Hiring & firing: what gastroenterologists need to know about finding a stellar staff

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A physician's staff members are the face of their practice. They are patients' first point of contact and guide them through the entire process of care. A colorectal surgeon and gastroenterologist discuss what GI physicians need to look for to establish an efficient, effective staff.  

Ask a Gastroenterologist is a weekly series of questions posed to GI physicians around the country on business and clinical issues affecting the field of gastroenterology. We invite all gastroenterologists to submit responses. Next week's question: What are some of the best entrepreneurial endeavors for gastroenterologists?

Please submit responses to Carrie Pallardy at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. by Thursday, August 14, at 5 p.m. CST.

Question: What skills should gastroenterologists look for in an excellent staff?

Dr. Pamela LeePamela Lee, MD, colorectal surgeon, Advanced Surgical Associates (Santa Barbara, Calif.): An essential part of any successful medical practice is the office staff, from the "front" staff which includes receptionists, coders, billers and office managers, to the "back" or clinical staff, which includes nurses and techs.
The first and foremost quality of a stellar office staff is their ability to effectively communicate with patients. This is especially important when dealing with patients in a gastroenterologist's
practice due to the number of diagnostic procedures such as endoscopies, colonoscopies and sigmoidoscopies, which are performed on a routine basis.

A GI's clinical staff needs to have the ability to bridge the gap between physician and patient when it comes to explaining the various procedures and tests that the physician has ordered as well as being able to give detailed instructions to patients regarding pre- and
post-op care.

In a medical practice, it is vital to have a staff that can multitask without getting overwhelmed in the process. The clinical staff has to be able to navigate between patients, doctors, insurance companies, labs and hospitals on a day-to-day basis.

The "front" or office staff, in addition to being able to handle computer work and scheduling duties, has to be customer-service oriented in order to put patients, some of whom are very anxious due to their medical issues, at ease.

A stellar office staff works as a team to perform all of these tasks with one goal in mind – great patient care.

Patrick TakahashiPatrick Takahashi, MD, CMIO and Chief of Gastroenterology Section of St. Vincent Medical Center (Los Angeles): Gastroenterologists require a stellar staff in both their office based practice as well as in their procedural centers. Both of these locales require persona with special qualities to serve as an extension of the gastroenterologist. Staff who communicate well are the sine qua non of the office.  The ability to not only communicate with patients, but also with physician offices as well as insurance companies to name a few is so paramount to the success of a gastroenterologist  That first person that the patient meets goes a long way towards customer satisfaction, as well as serving as a springboard for further referrals to the office.

Similarly, word of mouth is so important when referring physicians hear how easy it is for their staff to deal with your office, not only in scheduling appointments, but in obtaining reports and the like.  
Staff must also prove to be independent and good at taking initiative. By doing so, solutions can be readily discovered to commonly encountered problems without requiring a lot of fanfare from the physician. However, the staff should also be aware of their limitations and seek help when there is a lack of alacrity.  

Good training with an electronic health record will go a long ways in satisfying meaningful use measures as well as meeting core measure requirements. Don't underestimate how a staff person could help you tremendously in accruing the proper data to maximize medical reimbursement.   
 
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