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The secret to reducing staff turnover


Is staff turnover holding you back? In some markets, healthcare personnel turnover is five times higher than unemployment. The average total turnover rate reported for healthcare employers in 2016 is 20.1%, up from 19.2% in 2015, according to Compdata Surveys’ national survey, Compensation Data Healthcare.

Editor’s Note: Welcome to “Eye Catching: Let's Chat,” a blog series featuring contributions from members of the ophthalmic community. These blogs are an opportunity for ophthalmic bloggers to engage with readers with about a topic that is top of mind, whether it is practice management, experiences with patients, the industry, medicine in general, or healthcare reform. The series continues with this blog by Donna Suter, president of Suter Consulting Group. The views expressed in these blogs are those of their respective contributors and do not represent the views of Ophthalmology Times or UBM Medica.

Is staff turnover holding you back? In some markets, healthcare personnel turnover is five times higher than unemployment. The average total turnover rate reported for healthcare employers in 2016 is 20.1%, up from 19.2% in 2015, according to Compdata Surveys’ national survey, Compensation Data Healthcare.

Today’s patients are customers who have a choice. When your people leave, patient care-what I call customer service-suffers. Everything the doctor does in the practice is connected with tasks completed by other people. You and your team are significantly interdependent.

That is especially in eye care, what patients want most is consistent performance. Patients want service and care that they can depend on. More specifically this means:

  •      Do what you say you are going to do.

  •      Do it when you say you’re going to do it.

  •      Do it right the first time.

  •      Get it done on time.

All four of these suffer when someone on your team is in training mode. Your job, as management, is to keep individuals on your team performing at a sufficiently high level in order to accomplish the practice’s mission. If you have a viable mission statement and business plan, use it as a motivator. People like to feel that work matters.

Explain your practice’s plan so that employees see both the big picture and how their actions can help make the plan a reality. As employees appreciate the importance of their contributions, the plan can become a driving force in total team accomplishment.

Your plan becomes like the playbook for a team. It’s a lot easier to win when everyone knows his/her part as well as understands the game. Each department in the practice feeds off another and collaborates for bigger results than any one department can reach on its own. Front desk is tasked with keeping the book filled and capturing patient demographics and pay information. Clinic technicians add to raw data collection by entering SOAP data into the EHR system. All of this must be completed quickly and efficiently for the doctor to see the patient on time.

When everyone is operating at peak performance levels, doctor and staff have time to educate the patient about eye health issues as well as overview spectacle lens technology recommendations that will help the patient see clearly in his or her most challenging situations.

This is much like a sports team seeking to maximize its efficiency. Think back to last fall and the Chicago Cubs magical ride to the World Series championship. They were able to win because the parts (players) overachieved as they together overcame a century of haplessness and inefficiency to capture the greatest prize in baseball. It could not have been possible had not each player bought in to the possibility of winning.

How does front desk and technician efficiency impact optical growth?

Imagine your technicians taking time to explain spectacle lenses options when refracting, or an employee that comments on the full-time wearability of a frame when the prescription is read. And, yes, imagine a technician who walks the patient to the optical.

When your staff transitions patients from the clinic to optical in a timely manner and optical staff are available to greet them promptly, patients choose convenience over price. What this means is that greater clinic staff efficiency translates into a higher average optical ticket.

A recent study1 in Social Psychological and Personality Science found that people value their time more than money. In a series of six studies, the researchers asked more than 4,600 participants questions such as whether they would prefer to pay more rent for an apartment with a short commute or a pay less rent for an apartment with a long commute. Just more than half of respondents said they valued their time over money.

Choose personnel carefully


Choose personnel carefully

Avoid what human resource professionals call the “mirror test.” The joke is that you hold a mirror below the nostrils of your applicants. If it fogs up, hire them!

Surprisingly, a number of practices hire people they think (or hope) will make it just because they don’t want to be short-handed. During the probationary period, it becomes obvious that the new hire won’t make it. So, that person is let go, and someone else is hired to “try out.” Other staff members see this continual flow of hires and begin to wonder about management’s wisdom. Striving to retain employees who are not appropriate for the practice can actually be quite damaging.

Unfortunately, reading this blog is not a ‘magic pill’ for finding and keeping the right person. Overseeing your employees is a lot like managing a glaucoma patient. It requires a lot of testing and data gathering on the front end, prescribing the best treatment plan, and constant monitoring along the way.

To bring into focus the possibilities, here are two self-reflection questions to sharpen your awareness of cultural barriers that often stand between a goal-oriented technician’s work-patterns in peak performance settings and day-to-day support of a financially successful optical.

  • Is the optical even mentioned during the interview process? Ask candidates how they plan on supporting your in-house optical. I always ask potential candidates to explain the difference between no-line bifocal and progressive lenses technology. (If their answer would not be acceptable post-hire, who will train? If the answer is no one, do not hire them!)

  • Does a paragraph in the job description discuss team effort as it relates to the optical or outline tasks that support the goal of escorting patients to the dispensary? Does the job description link performance expectations with patients being escorted to the optical?

During that all-important first 3-months of employment, how much time will be spent shadowing the lead optician and learning about advancements in spectacle lens technology which improves the patient’s acuity in a variety of lighting conditions? Are visually challenging situations limited to a BAT test or are they related back to real-life situations, like reading a text on a cell phone on a golf course?

Because most people are relational, positive work relationships not only boost retention but also patient satisfaction. The stronger the work bonds are between clinic staff and optical, the more successful your optical will become.

If an employee feels that bond with optical–with opticians–the tendency will be for the employee to encourage patients to purchase from your optical.

Use these three questions to work on the social connection between optical and clinic:

  • Does the doctor express pleasure or positively acknowledge technicians that are missing from the lane because they are walking a patient to the optical?

  • Do opticians thank the technicians for their support or are technicians and patients that enter the optical during peak times ignored and left awkwardly standing?

  • How often is positive performance pointed out during staff meetings?

Your employees pick up on what’s really important to you. Because you are reading this blog, I know that you intellectually understand the impact a profitable optical can have on your practice. But, just like me and my ‘vision’ of making a Justin Jackson-like jump shot from center court, do you really believe that it is realistic for 95% of your patients needing prescription eyewear to purchase from your dispensary?

Astros second baseman Jose Altuve swings at a ball differently than Jordan Spieth. Obviously, it’s because it is a different sport . . . and a different swing. Altuve won the American League batting title last year with that swing. Jordan Spieth became one of the biggest names in golf over a relatively short period of time, winning the Masters and U.S. Open at the age of 20. Keep in mind Altuve expected perfection every time he went to the plate, but was successful reaching base with a hit just a fraction over three and one-third times per 10 at bats.

Reality gets in the way


Reality got in the way. Nobody has come close to hitting .1000, nor will they ever. And Spieth doesn’t hit a perfect shot every time. Some may remember his 2016 nightmare of the 12th hole at Augusta where he took an unthinkable quadruple bogey by hitting three balls into Rae’s Creek.

Because of reality, effort becomes more important than perfect results. Who would have put money on a 5’5” Venezuelan to win two America League batting titles? Altuve and Spieth were just a couple of kids, right? Wrong. Altuve and Spieth believe their effort will make them successful. My golf instructor tells me perfect practice produces the perfect swing. He stresses that where the ball lands is not a matter of luck and that it is my job to know enough about the mechanics of the perfect swing to know what areas to refine.

Spieth didn’t become of the best players on the PGA Tour and a U.S. and British Open champion because of his imagination. Instead, it was through a finely-tuned practice regimen and hours of sweat and hard work.

When increasing your optical capture rate, management must set total patient care priorities with every new hire, communicate to them clearly, and hold people accountable for their work habits. 



1. Valuing Time Over Money  Ashley V. WhillansAaron C. WeidmanElizabeth W. Dunn Jan 7, 2016


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