Shortage of skilled technicians can lead to inefficient clinics
Meaningful training can empower staff and improve productivity.
Jane Shuman, MSM, COT, COE, OCS, CMSS, OSC, president and founder of Eyetechs Inc. and, more importantly to me, a long-time friend, recently met me for lunch, and we got to chatting about challenges in ophthalmology. Jane, who lives, eats and breathes ophthalmology, and is well-known throughout the eyeball community as a “fixer” of inefficient clinics, described to me what she sees as the two biggest hurdles our field faces.
The first is the continued shortage of skilled technicians, which has been an ongoing issue since I began working in ophthalmology when dial-up was still a thing. There have been countless instances where I have been asked the age-old question, “What do you do?” at social events only to watch confusion roll over people’s faces when I responded that I am a COT (certified ophthalmic technician) and work in ophthalmology. First, you must explain ophthalmology, and then you must define your role in the clinic. And when you have finished, their eyes are still glazed over.
The Department of Labor granted “ophthalmic technician” its classification in only 2010, so it is of no surprise that it is not a well-recognized vocation.
The second challenge Jane often sees is inefficient clinics. When entering a practice, Jane’s goal is to get the maximum performance out of a small labor pool while simultaneously increasing productivity. And to make this all possible without stressing everyone out. Not an easy task.
After speaking with Jane, I began to see a common thread woven through these two challenges: Technicians do not feel engaged or productive due to a lack of training and education, and in their dissatisfaction, they depart the profession looking for greener pastures, thereby leaving clinics understaffed and limping along in their wake.
“In clinics, people are told what to do, but not what it might mean or what the foundations of it are. So by not feeling productive or informed, technicians leave for another career somewhere else,” Jane said. “Everyone goes to work and wants to be productive. If they don’t understand what they’re doing, they’re giving their doctors inconsistent results, and both the doctor and the technician are left feeling frustrated.”
A shortage of training programs for technicians is also to blame. There were once approximately four dozen accredited programs for educating ophthalmic personnel, and this number has since dwindled to about half that.
Jane believes that developing a plan for new hires to be productive while still learning will develop technicians with excellent skill sets. And designing an environment that nurtures and supports continuing education will generate loyalty. Jane recommends periodically having technicians (after he or she has completed the patient tech workup) accompany the patient on his or her journey through the clinic to the very end, which will give staff a better understanding of symptoms, signs and diagnosis. A brilliant example of on-site training. “You have to think outside of the box when trying to squeeze on-site training into a clinic day, but it’s possible,” she said.
If your practice is struggling to find competent staff or you feel your clinic is not managed efficiently (or both), I highly recommend reaching out to Jane for her many years of experience in dealing with these particular issues. You can learn more about Jane’s services at www.eyetechs.com or email her at firstname.lastname@example.org. You will not find another with more expertise.
“Develop a passion for learning. If you do, you will never cease to grow.” – Anthony J. D’Angelo
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- April Steinert can be reached at email: email@example.com.
Disclosure: Steinert reports no relevant financial disclosures.