Can your staff members do another employee’s job?

October 1, 2004

Cross training is good for the physician, because it provides more flexibility in managing the efficiency of the practice when employees are absent.

Every practice has found itself with a stressed staff when one or more employees call in sick or go on vacation. Some practices resort to hiring temporary employees to fill the void, but this seldom fixes the problem.

This article will review the process of cross training your employees and creating a smooth-running practice when an employee is absent.

Cross training gives employees the opportunity to learn a new skill, making them more valuable in their present job or in a different job within the practice. Teaching employees others' tasks and may also:

Cross training allows you to anticipate problems and situations that you know will occur but wish would never happen. Now when the nurse or patient coordinator is absent, someone from the back office can help put patients in the room, prepare specimens for the physician to examine, and create a seamless experience for the patient, regardless of which staff members are present or absent.

A planned process Sending people to work in another department at a moment's notice is not what cross training is about. It has to be an effective planned process. Employees must support the idea, be encouraged to give feedback, and make suggestions for improvement. They then become "partners" in the practice. Staff meetings can be used to share lessons learned.

When employees think "the grass is greener on the other side," they soon realize this may not be the case when exposed to the work of other departments. They return to their original job with a better attitude.

I suggest that you or your office manager carefully select the employees to be cross trained. Some people like to learn new things, while others are more comfortable sticking to what they know. I don't suggest that you decide which employees are ready for a change merely based on their age or performance. How do you identify which employees are amenable to cross training? Ask them.

There are many opportunities for cross training in your practice. If you or your office manager hasn't already identified them, look around. Consider both opportunities to cross train within a department and between departments.

For example, if you have a transcriptionist and are planning to implement an electronic medical records program, you may want to offer this employee an opportunity to learn a new job such as patient scheduling or assisting the billing clerk. This employee becomes an added value to the practice as you segue to a paperless office, and the transcriptionist knows she has job security when you become truly paperless.

In a multispecialty group practice, a gynecologic nurse can work alongside a urology nurse and learn urologic skills, and later the urology nurse can return the favor and work with the gynecology nurse for a few days and be ready to fill in when necessary.