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  • Integrating Virtual Assistants Within Your Practice

    This article is accessible to non-AAOE® members until July 31. Beginning August 1, AAOE membership will be required for access.

    Optimizing efficiency in the clinic is a central model for ophthalmology practices.

    Although staffing shortages pose a challenge to maximizing practice efficiency, automating routine administrative tasks for virtual assistants can help. When properly trained, medical virtual assistants can serve as receptionists, scribes, and even technicians.

    My practice currently uses six virtual staff located out of state and internationally: one medical receptionist, three scribes, one technician, and one executive assistant. Using virtual assistants effectively in the practice allows the in-person team to focus on patient care and frees up valuable physician time.

    Unfortunately, practice owners often attempt to use virtual staff without properly onboarding them, and the results are disappointing. This leads physicians to mistakenly believe that virtual assistants cannot be used in the ophthalmology clinic. Check out these four strategies to effectively implement a virtual assistant in your clinic.

    1. Identify the need and scope of services. Clearly defining the tasks to be delegated is crucial prior to hiring a virtual assistant. Ask your current staff to conduct a time audit with the number of hours spent on tasks and their importance (You should do it too!). Emphasize that a virtual assistant is not a replacement, but instead a supplement so that their workload and burnout can be decreased.

      Many of daily tasks do not require someone in office handling them, such as managing appointments, prior authorizations, prescription refills, and even letters to referring providers. Offloading these back-office tasks allows your staff and you to concentrate more on the patients in your office. Identifying the type of tasks you wish to outsource allows you to better choose a virtual assistant with the skill set necessary for the job.

    2. Hire slow. Just like any in-person employee, the old adage still applies. The same amount of care should be taken as hiring an in-person employee. Conduct Zoom interviews to assess proficiency in English and communication skills. Ensure your applicant has completed Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) certification and is proficient with technology. Although they may not have experience working with your current electronic health record or practice management software, assess their ability to work on their own without direct supervision.

    3. Create an onboarding process. Creating a documented onboarding process is even more important for virtual employees than in person staff since they cannot rely on co-workers to show them how to do something. Processes and systems should be thorough and detailed. A good rule of thumb is to ask yourself if someone off the street, with no knowledge of ophthalmology, could complete the intended task based on your standard operating procedure. If so, then your protocol will enable your virtual assistant to succeed.

    4. Check-ins. Make sure you’re checking in daily, weekly, and/or monthly with your virtual team. Be specific about deadlines and projects that need to be completed and that communication is clear and consistent. Include your virtual team in all staff meetings to create buy-in and a relationship with the other team members. Incorporate them into the organizational chart for your practice so they understand their role and whom they should report to with concerns. If your virtual assistant is falling short of expectations, consistent check-ins will allow you to assess if the cause is inadequate training or capability, before making decisions. Regular assessments and check-ins can ensure that your virtual assistant meets the practice’s needs.

    About the Author

    Rupa-Wong-smallRupa Wong, MD, is a board-certified ophthalmologist and managing partner of Honolulu Eye Clinic, which she has co-owned with her husband for about 15 years. Dr. Wong is a participant in the Academy’s Leadership Development Program (LDP) XXV, Class of 2024. As a mother of three, she is adamant about instituting efficient workflows to increase practice efficiency and better work-life balance. She can be reached on LinkedIn, Instagram, YouTube, and TikTok at @drrupawong and email at