Could Remote Employees Enhance Productivity at Your Practice?

In today’s connected business environment, many industry sectors – media, IT and finance, just to name a few – have embraced the use of remote, “telecommuter” employees to grow their workforce.

Healthcare, however, has been a bit behind on this trend. Since so much of medical care involves direct patient-practice interaction, the industry hasn’t always been a natural fit for the adoption of remote employees.

But as healthcare grows more technologically adapted, telecommuting is gaining steam. Just as the proliferation of telemedicine is enabling doctors to treat patients from remote locations, advanced practice management and billing technology is allowing offices to use offsite employees in administrative roles.

Like so many other medical practice decisions, the use of remote employees is fraught with its own set of pros and cons. Read on to learn if telecommuters could be right for your business’ needs.

Positives in Satisfaction, Productivity, Costs
Keeping your staffers satisfied with their overall experience working for your practice should be a major priority. One way to do that, it seems, is to let them work remotely.

The Wall Street Journal reported survey results that found that workers who telecommute report the highest levels of satisfaction with their jobs and loyalty to their employers. In a poll of about 10,000 U.S. workers, 73% of remote workers said they were satisfied with their company as a place to work, compared to 64% of office workers.

So, sure it makes employees happy to work from home or elsewhere. But how does it directly benefit your business?

Telecommuters consistently report high levels of productivity. In findings reported in Officing Today, 36 percent of 2,500 remote workers surveyed said they were more productive on a normal day than they were at the worksite. 88 percent reported being at least as productive.

In addition to enhanced employee output, you may find that allowing telecommuting saves you money in overhead costs related to utilities, workspace and perhaps even salaries: many employees are so grateful for the enhanced flexibility telecommuting provides that they’re willing to accept a slightly lower pay grade than they would for in-office work.

So, What Are the Negatives?
There are fewer statistics on the downsides of telecommuting, but certain weaknesses of the “telework” model are undeniable.

For one thing, in the medical practice environment, some of the positions telecommuting lends itself to –namely, medical billing, coding and data entry – cannot be executed remotely unless you’re using an advanced, secure, web-based IT solution.

“If you hire a coder or someone who scrubs and processes charges for submission to a managed-care provider, telecommuting is only an option if your billing system is completely electronic,” says Amy Galloway, director at law firm Tripp Scott in Ft. Lauderdale, Fla., and chair of its medical practice. “And you must have secure systems for the transmission of that billing information, which could contain protected health information under HIPAA.”

The security risks involved with working remotely mean that managers must have an immense amount of trust in the employees on whom they bestow telecommuting privileges. You never know who could be looking over their shoulders at patient data.

Not to mention the fact that, simply put, toiling away outside the normal work environment doesn’t work well for everyone. Some employees working from home or remote locations find they feel isolated away from the camaraderie, teamwork and discussion at the job site, or that they’re easily distracted by pets, chores, family obligations or other diversions.

Take a Cautious Approach to Telecommuting
If you have the technological and departmental infrastructures in place to support remote employees, the only way to learn if they’re a good fit for your practice long-term is to give telework a shot.

Experts recommend easing into a telecommuting transition. If a trusted, long-term, high-productivity employee wants to start working from home, test it out over a temporary period – say, three months – and begin by letting him or her work one or two days away from the office each week.

Delineate clear guidelines on how much you expect to be accomplished in a given timeframe (say, per day or week), what hours you expect the employee to be available for communication, how much you want him or her to check in with you, and how you’ll monitor performance.

Oversee the adjustments in your office closely, keep an eye on your productivity reports, and assess for yourself whether remote work is right for your practice.

Do any of your employees work remotely? How has it affected your practice’s processes?