Get a handle on staff costs, make employees as productive as possible

July 1, 2012

Your employees are your practice's single most significant expense category, but they are also one of its greatest assets. A highly productive workforce is essential to ensure your dermatology practice runs effectively. That said, there may still be ways to decrease - or at least keep the lid on - staffing costs without reducing efficiency or service quality.

Key Points

Control overtime. Overtime costs plague the bottom lines of many practices. You're required by law to pay non-exempt, hourly wage workers time and a half when they work more than 40 hours in a workweek. (See the sidebar titled "What's in a workweek?" for definition of a workweek.)

Practices report that absenteeism drops, and shortening the workweek also allows you to avoid overtime. With a 36-hour workweek, you can add the occasional Friday afternoon, Monday evening or earlier morning start without running into the expense of paying overtime.

Overhaul your hiring process. When looking over candidates for administrative and clinical support openings, most dermatology practices look for experience in the specialty as well as familiarity with information systems. Although possessing these skills and experiences certainly makes a job candidate stand out from the rest, don't overlook attitude and personality. The job applicant who is the best match with your practice's work style and values may be a much better long-term investment than the one who knows the ropes but isn't good at giving quality service to all patients.

Although training an employee to understand the nuances of prepping for a skin biopsy, for example, is challenging, it is simply impossible to train someone to have a strong work ethic, multitask, show compassion and contribute as a team player. Make sure your resume screening and interview processes include a focus on the person, not just their skills and experience.

Go PTO. Switch from separate vacation time and sick leave calculation to a paid time off (PTO) policy. PTO programs reduce the "game" that some employees often play by taking unused sick time, which is often unplanned and thus very disruptive.

Because leave policies are typically on a calendar year basis, these sick days seem to inevitably rise in December, an important time for dermatology practices to handle the influx of patients who have met their annual deductibles. It's also a period when you need a full complement of staff to manage various year-end administrative processes.

A PTO policy that allows time off without regard to the actual reason reduces unplanned absences. Of course, you can still determine how many days of PTO to extend to employees; most practices start out offering a week or two annually to new employees and growing to four weeks based on seniority.