. Complement this with process assessment quizzes to further gauge their understanding of the procedures.
Effective process-specific training means your VA now has the skill to “speak your clinic’s language.” They become a seamless extension of your local team, able to handle day-to-day operations, contributing to your quest for operational excellence.
We’ve now covered how to deliver industry and process-specific training. In the upcoming section, we’ll discuss how ongoing performance evaluation and coaching keep your VA’s skills sharp and adapt to your clinic’s evolving needs.
Ongoing Performance Evaluation and Coaching: Nurturing Growth for Long-Term Success
Training your overseas VA doesn’t end once they’ve mastered the ropes of your operations. For your clinic to maintain its high standards and continually deliver top-quality care, ongoing performance evaluation and coaching are essential. They enable your VA to stay up-to-date with changing dynamics, industry trends, and new strategies for patient engagement.
Evaluation Metrics and Checkpoints: Keeping Skills Sharp
Regularly assess your VA’s performance using carefully crafted evaluation metrics. These could include parameters like speed of task completion, patient satisfaction scores, or adherence to SOPs. Set checkpoints to review their progress and provide constructive feedback.
Refining SOPs Based on Feedback and Industry Changes: Staying Agile
The world of optometry and ophthalmology is dynamic. Practices evolve, technology advances and patient expectations shift. So it would be best if you regularly reviewed and refined your SOPs. Listen to your VA’s feedback—they’re your eyes and ears on the front line and can provide invaluable insights into process improvements. Update your training modules, ensuring they reflect the current best practices and your clinic’s ethos.
Ongoing training and coaching foster a culture of continuous learning and improvement. It empowers your VA to grow with your clinic and adapt to its changing needs, thereby driving efficiency and enhancing patient care.
Cultivating Excellence through Thorough Training
Investing in detailed and comprehensive training for your overseas Virtual Assistant is more than a strategic decision; it’s a commitment as a business owner to operational excellence and enhanced patient care. By documenting clear SOPs, providing cultural, English, industry-specific, and process-specific training, and ensuring ongoing performance evaluation and coaching, you’re empowering your VA to perform at their best.
This investment will bear fruit in several ways. It will increase revenues and optimize operations by reducing errors and allowing you and your team more time to focus on your ultimate goal—providing top-quality patient care.
Your patients deserve the best care, and that starts with an optimally trained and empowered VA, serving as an integral part of your clinic’s journey to success. Take that first step towards addressing staffing issues, improving efficiency, and enhancing patient experience.