As a clinic director or owner, you know that strategic hiring plays a key role in the success of your practice. But are you applying this knowledge to your front office staff hires? According to Monster.com, “failure to devote time and resources to your small business hiring strategy for non-clinical positions is a common mistake for even the most talented of clinicians in private practice.” And this common mistake can adversely affect your business—not only in terms of patient satisfaction, but also in terms of your bottom line. After all, “communication breakdowns between the front office and clinicians can result in a malpractice claim. And a single HIPAA violation can bring a fine of up to $50,000,” Monster continues.
Here are six business-benefiting qualities to look for in a front office candidate:
Biller at Heart
Front office employees typically answer phones, complete patient intakes, and book appointments, but that’s only the tip of the front office iceberg. Billing starts in the front office, and mistakes could negatively affect your reimbursements—or worse, decrease your chances of getting paid at all. Your front office team should verify each patient’s insurance and benefits before you begin treatment.
Now, you may already have aids or billers verifying insurance. Well, stop. Aids should be helping you treat and billers should be chasing A/R (i.e., getting you paid). Also, it’s a waste of their wages to have them verifying benefits. Perhaps you pay a third-party to validate insurance. Stop that as well. It’s too costly and time-consuming, and any front office staffer worth his or her salt should be able to complete this task in a timely and efficient manner.
According to Today’s Practice’s “7 Key Elements of Growing a Successful Office Staff,” (as quoted in this article) your front office staff “should not be afraid to collect copays or self-pay payments. Copays and the self-pay population are on the rise. It is the patient’s responsibility to pay and it’s the front desk staff’s responsibility to enforce this.” Sounds like a lot of pressure—and it is. So make sure you’re hiring someone who is perfectly comfortable asking for money owed.
Also, we recommend documenting every single thing your front office staff does. (Don’t forget to add insurance verification and payment collection.) When you get it all on paper, you’ll realize it’s a pretty substantial list of responsibilities. Lots of people include “ability to multi-task” on their job applications. For this position, you want to make sure the candidate truly lives up to that qualification.
Hip to Your Software
When I first entered my field, everyone wanted to make sure I knew Microsoft Office backward and forward. Now, they want to make sure I know how to use web-based blogging platforms. Times change, but the desire to hire people who know their industry’s software doesn’t. As Today’s Practice explains, hiring someone with knowledge of your practice management and/or documentation software will enable you to “spend less time and money on training. In addition, the transition will be smoother for this person and the existing office staff.”
We’re already seeing therapists and front office staff alike listing WebPT on their resumes and LinkedIn profiles, so why not look for such qualifications during your hiring process? To be safe, list the software your practice uses on the position description. Today’s Practice also recommends quizzing potential candidates or new hires to determine their degree of experience with a particular program.
Speaking of position descriptions, put a lot of time and thought into your job listings. As Monster explains, “when the pressure is on to open the doors to your new practice or replace a soon-to-depart receptionist or scheduler, you’ll be tempted to rush.” In the article, Brian Nylaan, DDS, who has a solo practice in Grand Rapids, Michigan, said: “‘I didn’t always do my homework in terms of talking with the candidate and having the whole team do so, because I just wanted to end the stress of having a position vacant.’” Don’t go that route. You have good reasons (like everything listed above and then some) to avoid the need-a-warm-body temptation and hire the right candidate. That starts with crafting an honest, detailed, well-written job announcement.
Know They’re Worth It
Remember that grade-A candidates are always in high demand, so pay competitively. It might be tempting, but don’t get someone to work for lower hourly wages to simply answer phones and do intake. With a more skilled front office team member, you can shift responsibilities to increase efficiency. And as Today’s Practice points out, “paying this employee a competitive rate will ensure the longevity of his or her employment. Not duplicating your efforts in six months’ time and having an established team is far more valuable than the small percentage of savings you would otherwise ‘achieve.’” Rosemarie Nelson of MedPage Today agrees, calling better pay for better staff a “win-win” because your practice should see an improvement to its bottom line.
Ultimately, hiring the first candidate who accepts a low-balled salary will likely result in a “false economy, especially if the new hire fails to maximize your charge capture or wastes clinicians’ time due to poor management skills,” Monster points out. Turnover does a lot of harm, too. After all, if your practice is in chaos, your patients will be too.
What do you look for in a front office staff? What hiring advice do you have? Share them as comments.