One of the most important hires you will ever make is your medical secretary. 

Jane Braithwaite gives some excellent advice and tips on working in partnership.

Your medical secretary should ideally be viewed as your business partner. But in a world where your patient is your highest priority and things generally move at lightning speed, it’s truly difficult to find the time to cultivate your relationship with them.

Many independent practitioners today work from numerous locations and are bombarded with information and technology. However, many overlook their most valuable asset, namely their medical secretary.

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Medical Secretary – They can make your business soar

Your medical secretary may well be in contact with your patients more regularly than you are. They are an ambassador for your practice and represent you always. Your patients’ opinion of your practice will depend greatly on your care, but also on the service that your team provides.

The role of a modern medical secretary is a specialist one, but primarily it is about customer service. Your patients will need support to book appointments, arrange prescriptions and follow on treatment. They also need assistance dealing with insurance companies and other billing matters.

Crucial role

For any doctor looking to grow their practice, the capabilities of their medical secretary play a crucial role. The initial patient call or email will be handled by your medical secretary.

They will provide information on your behalf and may well play a role in overcoming objections such as your diary availability and the cost of treatment.

The modern medical secretary has a key role to play in developing your practice and will support you in doing so. It is important to recognise that there is an element of business development involved, and that is a complex area where you will need to work very closely together.

If you accept all this to be true, your next question will naturally be: how do I maximise the relationship and build this important partnership?

[plsc_pullquote align=”right”]Mutually beneficial relationships, be they personal or professional, have communication and open dialogue at their very heart. Taking the time to have meaningful and purposeful interactions is key.[/plsc_pullquote]

This doesn’t necessarily mean you must discuss personal issues, but rather that you need to make your dialogue beneficial.

‘What do you need from me to (insert your task)?’ is a great way to start the flow of information. Listen to your medical secretary’s requests and respond accordingly.

Never presume

Never presume that your medical secretary automatically knows how you like things to be done, so be sure to take the guesswork out of it. If you don’t like being bombarded with emails, ask for one which rounds up outstanding points/tasks.

If you don’t like emails at all, be sure to schedule regular time with your medical secretary for a meeting or call to run through your tasks and avoid changing or moving this time.

[plsc_pullquote align=”left”]Provide clear feedback, so that your secretary knows how to improve in all respects, including how they communicate with you.[/plsc_pullquote]

Asking your medical secretary how they like to do things will also help you get a broader understanding of how your working practices affect them. Likes and dislikes are what fundamentally help us to connect with each other.

Most medical secretaries are in this field because they care about patients, are highly skilled organisers and can tackle any task or requests in the most efficient way.

It’s quite a leap of faith to trust someone to have such responsibility for your practice, but empowering your secretary to make key decisions within agreed boundaries will enable your secretary to be most effective.

Clear priorities

Being clear in your priorities will enable your medical secretary to deliver the results you need. Share your objectives with them so that you can both work towards achieving them.

If you want to increase the number of private clinics you hold each week, ensure your secretary knows this.

If you promise your patients to provide their results within a certain time, ensure you both agree this is realistic and that your secretary shares a commitment to achieve this.

There will be mistakes. It is crucial to handle these with care and respect. Your medical secretary may make a mistake from time to time; for example, forgetting to follow up on something. But so will you.

How you handle this will set the scene for how you both evolve and learn to ensure continuous improvement. None of us are perfect and we all make mistakes, so be accountable for your errors, which will show your medical secretary that he/she can be open and honest too.

[plsc_pullquote align=”right”]Creating an environment of mutual respect will be unendingly beneficial overall. A good medical secretary will offer a solution to any problem and will work with you to ensure a positive resolution.[/plsc_pullquote]

There will be problems that are outside the control of your medical secretary – for example, a colleague cancels a theatre list, for good reason, of course, but this leaves you stranded at short notice.

It is your medical secretary who breaks the news to you. Be careful not to shoot the messenger and alienate the one person who can help you find a way out of the chaos.

If you make this mistake in the heat of the moment, be sure to apologise. Without such contrition, this can lead to your secretary withholding information to avoid getting shot next time.

Personal tasks

The biggest cause of disagreement is often asking your medical sectary to perform tasks that they perceive to be outside their job description.

This may vary depending on the background of your secretary and the culture they are used to working in, but one obvious example is personal tasks.

If you expect your secretary to do personal tasks for you, then please make sure this is clear from day one. It would help to explain that their support with these mundane tasks enables you to be a more effective doctor and is therefore invaluable.

Your medical secretary may feel that there is not time to take on these responsibilities and, in that case, consider engaging the support of a flexible private PA to assist you.

And finally, show appreciation. Your medical secretary is both highly qualified and committed to their role and does not expect you to show sincere thanks for every task performed.

But when your secretary goes above and beyond the call of duty for you, your appreciation will go a long way. I am not suggesting you make a grand gesture of flowers and champagne – although this may be appropriate in some circumstances – but taking the time to say ‘thank you’ for a specific piece of work done well is very powerful.

Working as a partnership will ensure your patients receive the best experience possible from your practice, will generate loyalty from your medical secretary and will ensure you have an enjoyable day-to-day experience in your private practice.

Top ten tips

Communication is key and it’s a two-way process.

Listen carefully to feedback regarding your patients to help you develop your practice. Your secretary talks to your patients more often than you do.
Be responsive. Remember that your secretary is making requests of you to enable him/her to respond to your patients.

Share your objectives and agree how you can achieve them together.

Discuss and agree how to work together. Don’t assume it’s obvious.

Trust your secretary to make decisions on your behalf – within agreed boundaries, of course.

Be accountable for your mistakes and create a culture of trust enabling your secretary to be open and honest.
Don’t shoot the messenger. If you do make this mistake, be sure to apologise.

Discuss and agree boundaries and jointly develop solutions.

Show appreciation: say ‘thank you’ when it is appropriate.

Jane Braithwaite is Managing Director at Designated Medical and regularly contributes to the Independent Practitioner Today publication.

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