Why your practice needs a policy manual

Just as the IRS has its tax code handbook to cover every imaginable tax issue, so every office needs a policies and procedures manual for employees to follow.

Why? So that rules are enforced evenly, patients and employees are treated fairly, and liability and exposure are limited.

Here are five good reasons to recommend an office manual:

1. Compliance with governmental regulations – As you know, your practice must comply with an entire alphabet of regulatory agencies: HIPAA, OSHA, CMS, to name a few. If every staff member knows – or knows where to find – the information on how to deal with these issues, the office’s liability is decreased.

When does a staff member need to relay private patient information? What should your office do with old personnel records? What procedures are in place for spilled body fluids?

If procedures are in place to deal with potential issues, managers spend less time putting out fires and explaining to regulatory agencies why problems happened. Don’t rely on word of mouth among the staff.

2. Routine actions – List expected duties for each member of your staff. At times, staff members will swap duties, but knowing who routinely does what allows each employee to develop responsibility and know what is expected.

A list of job descriptions also helps when it’s time for employee evaluations.

Write down all the nitpicky details of office life. Can’t remember if you took Memorial Day off as a holiday last year? Write holidays down in your manual. Consistency is important.

3. Disciplinary actions – No one should be fired unfairly, but neither should you feel compelled to keep an employee who doesn’t deserve the position.

Set your rules and enforce them equally and fairly. Know when and how to warn employees that their jobs are in jeopardy.

Are you required to give three notices? Document them. Date and document everything. You don’t want to be in the position of hanging onto employees who bear a grudge or who say, “He never told me that coming in an hour late every day was a problem.”

Have a qualified professional review your procedures to make sure they conform to legal standards.

4. Answer source – Know the answers to your patients’ questions before they ask.

Do you handle Blue Cross insurance? How soon can a client expect a refund? How much does such-and-such cost?

Discover which questions are asked over and over again, and write down the answers you prefer staff members to give, especially for telephone responses. Knowing the right way to phrase something can often defuse a potentially explosive situation.

5. Orientation – Whether or not you have high staff turnover, require every new employee to read the manual.

New employees will have an easier time adapting to your office practices if they know that Fridays are casual, that paydays are every other week, and that you expect them to be on time. You might decrease turnover too, if people know what to expect.

Be prepared to update your manual continually. Nothing stays the same – not even the tax code.