It goes without saying that, as a physician, it’s essential to keep your knowledge and skills current. But too many private practitioners overlook the similar needs of their employees.
Continuing education is as important for your staff as for you. Like you, staff members provide better care to patients when they know the latest findings and techniques. They also provide better information: When patients ask questions of your staff, either in the office or over the phone (which happens more often than you probably think), you certainly want their answers to be accurate and up to date.
There are lots of other good reasons to invest in ongoing staff training. It’s a win-win strategy for you, your staff, and for your practice.
The more your employees know, the more productive they will be. Not only will they complete everyday duties more efficiently, they will be stimulated to learn new tasks and accept more responsibility.
Staffers who have learned new skills are more willing to take on new challenges. And the better their skills and the greater their confidence, the less supervision they need from you and the more they become involved in their work.
They also will be happier in their jobs. Investing in your employees’ competence makes them feel valued and appreciated. This leads to reduced turnover, which is often enough to pay for the training.
You probably already do some ongoing education: You do your yearly OSHA training because the law requires it, you run HIPAA updates as necessary (more on those two next month), and you have everyone recertified periodically in basic or advanced CPR (or you should). I’m talking about going beyond the basic stuff, which may satisfy legal requirements but does not motivate your people to loftier goals.
An obvious example is sending your insurance people annually to coding and insurance processing courses – or at the very least, on-line refreshers – so they are always current on the latest third-party changes. The use of outdated or obsolete codes can cost you thousands of dollars every month. Other opportunities include keyboarding and computer courses for staff who work with your computers, and Excel and QuickBooks updates for your bookkeepers.
Continuing education does not have to be costly, and in some cases it can be free. For example, pharmaceutical representatives will be happy to run an in-service for your staff on a new medication or procedure or instrument, or to refresh their memories on an established one. Be sure to make clear to the rep that the presentation must be as objective and impartial as possible, given the obvious potential conflicts of interest involved.
Your office manager should join the Association of Dermatology Administrators & Managers (ADAM). It holds annual meetings at the same time and place as the American Academy of Dermatology winter meetings, with a good selection of refresher courses and lots of opportunities for networking with other managers, either personally or virtually.
Many other venues are available for employee education, either in the cloud and in conventional classrooms. Courses are offered in many relevant subjects – a quick Google search turns up an eclectic mix, including medical terminology, recordkeeping and accounting, laboratory skills, diagnostic tests and procedures, pharmacology and medication administration, patient relations, medical law and ethics, and many others.
By far the most common question I receive on this issue is this: "What if I pay for all that training and the employees leave?" My invariable answer is this: "What if you don’t, and they stay?"
Well-trained employees are vastly preferable to untrained ones, even with the small risk of the occasional staffer who accepts training and then moves on. But in 31 years, it has never happened in my office. In my experience, well-trained employees will stay. Education fosters loyalty. Employees who know that you care enough about them to advance their skills will sense that they have a stake in the practice, and thus will be less likely to want to leave. Furthermore, continuing education will always be cheaper than training new employees from scratch.
In any case, everyone will benefit from a well-trained staff: you, your employees, your practice, and – most importantly – your patients.
Dr. Eastern practices dermatology and dermatologic surgery in Belleville, N.J.