What do you do when your office manager calls in sick? Your receptionist? An ancillary provider? If even one staff member is missing—be it due to vacation, illness or emergency—it can bring the practice workflow to a screeching halt. Cross training employees to perform multiple roles within the office not only keeps the practice running smoothly, it helps improve the patient experience and reduce staff burnout.
Benefits of Cross Training
Small practices, in particular, benefit from cross training. When staff members are prepared to work in multiple positions, owners and managers can ensure that all employees have enough work to keep them busy while keeping staffing needs to a minimum.
Jean M. Casello, MD, owner and medical director of RenovoMD in Northborough, Massachusetts, cross trains all staff members. “We’re a small practice, so all of our estheticians and front desk staff are trained to do the marketing, schedule appointments and answer phones,” she says. “They’re all trained to take photographs, and they also prepare the treatment rooms and assist me during procedures, such as laser treatments or sclerotherapy where I may need an aid in the room.”
After instituting a cross training program, she was able to reduce her full-time staffing needs from seven employees to four. “I am now able to run the same office more efficiently with four employees, so there aren’t a lot of bodies around,” she says. “Everyone can help with clerical and clinical responsibilities. It’s more efficient, and we’re saving money that we can then put into marketing, and adding new services and equipment.”
Wm. Philip Werschler, MD, founder of Spokane Dermatology Clinic and Werschler Aesthetics, a large facility that includes a medspa, clinical dermatology practice and research center in Spokane, Washington, cross trains both clinical and nonclinical employees. “There’s an old saying that, ‘Failing to plan is planning to fail.’ Cross training is, for the most part, contingency planning—which becomes more important in very specialized positions,” he says. “For example, something like Mohs surgery doesn’t happen unless the clinic’s Mohs tech is there to process the tissue. We created a program where we take one or two medical assistants and cross train them in Mohs histotechnology. It’s one thing to cancel an esthetician’s schedule for some facials or waxing, but patients with skin cancer have sometimes waited awhile to get their appointments, and they must be taken care of—not having a tech isn’t an option for us.”
Dr. Werschler’s dermatology clinic and medspa are separate businesses and often very busy, so he has instituted cross training between facilities as well. “We train our receptionists for both locations, so although they’re at a different office and using a different scheduling system, it is a seamless transition,” he says. “We tend to have the medical assistants (MAs) cross trained on scheduling as well. We keep two receptionists at the clinic desk because it’s so busy, but say someone is on vacation and the other one gets sick, we can seamlessly slip the receptionist from our medspa or an MA into that role. In that case, an esthetician or medspa staff member might then back-fill that reception position, and we have all our bases covered.”
Because aesthetic practices are expected to meet a high standard of customer service, cross training multiple employees to handle front desk duties is a must, according to Glenn Morley, consultant and educator at Karen Zupko & Associates. “There must be a tag-team approach when it comes to managing the flow through a practice,” she says. “Even though you have a dedicated phone staff, you still need to have those phones rolling to at least one or two additional people—you can’t have phone calls going to voicemail if you want to be successful. Aesthetic patients will just hang up and call a different place.”
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