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Hiring new staff? Think carefully, then think again
Customer service is a must
With most hospitals looking more closely than ever at their bottom lines, the last thing that patient access needs is high turnover. Not everyone is cut out for the access department, however. It's a lot easier to hire correctly than to try to work with - or in extreme cases, fire - a person who's not right for the job.
"People skills are a must, but nowadays staff also need skills in critical thinking, insurance, and financial counseling," says Connie Campbell, director of patient access at Mercy Medical Center in Oshkosh, WI. "The person must thrive on change and be able to adapt daily to new scenarios. He or she must be able to calm customers, and get to the bottom of why they are here right away."
In addition to covering the routine matters of education and work-related experience, Campbell says that she always asks potential hires these interview questions:
What was your favorite board game to play as a kid?" "Registration really needs someone who likes to pay attention to detail. Thus, you think differently when someone chooses Candy Land vs. Monopoly," says Campbell.
What kind of student were you in high school and what was your favorite subject? "Someone who loved science will love the ER setting," notes Campbell.
If you had a patient sitting in front of you, an overflowing sink behind you, and a fire in the wastebasket to the left, what would you do first? "This one tells me if they can think on their feet. It is important they know what to do first," says Campbell. "Patient safety is always first. That is something that can't be taught. It needs to be known. Some of the answers you get are amazing."
If you had a patient state their chest feels tight while you are asking them their home address, what would you do? Or, if a mother less than 18 years old with a newborn comes in with new insurance, what are some options she might have? "These answers can be taught, but the question gives me a sense of what they do know already," says Campbell.
Where do you see yourself in five years? Two years? Next year? "This really helps you to know how long they will stay. It also lets me know if this is a career for them," says Campbell.
Ask for examples
Katie M. Davis, director of patient financial services/patient access/pre-service at Carolinas Health Care in Charlotte, NC, says that she uses "behavioral interview questions" so candidates will give examples of how they have handled issues in the past. Candidates are asked to "tell me about a time you were working under pressure and how you handled that."
"This is one good indicator of how they would react if a similar situation occurred at your facility," says Davis. The hospital's corporate patient access department uses testing as a way to verify skills of candidates. In addition to showing proficiency with Windows, Word, and Excel, an individual also demonstrates customer service skills. As part of this assessment, the candidate responds to a recorded call. "These skills tests give us perspective as to the candidate's critical thinking skills, listening skills, and their ability to understand the customer's needs," says Davis.
A common pitfall is to be misled by a candidate's "hype." "To keep that from happening, we do panel interviews that include a cross-section of different staff," says Davis. During the interview, each participant scores the candidate on a scale of one to five. At the end of all the interviews, the scores are tallied and the two or three highest-scoring candidates come back for a second interview with a different panel.
"Interviewers who make up their minds based on feelings, instead of utilizing the test scores and interview questions to determine who is hired, will often make a hiring mistake," says Davis.
Carole Helmandollar, executive director of ambulatory services at Children's National Medical Center in Washington, DC, says that she looks for people who show initiative.
One way she does this is to ask a question such as, "What is the worst thing that has ever happened to you?" "I then ask questions to get at how they handled it and what role they played in the events leading up to it," Helmandollar says. "I got this idea from a seminar I went to a few years ago and shared it with some of my peers who also use it as a screening tool. We want to hire people with positive attitudes for the front line."
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