Maximizing Practice Performance with Cross-Training

by | Jul 19, 2021 | Team Building, Training

It should be every business manager’s goal to maximize the return on investments. It’s obviously important to control expenses and ensure that you’re getting good value from expenditures. There’s often a question about whether investments in staff development are well-spent, wise choices. Practice owners may be wary of providing extensive training and then losing those valuable investments due to staff turnover. How much and what type of training should you provide for your staff, and what can you hope to gain with it?

An educator I greatly admired used to say, “The question is not ‘what happens if I train my staff and they leave?’ The real question,” he said, “is ‘what happens if I don’t train my staff and they stay?’” Being an educator myself, I am also a big believer in the value of training. It creates a better workplace environment, generally produces better results, and ultimately provides a better outcome for patients. Training doesn’t have to be “just an expense;” it can also contribute to higher revenue and better performance in many of your practice KPIs, from lens treatments to capture rate. 

I like to think of training in three different avenues. Most common is instruction to develop knowledge or skills within someone’s primary occupation. Continuing education to maintain licensure or become familiar with new technologies would fall into this category. Next is education that creates or improves awareness and familiarity with health care and occupational principles in general or within a specific workplace. This is training that all employees in any given office need, like HIPAA compliance, OSHA awareness, or reviewing the practice policy manual. Finally, there is cross-training, or adding skills that are outside a person’s own job description, but which also add value to the practice. All training can be beneficial, but cross-training can really pump up the productivity in a practice – and that usually translates to more revenue and profit.

Cross Training in the Optical

The optical is one area where you can see big benefits from cross-training. The practice optician, in most cases, will be one of the most highly-paid, non-OD employees on the premises. There are a number of reasons for this, like licensing and education credentials as well as highly-specialized skills. Another significant justification for the high price of a good optician is that they are revenue-generators. Their daily activities in selling, fabricating and dispensing eyewear create measurable value for the practice – in dollars. As much as 50% (or more) of a practice’s revenue may be generated through optical sales, so a skilled optician is not “just another employee,” they are an integral part of the practice’s cash flow. It’s important that this team member’s very expensive time is spent primarily doing exactly that – creating revenue for the business. A less-expensive employee can easily be trained to handle many of the less lucrative tasks that opticians typically handle, like paperwork or minor eyeglass repairs, freeing valuable time for the optician to provide care to patients and make optical sales.

Avoid Bottlenecks

Patient flow is another serious advantage in bringing additional hands into the optical from time to time. Your practice is at its most efficient (and likely most profitable) when the optical is keeping pace with the patients coming from the exam rooms. It’s an excellent policy to have every patient stop in to the optical, regardless of their eyewear needs – new prescription or not. The optical team can leverage that opportunity to tune up existing eyewear, make recommendations for sun wear or occupational lenses, explain vision benefits and premium products, and talk to patients about backup eyeglasses. These interactions with the optical staff can become a valued experience that encourages patient loyalty and referrals, as well as multiple pair sales. However, patients who have completed their exams and would like to purchase eyewear may become impatient – and consider buying elsewhere – if the optician is too busy or rushed to give them their full attention. One or more staff member cross-trained for minor optical services can relieve the pressure and help keep things moving. 

Improve Customer Service

Cross-training significantly improves your staff’s ability to respond confidently to your patients. When a patient calls or drops in with questions, the person greeting them needs to be able to either answer questions knowledgeably, or direct the patient correctly. Even a minimal amount of training can dramatically improve “triage” at the front desk or on the phone, ensuring that the next person the patient speaks to will be the right one. We’ve all been on the receiving end of an endless round of referrals and transfers. It’s a frustrating situation that is often easily avoided with just a little extra effort and basic guidance.

Product Recommendations

Take the time to expose all of your team members to product-specific training. Your sales reps can often assist with this. Go one step further and fit every member of your team in products that you carry and want your patients to use, like blue-light filters, office lenses, premium AR, and sunwear. When your staff is familiar with your premium products, they can speak about them with your patients. You may even consider role-playing to develop positive “standard responses” that help educate your patients about the specific benefits of the products you choose to carry. Your patients expect that your staff will know about optical products and be able to answer questions. When your team knows what they’re talking about, your patients will perceive your practice as a better resource for their eye health needs.

Cross-training doesn’t have to be terribly time-consuming or expensive, but it can yield tremendous benefits in your bottom line. It also helps your team work more like a team. When everybody pulls together, the overall performance will rise. That adds up to better KPIs, happier patients, and higher job satisfaction. What’s not to love?

By Michael Della Pesca

Pioneering the field of e-learning and education for eye care professionals.


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