A Conversation With Airto Zamorano, Chief Operating Officer, Becker Ear, Nose and Throat Center

By Tobi Elkin

Airto Zamorano is the chief operating officer of Becker Ear, Nose and Throat Center, a multi-specialty, eight-office medical practice with seven physicians based in Voorhees, New Jersey. He previously worked as a consultant for ENT groups and audiology practices, in private practices, hospitals, and university settings. Here, Zamorano discusses the importance of building a strong team and empowering staff to partake in the continual growth of the practice. When staff have the ability to share input, significant decisions like bringing marketing function in-house become easier to make.

Continuum: How do you see your role?

Airto Zamorano: I see my role as a business leader who oversees all aspects of the business to ensure that the doctors are properly supported and patient care is high quality.

Continuum: As a business leader, how do you help the practice generate revenue?

Airto Zamorano: The key to generating revenue is to increase the number of patients coming to your practice. It’s also about providing appropriate and good care. We hired a marketing coordinator, a website and digital media manager, a person who serves as a physician liaison, and someone for content support. Assembling our current team was a long process but well worth the time. Our turnover is substantially lower than it’s ever been, which leads to the benefits of better overall care for patients and lower rates for unemployment insurance.

We have a lot of faith in our training process and systems, and we’re passionate about coaching and developing our team. It enables us to trust our people more, which frees up more time to work on bigger things within the practice.

Continuum: What does your training program look like?

Airto Zamorano: Take, for example, the front desk function. New hires, regardless of the role they are hired for, spend a week or longer in the phone bank to get a sense of how we communicate with patients and learn the electronic medical record (EMR) system, along with other software and systems. During the onboarding process, we have a checklist with all the skills a new hire needs to know before they can move onto the next training function. Once managers sign off on the document that says the person is completely trained, they move on to the next step. It’s about a 90-day period during which new hires are micromanaged. That’s about the time that we can determine whether we made the right choice or not.

After the phone bank, a new hire moves on to the office location where their manager works. Then they shadow another role. They also have to sign off on themselves to ensure that they feel confident about the training. Our front desk people perform many different functions, including checking patients in and out and cleaning and setting up exam rooms. They cover all roles and learn all aspects of the organization.

To hire the right person for your team, you need to find someone who really buys into the vision and the mission statement of the practice. If they are going to represent our providers, they must share our values and be able to communicate them to others. From there, we have a lot of faith in our training process and systems.

Continuum: How do you recruit employees, and what do you look for?

“The practice is only as good as the team supporting it. That’s why it’s important to invest in staff training, development, and recruiting.”

Airto Zamorano: We get a lot of referrals from employees and use Craigslist and Indeed. We look for people with customer service and medical backgrounds. And if they don’t have the medical background, it’s great if they have the customer service. Our team has a real mix of backgrounds.

The practice is only as good as the team supporting it. That’s why it’s important to invest in staff training, development, and recruiting. Having a properly trained staff is really important. I took an assessment when I got here to understand every role in the practice. I compared those roles to other practices. I decided to hire for kind and happy people — I can’t teach that, but I can hire for it. We listen to our employees and act on their insights quickly.

Continuum: How do you approach marketing the practice?

Airto Zamorano: You want the practice to be seen as a medical authority and to demonstrate to the community that you’re an institution people can trust. You’re trying to educate patients as to why they would come and see you, but you don’t want communications to feel “salesy”.

Our marketing includes educational content about hearing aid consultation, snoring, and other topics. Often patients come in for one thing but come out with other issues — and they really don’t know what ENTs are. They don’t know any more than what their primary care physicians tell them.

We also make sure that patients have physician liaisons who represent our practice to referring physicians’ offices. Our goal is to foster good relationships with these offices, to be available, to make sure the physicians know what we can do, and to enable follow-up. We focus on patient education and how we can help referring physicians take care of their patients.

“You want the practice to be seen as a medical authority and to demonstrate to the community that you’re an institution people can trust.”

Continuum: How are the physician liaisons and other staff managed?

Airto Zamorano: We believe smaller teams led by empowered managers lead to better results and happier employees . Each practice location has an office coordinator who serves as a team lead and works alongside medical receptionists to directly support our providers. The office coordinators report to our senior manager who oversees all clinical support staff, and that person reports directly to me.

Continuum: Do you have prior marketing experience?

Airto Zamorano: I’m fortunate to have marketing experience from previous roles, including medical marketing. As a consultant for ENT, I had access to a design team, including web and digital marketing. I learned a great deal about marketing a medical practice.

It is very important that our website appears on other websites like Vitals.com and HealthGrades.com, plus social media. We’ve done SEO (search engine optimization advertising, which has been measurably successful. Since we brought SEO in-house in the fall of 2016, one of our physicians had the best month she’s ever had in January 2017. We’ve also seen a noticeable uptick in web traffic.

Continuum: What are some best practices for other practice administrators?

Airto Zamorano: Bringing all marketing and SEO in-house has proven successful for us. Unless you’re going to be manic about managing your agency vendors, and they can teach you what they’re doing, bring marketing in-house. It took a lot of time, but it was worth it. Learn how to manage your web team and make sure you get the right people.

We also look for how we can improve our processes. For example, we had a disconnect about who was responsible for our phone bank. We dissected a day in the life of a phone bank person and then built a training protocol so that everyone who joins the company learns about the function and the software that supports it. Related to that, we have made our auto attendant more efficient in order to reduce hold times and handle higher call volumes. We have three live people answering phones for all of our office locations.

Because the patient experience is so important to us, we consider our phone bank an extension of our marketing function. This is frequently the first point of entry for patients. We tell people we’re nice, come see us. We have to make sure we deliver.

I think you need to establish key performance indicators for all aspects of the business in order to understand all aspects. I’m training people in how to collect data and report it in a uniform way. You need to trust that the data was captured correctly.

Training everyone in the company on multiple pieces of software is also important. We make it simple. For example, we shifted to using Google Apps and eliminated Microsoft Suite. We have shortcuts set up via Google Chrome on all computers. We have streamlined music, TV, and all folders.

We are always looking to make improvements in our processes and procedures. That extends to staff recruitment, training, and professional development, as well as the overall patient experience. I feel the entire team has a responsibility to manage the patient experience.

Tobi Elkin is a veteran content creator and consultant who enjoys crafting compelling narratives for diverse audiences. Based in New York City, her writing has appeared in newspapers, magazines, and on websites including Advertising Age, AOL, the Associated Press, CMO.com, Narratively, Robb Report, The Huffington Post, and many others. She has consulted on thought leadership, marketing, and content strategy for technology firms, consumer brands, and non-profit organizations.