Knock Knock, Who’s There? It’s Your Virtual Assistant!

Virtual employees can help enhance patients’ experience, improve in-house employees’ satisfaction, and allow you to get more work done and see more patients.
virtual assistant
Photo Credit: Dragoscondrea, Dreamstime

As a private practice optometrist, there’s always work to do and I have my hands in a lot of different pots. One of the biggest challenges in any business is human resources, and the idea of integrating a virtual assistant was something that was intriguing to me. I wondered what it would be like and if it would ease the burden of staffing in the office and also allow our business to become more efficient. I never really made the leap until I was introduced to Teem ( by a fellow optometrist. 

The culture in our practice has always been to be adaptable and open to new ideas, even if they’re not recognized or industry norms. When I heard what was possible with virtual employees, and someone I knew was doing it and having success with it, it was an easy decision to give it a try. Generally, if we see a potential benefit that can better our patient experience and make our business more efficient and more patient focused, we’re all for it! 

Hiring a dedicated virtual assistant has been very successful for us. It’s greatly reduced the stress of directly managing people face-to-face, while still having someone accountable to the practice philosophy and values. It was a bit of a leap of faith, but it’s proved to be worth it for all of us at the practice.  

What Does a Virtual Assistant Do?
Our virtual team member, Scarleth, is a full-time employee and is dedicated solely to our practice. She joined our team in August 2023 and has made a huge difference in what we’re able to accomplish. She lives in Nicaragua and operates during our practice hours. 

Technically, she is employed by Teem, but she is really part of our team. If we have any HR concerns or need advice, we contact Teem. However, I don’t differentiate between our in-office employees and Scarleth — she gets the same hours, bonus, holidays, time off, etc. She’s even virtually present and participates in our weekly team meetings! Since virtual assistants are employed by Teem, they are responsible for paying them, and then business owners pay Teem for ongoing service. Hiring a virtual assistant is an excellent option for practitioners to consider.

Scarleth does a number of tasks in our office — she answers phone calls, does recall, schedules patients, sends forms, liaises with the billing service, and does tasks the doctors need (such as referrals, letters, etc.). While she currently has full-time responsibilities, in any period of down-time we offer her more training and encourage self-learning. Patient recall is one of her most important tasks because it can be challenging for patient-facing staff in the practice to do it. Now, because of Scarleth, we’re seeing more patients because those older patients are consistently being recalled. 

In any practice, so many things are happening at the same time — the phones are always ringing, patients are walking in, and someone somewhere needs help. There are certain tasks that a virtual assistant can handle that takes away some of the pressure from staff in the office.

Adding a Virtual Team Member
When it came time to hire a virtual team member, the process was pretty seamless. Teem has a great setup that makes it easy for the practitioner. They sent several high-quality candidate resumes for us to review and request interviews with. Teem then set up and facilitated each interview, which was conducted via video and lasted about 20 minutes. We scheduled several candidates back-to-back, and within a few weeks, Scarleth was hired and joined our team.

When it was time for training and onboarding, we approached this the same way we do for all new employees. We have a daily training itinerary for the first week, which includes training videos, our in-house operating manual, software and phones review, etc. Because she works virtually, Scarleth had the luxury of not being interrupted by patient care, which happens often with new employees physically in the office. The timing of her hiring coincided with a “slow” time in our practice, and I had the luxury of personally working with her a lot the first few days. We did a lot of training over video and were able to check-in with her every few hours to review and answer any questions. She logs on to a virtual computer in our office, so we have full live access and control over what she does.

There’s a lot of communication and trust involved when you have a virtual employee. As long as you’re monitoring and checking in, it’s pretty smooth. I have a requirement that at the end of every day, Scarleth sends me a summary email detailing stats on the number of calls received, recalls made, appointments scheduled, rescheduled, or cancelled, and tasks completed (including pre-exam forms sent and completed by patients). Having a virtual assistant has helped with clinical care as well. For example, when with a patient in the room, if that patient requests a call at a future date to come in for a prescribed dry eye treatment, I will task Scarleth to contact the patient closer to the time. Some patients really don’t want to schedule a few weeks out, and often that future call would get lost in the constant hustle and bustle of a practice. Rather than asking someone in the office, who will likely get sidetracked with other things going on, I know if I send it to Scarleth, she’ll be on it and that patient will be contacted at the right time. There’s a lot of accountability with a virtual assistant. As long as you’ve hired someone who believes in your philosophy and your practice values, you should find success with a virtual employee. 

Making Our Virtual Team Member Part of Our In-Person Team
While some practitioners may feel hesitant about how their in-person staff and patients would react or respond to a virtual team member, that was never the case in our office. Our team was excited about the direction we were heading. When we brought up the idea of hiring a virtual employee in one of our weekly meetings, everyone was intrigued and encouraging to try it.

Now, we all agree we can’t function without Scarleth! She’s amazing, puts out consistent, high quality work, believes in our practice values (which is a huge deal to me), and is an integral part of our team.

As it pertains to our patient base, there has been no mention or notice of things being done differently, or a virtual team member changing their experience at all. I frequently poll patients on their experience, and I haven’t had anything of concern come up.

Practice Improvements
Without a shadow of a doubt, Scarleth has increased our revenue by daily recall phone calls alone. Having a virtual employee significantly reduced the stress in our practice because it’s let our team members help patients in front of them without worrying about the phone constantly ringing. It’s also kept our team accountable to make sure all their notes and updates are well documented, so Scarleth has all the information she needs to get her job done.

There are so many areas a virtual assistant can improve the patient experience and the overall flow and operation of a practice. It would be fair game to assign tasks from ordering contacts, account receivables, scribing, and many other tasks can take the burden off in-person staff members, improve patients’ experience in the office, and boost your practice’s revenue. As our services increase, we may consider adding more virtual team members.   

I have no regrets about adding a virtual team member, and wish I had done it sooner.

Keep learning, keep trying new things, and keep being different in your practice! 

  • Alireza Somji, OD

    Alireza Somji, OD, is owner of a private practice in greater Houston and the founder of NeuroVision Performance, a visual performance service in his main practice. Dr. Somji is currently a visual performance consultant to the Houston Dynamo FC MLS soccer team, he works with recreational and professional athletes, and is passionate about elevating athletic performance through sports vision training, especially in soccer, at all levels of play. Dr. Somji's clinical interests are visual performance, concussion vision rehab, dry eye, myopia management, and specialty contact lenses. He is also a regional leader with the Professional Eye Care Associates of America (PECAA) and current President of the International Sports Vision Association (ISVA). He loves helping other ODs and is an adjunct clinical faculty, teaching fourth year externs from the Rosenberg School of Optometry.

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