Providing Top Care in a Time of Staffing Shortages

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By Davis Capaccioli

 New technologies allow for quick technician onboarding as well as consistent results and patient satisfaction despite increased staff turnover

Healthcare providers are being hit by nationwide staffing shortages, and eyecare specialists are no exception. Some staff have burned out after difficult pandemic years and are taking time off or retiring early. Some want a job that allows them to work from home or are being lured away by escalating offers in other fields. In this very mobile environment, it is difficult to retain staff.

I work in a multi-doctor practice in Farmington, NM, where we have several technicians and face these common issues in hiring and retention. I also recently started a solo practice in Durango, CO. At this developing practice, where I work with one technician, I face similar challenges.

In order to combat the shortage, I turn to 2 classic solutions to attract and retain good employees. One is to pay more than I had planned and offer benefits such as medical insurance. The other is to invest more time in acquiring staff. Both solutions put a strain on any practice and especially a new practice.

Harnessing New Developments
Fortunately, I have found that new technologies can help ease the burden of the staffing shortage. They can improve the quality of patient care, make technicians more efficient, and also make a workplace more attractive.

Employees want to work in a healthcare setting where they feel they are making a difference, and new technology can create this kind of environment. Not only do the technicians like working with the technology, but patients also get excited about it, and this further boosts technician satisfaction.

One of the new technologies I use in my solo practice is the Heru Platform. My patients can put on an augmented reality/virtual reality headset and sit comfortably in any room to take a visual field test. The platform can conduct suprathreshold, full threshold, and fast pattern suprathreshold exams, which vary in length between 40 seconds and 5 minutes, depending on the test selected.

The platform has a virtual guide that leads the patient through the test and ensures that the patient’s fixation is always appropriate. This greatly reduces technician involvement in the process and makes it extremely easy to train staff to administer the tests. After taking the test once or twice themselves, then performing it on me, staff members have been ready to use the device on patients.

While the virtual guide takes the patient through the test, technicians can be completing other office tasks such as updating medical records. Technicians also save time by not having to move a patient in and out of a dark room, since the platform comes with a light shield and creates its own dark environment. Time-saving elements add up and ultimately allow me to have 1 technician rather than 2, a big advantage for anyone who might be struggling with staff retention.

Like many other advanced diagnostic technologies, the Heru platform is multimodal, offering not only visual field testing, but contrast sensitivity testing, color vision screening (both Ishihara and Farnsworth D-15 extended color vision test), and dark adaptation testing. I do not utilize these tests as much as the visual field, but it is nice to have the option when the need arises.

I also use the Keratograph 5M (OCULUS) which is a high-definition camera made specifically for dry eye. The device allows me to set up a workflow that my technician can run through very intuitively. There are 4 different images taken per eye, and the platform prompts the technician as to which photo to take next. It also provides an example of a good quality photo as well as text that can be used to give the patient instructions during each photo in order to get the best possible image.

We do a lot of in-office dry eye treatments, and the images the Keratograph provides allow me to better educate my staff on why I am recommending certain treatments and not others, based on the needs of the patients. We can also share these images directly with our patients to increase their understanding of their condition. I think this higher level of education is appreciated by both patients and technicians. I believe that when my staff is better educated, they can more confidently answer patient questions when they arise without having to always refer to me. The staff also feels more involved in patient care, leading to better employee engagement and job satisfaction.

Embracing advancements
Technology is always progressing, and these developments are moving faster and faster. In healthcare, we can get behind and do things the way they have always been done, but by embracing new technology, we can enhance our practices both from a data gathering standpoint and a patient experience standpoint. Streamlining our practices with these new tools will help us to provide top care with fewer technician hours, produce consistent results, and make our clinics more attractive places to work.

Davis Capaccioli, OD is the founder of Peak Eyecare in Durango, CO (www.peakdurango.com). He is also an associate at Eye Associates of New Mexico, in Farmington, NM.