Finding a good practice manager can play a significant role in a medical practice’s success, but it’s not always easy to find the right fit.
Hiring an office manager is often one of the most overlooked steps in building a medical practice, said Rahul Kumar, medical analyst at Software Advice, an Austin, Texas-based company that helps healthcare organizations select medical software.
There’s a couple of challenges right off the bat. “Physicians and doctors, especially those in smaller practices, are busy caring for their patients and may not be experts in hiring people,” Kumar said in an interview with FierceHealthcare, about the research he’s done on the role of office managers.
With all the responsibilities a typical practice manager takes on, it’s also difficult to find a person who possesses all the required characteristics a practice is looking for, he said. A practice may want someone with a college degree in health administration, prior bookkeeping and clinical experience, strong business acumen, leadership abilities, interpersonal skills and a host of other requirements.
That can be a tall order. Is there one quality that is key to making a good office manager? “I would say interpersonal skills of the candidate is the key when selecting a good office manager,” he said.
A practice manager needs to have excellent communication skills to effortlessly communicate with everyone at the practice, including patients, physicians, and other administrative staff, he said. Therefore, look for someone who is friendly, calm, composed and outgoing by nature.
Before screening prospective candidates, decide on the qualifications, including education and experience, that are needed, he said.
Here are five key considerations to find the best office manager, Kumar said.
Check the candidate’s education. The experience and education needed to become a medical practice office manager will vary from practice to practice. Medical practices usually prefer a college degree or even higher education such as a master of business administration. The ideal candidate should have a degree in health administration, as these programs include courses on a range of topics including health services organization and management, healthcare laws, ethics, accounting, and communication, he said.
Check the candidate’s previous work experience. Again, work experience may vary depending on the medical practice. While a solo physician’s medical practice may not require an experienced office manager, even a small practice with three to six physicians will need an office manager with at least two to five years of prior work experience, he said.
An experienced manager can start handling the billing, finances, staff and bookkeeping needs as soon as he or she joins the practice. Be sure to check the candidate’s work history and education, he said.
Look for the characteristics you identified as necessary. While interviewing candidates, look for characteristics and qualities that your practice, patients, and staff need. Look for qualities such as empathy, compassion, and attention to detail, Kumar said. He or she must enjoy talking and listening to others. To help determine whether candidates are the right fit, write down the questions to be asked and answered during an interview.
Be sure candidates are able to delegate tasks. The ideal office manager must have excellent task delegation capabilities and must be able to judge when it’s best to handle a task on their own and when it’s better to delegate, Kumar said.
Look for strong leadership capabilities and effective negotiation skills. The best office manager must possess excellent leadership capabilities to handle daily patient care responsibilities while managing administrative work, Kumar said. Also, the manager must be an effective negotiator who quickly mediates conflicts, which occur mostly between patients and the practice, and resolves them.
There are some red flags to look for that a candidate may not be a good fit for a practice, he said. Watch out if a candidate speaks negatively about the practice or people at his or her current or past job.
Also, it’s a warning sign if the candidate lacks people skills. If the candidate lacks an interest in the people—either patients or physicians—they will interact with, that’s another red flag, he said.
Before hiring a new manager, conduct a background check and speak to the references provided by the job candidate.