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Refractive Surgery | Jun 2009

Staffing Techniques

Maintain a personal approach with patients throughout the surgical process.

I founded VisionClinics, the largest refractive surgery organization in the Netherlands, in 1999. Since then, more than 40,000 procedures have been performed at our central location, with pre- and postoperative consultations occurring at one of six locations throughout the Netherlands. Our central location, in Utrecht, is a two-floor, 1,500 m2 facility that has been thoroughly planned to ensure optimal workflow. Consultation, diagnosis, and administration rooms are located on the first floor, and the operating theater for intraocular surgery and six laser rooms are located on the second. Our feeling is that in order to provide patients with high-end eye care, we have to keep organized. This article focuses on staffing techniques that enable us to provide consistent care to all of our patients, regardless of what location they are visiting.

Our staffing strategy has been fruitful; the Dutch Consumer Board has selected VisionClinics as the best quality provider of laser vision surgery consecutively in 2003 and 2007, the board's last two selection years. Such awards confirm that VisionClinics is on the right track. I feel that the primary component to our success is that we always persevere to pursue our vision with the patient's perspective in mind. Quite obviously, the patient's main objectives are to (1) be diagnosed and advised in a thorough, responsible way and (2) receive the best treatment as conveniently as possible. We built our organization with these aspects in mind, and we continuously develop and improve our practice.

STAFFING
Our most important marketing tool is the delivery of high-quality care. In this scenario, the medical and nonmedical staff are equally important. Patients who talk about their experiences will encourage friends and family members to have surgery as well. However, reproducible high quality and efficiency do not come easy. Standardized, proven protocols are required as well as employing dedicated professionals and staff who are willing and able to work accordingly. Qualified, dedicated staff is crucial for keeping the practice organized and efficiently run.

Call center and customer care representatives. For many patients, initial contact occurs via our call center. As the first personal contact with our organization, it is important to not only make a good impression but also gain the patient's confidence.

Each workday, three people work in our call center. Good candidates for this position include people with an open and client-friendly voice and attitude. Of course, excellent knowledge of products and services is also necessary. This is the first encounter patients will have with your practice, so call center employees must leave a positive impression on callers.

Front desk managers. When patienta visit our clinic for their consultation, the receptionist at the front desk is there to greet them. Front desk managers are responsible for the well being of the client, providing information and coordinating appointments. Front desk managers also create and file invoices and hand out the necessary procedural information for the patient's treatment. If they make the patient feel welcome and comfortable, they are doing their job well.

Applicants must have the capability to make the client feel not only at ease but also important. Additionally, front desk managers must always supply patients with accurate information. They play a key role in the overall impression of VisionClinics. Since good ambassadors are our best marketing tool, you can imagine the importance of selecting the right people for this job.

Ophthalmologists. At VisionClinics, we have 11 ophthalmologists, all of whom are well trained and have a vast experience in refractive surgery. It is important that the same ophthalmologist treat the patient through his preoperative consultation, surgery, and postoperative follow-up and care. Although it is the optometrist who performs all measurements during the pre- and postop process, the ophthalmologist is present and responsible for interpreting these assessments. He decides whether the patient is suitable for surgery and what type of surgery is best based on the individual's ophthalmic status and lifestyle. The same surgeon also does the postop consultations.

All personal contact between the patient and the ophthalmologist is important and must be conducted professionally. The patient needs to build confidence in the treatment, the clinic, and the staff. If all questions are answered well and professionally and the patient gets all the attention that he needs, the consultation will be successful.

Optometrists. Of the 20 optometrists who work for VisionClinics, all play an important role in collecting high-quality data. This highly educated staff ensures that the diagnostic assessments, with all the latest techniques, can be performed with reproducibility. For instance, we make multiple scans of the cornea and anterior segment with various machines. These values are compared before any conclusion is drawn.

Surgical assistants/operational staff. During the surgical procedure, the ophthalmologist is not the only important role. Other valuable team members include the assistants who prepare the materials, the technicians who assist during surgery, and the assistants who clean and sterilize the nondisposable materials throughout the day. In this setting, all professionals use their time optimally to obtain maximal efficiency.

Personnel. Beside the operational staff, there is personnel who support the organization. VisionClinics has an executive board consisting of the general manager; the medical director (myself); and experts on finance, marketing, logistics and planning, information and communication technology, and business development. Each management division has their own staff, and most managers have multiple tasks and also run the operations of one or more centers. Furthermore, there is a call center to answer customer's questions and schedule appointments.

EDUCATION AND TRAINING
In a highly demanding market, as refractive surgery is, it is essential to set up a permanent education program for the staff. Internal trainings are organized on a monthly basis, and new staff is educated for at least 1 month following a standard training program. Training includes medical education; however, communication skills for building optimal relationships with clients are also discussed. When hiring staff, technical skills are as important as communication and commercial skills. This obviously concerns the optometrists and opthalmologists as well as the front desk staff and call center operators. Ophthalmologists and optometrists are encouraged to attend congresses and seminars regularly.

We have not only been able to build an organization that can achieve very reproducible, high-end care with overwhelming patient satisfaction, but we are also able to maintain a personal approach despite high surgery volumes. We have achieved this through dedication, patient mindedness, standardization, training, and hard work. Although we are constantly evolving, we think we are ready for the future and accommodating a large number of customers in a satisfactory way—satisfactory by the clients' standards!

Michiel H.A. Luger, MD, practices with VisionClinics, Utrecht, Netherlands. Dr. Luger states that he is an owner or shareholder of VisionClinics. He may be reached at e-mail: luger@visionclinics.nl.

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