4 Guidelines in Writing Effective SOPs
Updated: Apr 17
Recently, we held a team meeting in a client’s office. Part of the meeting was about creating consistent standards in the office. Somehow the topic veered toward to OSHA standards and the appropriate methods for ‘flipping’ a room. It turned into a full-blown demonstration of how to sterilize a room and then how to set it up for particular procedures. The conversation was eye-opening as I continued to hear “Oh that’s how you do that.” Or “Why do you wipe down in that area?” “Because Dr. Molar often will grab for something over there.”
I walked away from that meeting thinking that I couldn’t have set up a better agenda than what just occurred, although I will keep that idea for other practices. This office goes to OSHA training every year and they all know the regulations and is required, however, customizing all those regulations for their office to create consistency is a step that, until now, had been missed.
As the team reviewed their methods for completing each step, they would discuss and finally decide which way they would all do it in the future. Sometimes, all eyes would turn toward the doctor for guidance, then a new decision was made. Notes were furiously taken so that at the end, several clinical protocols were created, written and available in the event there was a question in the future.
At GTS, we constantly preach the need to have written protocols, processes, SOPs… whatever you want to call them. These are the steps by which everyone in the office completes tasks. It’s so important to know that everyone is doing things not only the right way but also the same way. As the previous demonstration proved, just telling someone to wipe down the room isn’t enough. You will want to give specific directions such as: you need to be sure to wipe in this area because the doctor will often grab the light this way, or this is where she sometimes grabs the tray to move it closer. These written SOPs will be a huge benefit for the new employee to understand how the office prefers things to be completed.
Anytime I begin talking about written protocols, I immediately get eye-rolls, although some people are polite enough to do it internally. Thoughts of employees working for hours on endless process lists are seen through the glazed eyes and heavy sigh. I have received a thank you once or twice for ‘forcing’ an office to undertake this task and I guess the biggest expressed gratitude was from an office that had an audit from Aetna, when it was requested to see the office’s protocol book. ☺
It doesn’t have to be a long drawn out project that takes the team away from productive scheduling, effective collection systems or excellent patient care. In fact, it’s quite the opposite. This is the time to put a microscope on how things get completed, meaning it can be done while it’s being done. Think about the example from the meeting at the beginning of this article – as people worked, notes were taken and voila’ a written protocol was completed.
Writing out the protocols, processes or SOPs can be completed by keeping in mind these 4 important guidelines:
Walk through the process as though you were doing it. It’s even better if you write it out AS you do it. This will assist you to remember every single step rather than going off memory.
As you are writing out the step include all the pertinent information without including the confidential information: To verify insurance for Metlife patient – go to Metdental.com > fill-in the user name and password > Select the box for eligibility > put in the patient’s subscriber ID (often their SSN)
It is often natural to think that all team members will be in their position for life, however, life changes and so do team members. It is for this reason that you will want to refer to the position not the person. A proper handoff – The clinical team member will escort the patient to the check out desk………….
It is important to be specific with explanations of how, what, where, who without going over board. Less is more. Find that fine line of being specific without being too wordy.
Written protocols only have value if they are kept relevant and up to date. Which means that every time a system changes, so must you processes book. It’s not a hard thing to do; it merely takes a concerted effort. In our fast-paced world, we often make changes without letting the entire team aware of the change. By keeping your book up-dated, you will keep your team up-dated. The initial example of a team meeting is the perfect way to build your protocol book – walk through anything: treatment planning, sterilization, following up on insurance claims, any and everything that the office does on a daily basis.
If you find you need help with this ever-important project, let me know. I’d love to get you started. You can contact me at: Denise@GTSgurus.com.