Friday, September 27, 2013

Employee Appearance and Dress Code in the Medical Practice: A Touchy Topic

staff appearance in the medical practice
Practice management guru Jeff Denning takes a straightforward approach to the challenging and controversial subject of employee appearance. The idea of “business casual” seems to have gone to extremes even among some Fortune 500 companies. Consequently, some medical office staff members want to push back the boundaries of what you might consider "professional appearance." But you can’t really afford to ignore the issue in your practice—everyone knows how staff appearance influences the way patients and referrers view your practice. First impressions are still lasting impressions, and they’re critical to establishing a good physician-patient relationship. Denning’s article helps you think about what’s appropriate for your practice image and provides advice for enforcing a reasonable dress code.

Although developing and enforcing a dress code  comes under the general topic of “human resources management,” the fact of the matter is that it’s an internal marketing issue. It’s an important part of providing your patients with a comfortable, convenient environment in which they can find reassurance that they’ve chosen the right place to receive their healthcare. But in an era of self-expression and widely varying personal tastes, physicians and their managers find themselves doing battle with staffers who have individual definitions of “professional appearance.” But there’s no need to run away
from the issue; you can define an appropriate dress code and enforce it in a positive environment if you follow these principles:
  • Determine what’s appropriate. Capitalize on the wide range of professional appearance recognized in today’s business world. Ask yourself what image you want to project to the community. A successful plastic surgery practice with an exclusive clientele may express its professionalism with a more tailored look. But an orthopaedic group with an emphasis on sports medicine may decide to dress the staff in polo shirts, khakis, and athletic shoes. Pediatric patients and their families expect something different than those who frequent a geriatric practice. To start out on the right foot with your staff members, bring them in on the discussions about the image your practice wants to project. Discuss why it’s important to patients and referral sources; ask for their ideas and input, but don’t try putting it to a vote. It’s a business, not a democracy.
  • Fine-tune your practice “look.” Remember that not everyone looks good in the exact same style, color, and cut. Go for a uniform look that allows enough variation to help staffers feel comfortable while compliant. Determine how narrowly you will define the dress code. In some ways, a true “uniform” is easiest to enforce.
  • Enforce your policy. Start with a written policy that clearly outlines your dress code. Make it unambiguous and as detailed as necessary: Don’t neglect issues such as skirt-hem length, blouse necklines, and other questionably appropriate issues like visible tattoos or piercings. Providing an actual uniform may prove a worthwhile investment just to reduce the hassles that accompany individual interpretations of even the most clearly written guidelines. When a staffer shows up inappropriately dressed, consider it a challenge to authority. It’s a test of wills, and you dare not ignore it. A “minor” infraction may require a simple comment from you to remind the staffer that you’re serious. A more serious violation requires at least a warning that the next time it happens, you will send the noncompliant worker home. It takes only one or two such incidents to convince your staff that you mean it.
Finally, as you consider the appearance of your support staff, take a long reflective look (a mirror will help) at your own outward image. Do you convey a picture of what patients expect to see in a professional? Will they take one look at you and say, “I’ve come to the right doctor.”?


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