Let’s face it. Yes, every patient is different. But overall, ophthalmic tech tasks are repetitive by nature. For some techs, what begins as something new and interesting eventually loses its shine. Over time, those techs may become bored, or even burnt out. You’ll know what I’m talking about if you’ve ever had a solid employee whose performance or attitude started to falter for no discernable reason. They feel they’ve hit a ceiling, and if they’re going to be doing the same old thing day in and day out, why strive for excellence?
If staff members don’t perceive new opportunities to engage and grow their skill set, they’ll likely move on. Turnover is expensive and time consuming. That goes double in a market like the current one, where experienced eye care techs are scarce and in high demand. Even worse, that disengaged tech may stay, and his or her quiet unhappiness could rub off on other staff members or patients. That could hurt staff morale and even cause your practice to lose patients. Either way, you’ve got a problem.
But what can you do? It’s not like you’re limiting your techs on purpose. The job just is what it is, right? Wrong. Like many practices, your management team may simply not have given much thought to what happens when the “honeymoon” is over. So where do you go from here? Keep reading, and the answer will be “nowhere but up.”
Keys to Ophthalmic Tech Career Development
If you want your techs to think of their positions as careers, not just jobs, you need to foster trust and loyalty. One way to do this is to show that you’re committed to the tech’s development over the long-term. Just because a tech has completed their training doesn’t mean that they should stop learning.
By the time a tech has finished the training program and mastered the full exam in the exam lane, they’ve often self-identified an area of particular interest, observe Jill White, COA, COE and Jane Shuman, MSM, COT, COE, OCS, CMSS, OSC, who spoke to ophthalmologists about tech training at the 2018 ASCRS·ASOA Annual Meeting.
Build on their knowledge by teaching them things like:
· LASIK tech skills, including the sales component
· Injection tech skills, assisting with retinal injections
· A-scans and lens calculations on pre and post-refractive eyes
“We need to nurture whatever it is that they’re loving because they’re going to be able to make a valuable contribution to the practice.” Jill White, COA, COE
Build Their Skills
“Technicians tend to get pigeonholed,” says Sharon Brown, COT, COE, who conducted another tech training session at ASCRS. For example, they “always work in retina.” Employees should expand beyond their skill set, she advises, because it’s not just a benefit to them, it’s a benefit to you, too. If someone in the cornea clinic called out sick and you need someone to cover, you’ll have another tech with those skills available, explains Brown.
Brown likes to document each new skill a tech learns. She uses a skills sheet for each employee, not only to track the things they’ve learned, but as a way of documenting that they’re still current on those skills. She often quizzes employees—even long-term folks—according to what’s noted on their skills sheets.
Use Technicians’ Skills in New Ways
When developing your ophthalmic techs, you should “encourage [them] to look outside of what they’re doing and take a look at some other things that may be out there,” advises Amy Jost, BS, COMT, CCRC, OSC, who conducted two tech training sessions at ASCRS. Managers could turn to techs to spearhead coding and compliance improvement, suggests Jost’s co-presenter, Mary Pat Johnson, COMT, CPC, COE, CPMA.
Techs are particularly suited to internal monitoring and auditing, Johnson says. When an auditor sees an incomplete chart, a tech sees the reason why. When an auditor sees repeated errors, a tech sees variability among clinicians, she explains. Additionally, techs have a unique ability to assist your billing staff with clinical information, and vice versa. They’re not afraid to communicate with the physicians, observes Johnson. “Some physicians don’t even know the names of people in finance, but they know what their tech did all weekend,” she notes.
Here, a few other ideas for how techs can capitalize on their best qualities:
Become a research tech or coordinator. You have to do what you do as a tech, along with a bunch of other stuff, in a very particular order, with other people checking your work, explains Jost. “It is an elite group of folks who are on [studies who] are even allowed to touch the patient,” she adds.
Schedule surgeries. Techs make great surgery schedulers because they know how to explain everything in laymen’s terms, says White.
Conduct community outreach. If you have a tech who’s particularly outgoing, consider having them create and schedule patient education events or complimentary screenings at your practice, community centers, assisted living facilities, or churches. Added bonus? These events are a great marketing opportunity for your practice.
Take on training. This includes learning to onboard new staff, lead skills workshops, mentor others, and more, says Jost. In addition to creating training standards and procedures, the tech could assist others with certification preparation.
Create Career Pathways
This kind of development is a little more involved, because it requires changing the structure of staff positions at your practice. White’s practice, for example, has three levels of scribes and four levels of techs. To move up to the next level—and pay grade—techs/scribes must pass a test that mimics the JCAHPO exam. The senior-level exam is similar to the COE exam, and recently, they approved a new job class and pay grade for COMTs.
Creating these pathways can be great motivation for staff who’ve been complacent about certification. White says that when her practice started the career pathways program, they had some techs who had been COAs for 20 years. Now, the requirement is for employees to earn a new certification within 18 months of becoming a COA.