It’s the boring stuff most people won’t do; even though it could have the most impact on their bottom line.
One of these unexciting tasks is creating policies and procedures for your business.
Let’s have a show of hands…
Put your right hand in the air if you’ve developed a set of policies & procedures for your practice. Now, put your left hand in the air if you use them.
If both your hands are in the air, congratulations; you are ahead of the curve!
But if you didn’t raise a hand, why not?
Why is it you don’t utilize policies and procedures in your business?
- Is it because you haven’t gotten around to creating them?
- Perhaps you have them, but don’t use them?
- Or maybe you don’t see the benefit?
- Do you think their use is limited to product businesses alone?
- Or perhaps you feel they’re overkill for a small business?
Misconceptions around policies and procedures may be one of the reasons they’re under-utilized by small businesses. If you’re not using policies and procedures now, perhaps by the end of this article you’ll reconsider.
And if you are the one ahead of the curve, with both hands in the air, I hope you’ll pick up a tip or two that will make your policies and procedures even better.
What Are Policies & Procedures
While the terms “policies and procedures” typically are used together, they are separate and standalone concepts.
A business might have policies in place but without any corresponding procedures. On the flip side, a company might have procedures without corresponding policies. But ideally, a business will have policies with corresponding procedures.
Businesses create policies that define their goals and objectives and guide their decision making. Policies allow for consistency in the day-to-day operations to realize the long-term goals of the business.
Without established policies, a business would end up making the same decisions repeatedly, essentially reinventing the wheel.
Let’s take your “late for appointment” policy. Chances are, you allow a certain amount of time before someone is late for the appointment? Perhaps ten minutes and anything beyond that is counted as a missed appointment.
Think about the chaos in your office if you didn’t have this policy. Every time someone was late, you’d be asked if you’d still see this patient.
But with a clear policy in place, your front desk will reschedule the patient without interrupting you. And you will get more work done, and patients will develop a greater appreciation for your time.
Does it always work like that?
Of course not! But the principle idea is to have a rule in place that guides decision making for the situation.
Most commonly, procedures correspond to policies and facilitate their implementation. Policies and procedures go hand in hand.
Procedures are detailed and specific steps. They often consist of a series of steps or sequences.
One of the main benefits of using a well-written procedure is that it yields the same result, no matter who does the work.
Think of procedures as “On the Ground Action,” whereas policies may be thought of as the “Big Picture” view.
Let’s look at our earlier example, the “late” policy. How is it implemented?
Is it enough to inform patients that they are late? It’s a starting point…
The question is what do you do after that? Because without a well thought out policy and procedure, chances are every situation gets handled differently.
Here are four scenarios:
- Some patients are persuasive. Even though they are late, they insist on being seen, and typically succeed.
- Some patients will be angry and complain, demanding to talk to the office manager or you.
- Some will merely leave once their appointment is rescheduled.
- Sometimes front desk staff will squeeze the person in your schedule.
So here is how an office with a clear “Late” policy and procedure might respond to patients being late for their appointment.
“Anyone arriving later than ten minutes for their scheduled appointment will be not be seen and will be rescheduled.” (It’s as simple as that!)
- Inform the patient that they are late and cannot be seen
- Review “late” policy with the patient.
- Refer the patient to the written policy included in their “Welcome” pack.
- Alternatively, hand patient a copy of the policy (from your “Policy and Procedures” handbook).
- Reschedule the patient for the next available appointment.
In addition to the above, most offices would take further steps to make sure that patients know and understand the policy:
- They would post a notice of the “late’ policy.
- They would explain the policy in their “Welcome to our Office” pack.
- They’d include it with the financial information and have patients initial the policy.
- And… they would, without exception, enforce the policy.
That’s a basic example of a policy and procedure you could adapt to your office.
But perhaps you think this policy is too rigid; you’d like to be more flexible?
And that’s perfectly fine…
Create and use the policies and procedures that work for you, your situation, and your comfort level.
But make sure you create policies and procedures and don’t operate without them!
Why You Need Policies & Procedures
Policies and procedures are essential to every business.
Below is a summary of all the reasons you want to implement them in your practice too.
Policies and procedures…
- Allow you to systematize what can be systematized in your practice.
- Facilitate growth by freeing you to focus on the tasks strategic to the growth of your practice.
- Provide consistency in customer experience.
- Create consistent quality outcomes by reducing error rates.
- Establish clear expectations and guidelines for staff.
- Facilitate fairness and equal treatment of patients and staff.
- Provide rules to guide goals, direction, and behavior for your practice.
- Reduce miscommunication inside the practice, amongst staff, and between staff and patients.
- Facilitates cross training and training of new staff.
- Demonstrate and increase compliance with legal requirements: OSHA, HIPPA, local safety laws…
Avoid these Pitfalls
Policies and procedures are of benefit only if used by all members of your organization. If no one pays attention to them, they are useless.
Here are some reasons for low or no compliance with policies and procedures in your office.
- They are not written clearly, leading to confusion.
- They are too long to read.
- They are not specific enough.
- They are outdated and of no use.
- They are partially incorrect or outright wrong.
- They are hard to find when needed.
- Supervisor, manager, or owner pay no attention to them.
To ensure that policies and procedures get utilized in your office, update and improve them as needed.
Make sure everyone in the office knows where to find them. Encourage your staff to work with you to keep them current, up to date, and useful.
How To Create Them
If you find yourself without policies and procedures, or if you need to update them, here are some suggestions.
- Start in the areas with the most significant impact on your practice.
- Front desk: scheduling, registration, collecting patient responsibility…
- Clinical: day-to-day flow, medical records, HIPPA…
- Financial: billing, AR, collections…
- Employees: training, scheduling, device use…
- Get your staff involved; if an employee develops a better process, ask them to document what they do.
- Write all policies and procedures in clear, concise, and easy to understand language. Be as brief as you can without giving up clarity.
- Consider recording your policies and procedures in video format in addition to text; you may find they get consulted more often.
- Review your policies and procedures on a regular basis to assess their continued usability.
- Don’t go overboard! Policies and procedures should guide and enhance operations in your business, not restrict them.
Businesses of all types and sizes benefit from utilizing policies and procedures.
While creating them can be tedious, the long-term benefits outweigh the initial and ongoing investment of time.
Policies and procedures must grow with the business. Steps must be taken to keep them up to date and relevant to the current operation of the company.
And if you need help writing them, Barbara recommends (and uses!) this book which has all the templates you can customize for your own practice.
What’s been your biggest challenge with policies & procedures? Scroll below the article and type in your answer; let us know.
By Johanna Hofmann, MBA, LAc; regular contributor to the NPBusiness blog and author of “Smart Business Planning for Clinicians.“