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The best medical admin staff - an expert tells his secrets

Posted by Matt Connor on 5 November 2015
The best medical admin staff - an expert tells his secrets

Medical Financial Group partner Matt Connor interviews practice management specialist Bob Brown of Eulan Brown. Eulan Brown specialises in managing the business needs of medical practices, and often works with medical professionals in tandem with Medical Financial Group staff.

Matt: With all your experience in running successful medical practices in Brisbane, what do you look for when you're selecting new administrative staff for a practice?
Bob: People might be surprised to hear that we generally advise GPs and other medical professionals to recruit more rather than fewer administrative staff, and to aim for a real mix: for example, a uni student to work as a junior, a 'normal' receptionist, a senior receptionist and a lead receptionist, with a range of part-time and full-time roles.

I find that the juniors bring a great tech-savvy skill set, with a good knowledge of apps, Excel, and other software. The same goes for interns. Junior staff who don't yet have family responsibilities are also great cover during school holiday times when senior staff may want to take time off and students are usually looking for work.

We suggest at least one of your lead reception staff be able to work five days a week with others working three days. You certainly don't want everyone working part-time and no continuity in the room. At the very least I'd advise you to have one staff member working a 4.5 day week.

Matt: Is salary the most attractive benefit when you're advertising an admin role?
Bob: Interestingly, no, not in my experience. I find that the most important benefit you can offer administrative staff is work-life balance.

Most people seeking medical administrative work are mothers who need some flexibility around their family responsibilities. Other staff have other commitments that they have to meet. If you provide a flexible, supportive environment, staff tend to stay with you and are generally very reasonable in terms of pay negotiations. We are always happy to employ those with young children and to be flexible around things like school hours.

Matt: Once you have the right staff, how do you create an environment where they can do their best?
Bob: Well, as I said, work-life balance is key. Beyond that, it's important to give them a voice in the practice and let them contribute to identifying and resolving any challenges.

In the Brisbane medical practices that we're involved with, we hold regular staff meetings led by the administrative staff, usually at breakfast or lunchtime. We go through four or five points and trouble-shoot if need be. Often it's very practical things, like making sure people know to keep their voices down at the reception desk, or to refer to doctors as 'Doctor' when patients are present. We also have strategies for dealing with any more urgent issues that come up between meetings. Any staff member can just shoot me an email.

We also provide staff with continuing education. For example, we provide annual refresher courses in Genie software, or other training that staff might identify. We also look at other stakeholders out there who we can bring in to provide learnings to staff. At one obstetrics practice, we invited an expert in to talk to reception staff about sudden or early death in pregnancy to help them develop skills in dealing with patients. We've also done training around medical indemnity and trigger points for litigation. Good training is good for the practice and very satisfying for staff in terms of their professional and personal development.

We also rotate admin staff through roles to keep it interesting for them. We have a lead receptionist, but all admin staff work on the front desk. They all book patients in, take payments, do typing, send confirmation emails or texts, sit on reception. Moving staff through various functions makes it more interesting for them and is also critical risk management. Nobody holds all the knowledge about one area.

Matt: How do you know when a practice is busy enough to take on more administration staff?
Bob: Look first at how quickly you're getting to telephone. Are you answering the telephone in a timely manner? If not, people will go elsewhere. People often give up if they're put on hold for too long. Also ask yourself if you're on top of all the everyday tasks.

And if you add another GP, other medical professional or allied health employee, you may need to increase your admin support accordingly, so that you don't put your existing admin staff under too much pressure.

Matt: How do you make sure your admin staff deal with patients according to your practice policies?
Bob: We start with a standard operating procedure for each task and then, when we have enough, we turn them into a practice manual. The practice manual is a fluid document that evolves to meet the needs of the practice.
The lead receptionist is the champion of that manual it's their job to monitor how others are performing and to help staff comply if necessary. We recommend a very direct approach so that staff know where they stand and it's consistent.

We also keep quick-reference procedures cards at reception, cover any issues at staff meetings, and do refresher training as I said earlier.

Matt: What exactly does Eulan Brown do for Brisbane's GPs and other medical professionals?
Bob: We do the commercial management for practices. I like to say that we take the 'commercial stuff' out of your rooms. This means that the lead admin person in your practice can really focus on doctors, patients and staff consistency and make sure that everybody's happy.
Author: Matt Connor
Tags: News Staffing

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