Cross-training: why and how

Cross-training: why and how

Cross-training so that staff are able to perform job functions outside of their usual area simplifies vacation scheduling, helps reduce chaos when someone calls in sick or has a family emergency, and can be a real lifesaver when an employee quits without notice. Here are a few ideas to consider when cross-training your team.

  • Everyone in the office should be able to do “the basics” such as make an appointment, collect a co-pay, complete forms to refer patients for diagnostic studies, fill exam rooms, and take vital signs. In a pinch, your office can keep running if these basic functions are handled.
  • Take advantage of slow times in the practice to have employees train one another. If you have a particularly light week or if one of your providers is out for vacation, have your billing person float to the front office or your receptionist shadow a medical assistant in the back office. Start slow, with just a few hours of training at a time so that no one becomes overwhelmed with new information or goes back to their main job feeling so far behind that they become resentful of the cross-training process.
  • Once you have people up to speed enough to fly solo in another position, trade places at least once a month to keep skills sharp. Your file clerk will likely welcome the opportunity for some face-to-face time with patients while working the front desk, and your receptionist may revel in the peace and quiet of doing data entry in the billing department for a change.
  • Avoid “forcing” anyone to do a job for which they are not well suited. If, despite good intentions and best efforts, an employee just can’t get the hang of managing multiple phones while simultaneously checking patients in and out, don’t push the issue. Not everyone is cut out for every position.
  • Well organized, written job descriptions and procedures will make cross-training easier and more effective. The comfort of pulling out a binder that has, for example, a step-by-step procedure for “end-of-day closeout” or that says who to call when the copier breaks down makes for less stress and greater efficiency.
  • Enjoy the side benefit of finding out which staff members have skills that you were not previously aware of. A back office assistant might be a whiz when it comes to managing the appointment book, or your receptionist might have a talent for organizing exam rooms in a way that makes them more efficient. The next time you have an open position, perhaps there will be an opportunity for someone on your team to move up (or laterally) within the practice.

Cross-training requires an investment of time and energy, but the payoff can be huge. Add “cross-training” to the agenda for your next regular office meeting and float the idea to staff. Odds are, the concept will be met with enthusiasm. After all, most human beings are, by nature, curious and eager to learn.