Same-Day Surgery Manager

Cell phones, rude staff, other problems addressed

By Stephen W. Earnhart, MS
Earnhart & Associates
Austin, TX

Question: What is a good policy on cell phones in the operating room environment? We have phones going off all over the place in here. I find it very distracting!

Answer: I agree with you. The best policy is that cell phones stay off during working hours but can be used during breaks and meals. Cell phones have caused a whole new set of company policies. Our own office staff are not allowed to use them during business hours, and they must be turned off. Make sure staff members are allowed to receive emergency calls via your facility, however, as that is a big issue with parents.

Question: We have a computer in the lounge for the surgeons to use during breaks. It’s some marketing thing we started last year, but they only use it to play Solitaire. What a waste of money.

Answer: First, have you ever played solitaire? Very addictive. Second, they are harmlessly playing a game, they are not hassling you, and they are not asking for anything. What’s the problem?

Question: We have had numerous complaints about our receptionists from patients, who claim they are rude, insensitive, and uncaring. Several of our doctors have complaints about them as well. They have worked together for more than 10 years, and with the exception of their customer services skills, we have been very pleased. Any ideas?

Answer: First, check with your HR department for guidance to make sure you are compliant with your internal polices. After that, understand what makes departments like your successful: patients! Managers must be committed to the quality of the patient experience. Next, let them know your competition is hiring.

Question: Our department has 78 FTEs and every winter (our busiest season due to the snowbirds coming down from the North), we have a problem with being short-staffed because of all the staff vacations. The person in the position before me several years ago would not let staff take vacations during the summer at all, but she eventually got fired because of staff revolt. I don’t want to get into that situation myself, but I now see why she had to do it. Your thoughts?

Answer: Consider offering an incentive to staff who delay their vacations until the slow months. You might consider offering them a 2-for-1 deal. Give them two weeks of vacation time for each week they take during off-peak periods. Next, consider allowing staff to receive vacation pay with current pay if they work through their vacation time during peak season. Another idea for a morale booster is to offer Fridays or Mondays off so staff can take a long weekend during the busy season. The needs of the department come before the needs of staff, but there is a human factor. Vacations may be more important to staff with young children, so maybe you can get them to barter time with staff who have more flexible schedules.

(Editor’s note: Contact Earnhart at 3112 Windsor Road, Suite A-242, Austin, TX 78703. E-mail: Web: