Managing Your Practice

You need a time clock


Every medical office, even the smallest, should have a time clock, and there are two very good reasons why. The obvious one is for stamping employee time cards. This is essential, even if all your employees are paid weekly or semiweekly rather than by the hour.

In most states, any employee who works more than 40 hours in any given week must be paid overtime wages. Employees know this, and disgruntled ones have been known to file complaints stating that they had worked hundreds of hours of unpaid overtime. This may be completely untrue, but labor boards almost invariably side with employees in such disputes – unless the employer can produce time records to disprove the claim. A time clock is cheap insurance against such headaches.

For hourly wage employees, time records are even more important, obviously because you only want to pay them for the hours they work. If you are paying your part-timers for the number of hours they should be working, without documenting how many hours they actually work, you could be paying for a lot of nonwork. Employees have little incentive to arrive on time or to stay the entire length of their shift, if they know they are being paid for a set number of hours anyway. And they certainly will balk at staying late if they can’t count on being paid for the extra time.

Time clocks also work to the advantage of your employees, since they will be paid for all the time they work. In fact, if any employees object to being asked to punch in every day, point out that they will be assured of payment for fractional time worked past their usual hours – time which until now may have gone unpaid.

The second – possibly more important – reason to have a time clock is to punch in your patients. A time clock is a great tool in the endless struggle to run your practice on time.

As each patient arrives, have your receptionist time-stamp the "encounter form" that goes back with the patient’s chart. As you take each chart off the door and enter the room, one glance at the time stamp will tell you exactly how long that patient has been waiting.

Now you no longer have to guess how far behind you are – and you’ll have an answer for the curmudgeon who walked in 15 minutes ago, but insists he’s been sitting there for 2 hours.

Time/attendance systems range from simple and cheap to complex and expensive. Many of the newer mechanical clocks will automatically calculate time between punches and total work time, and these can be configured for weekly, biweekly, semimonthly or monthly pay periods. Some will automatically deduct meal breaks from the totals. However, remember that you can only exclude meal breaks from compensable time when an employee is completely relieved of work duties for at least 1 uninterrupted half-hour.

If you have a problem with "buddy punching" (employees punching in or out for each other), some clocks are equipped to recognize fingerprints or hand contours.

There are also electronic timing systems, both web-based and in-house, which can be deployed across a local computer network. These systems will print time sheets with employee hours and earnings calculated, and some will even interface with financial software such as QuickBooks and other third party payroll services.

One popular Web-based system is Count Me In, which has the fingerprint option, and also allows you to restrict clocking in or out to those IP addresses that you authorize. The system prevents employees from punching in from home, or a vacation house, or a distant casino. Other examples of cloud-based systems: Time Card Manager, Time Force, and Time America. PHP Timeclock is a free, open-source download – though setting it up on your server will require some technical expertise.

As always, I have no financial interest in any product or service discussed in this column. Whether you go the mechanical or electronic route, make sure that the system you choose has security measures in place to prevent anyone from altering the displayed time at will. You need to be reasonably certain that your time stamps have not been fudged.

Dr. Eastern practices dermatology and dermatologic surgery in Belleville, N.J.

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