A relatable, helpful and professional front desk staff is key to practice success.
Your most competitive advantage is customer service, and that begins at the front desk,” Ms. Buckingham has said. “That front desk person holds so much power in creating a positive or negative experience,” so it’s really important that your staff members understand this and are well trained to perform their roles.
The first impression a patient has of your practice is not of you, but of your front desk staff. If the patient gets a negative impression from the person behind the desk, it impacts the patient’s overall opinion of your office and can even affect your business. Knowing some of the most common mistakes that staff can make and how to remedy them can help ensure that your practice is seen in the best possible light. “These mistakes consist of those incorrect, impolite or improper actions that make us all cringe. “Reciting credit card numbers out loud for all to hear, telephone rudeness and gossiping about patients” are just a few examples of behavior that’s unprofessional and unacceptable,
Problem. Opinions vary on phone etiquette. Some say that a business should always answer the phone by the third ring. Others say that patients who are standing at the front desk in person should take precedence over patients who are calling on the phone.
No matter how a business owner chooses to have their staff prioritize and balance patients in person and on the phone, each patient should receive the staff’s polite, undivided attention whenever possible.
Solution. Train your staff on how you prefer phone calls to be handled and have them “stick to the script” whenever possible. Create guidelines for answering the phone, the greeting each patient should be given, and a format for how you think patients on the phone and in person should be juggled. Obviously, there are times when exceptions will be made, but having steps will help to steer phone conversation behavior in the direction that you think is correct and best for your business.
Personal Cell Phone Use
Problem. Since cell phones have evolved into smart phones with enhanced perks such as mobile email, web, social media and texting, their popularity and the frequency with which people use them has increased tremendously. It seems that the new social norm is for people to check their cell phones repeatedly throughout the day; however, should this include the workday?
Distractions from cell phones and smartphones could lead to errors in data entry, incorrect recording of patient information, inattentive customer care and an overall air of impoliteness. If the wrong thing is said or data is entered incorrectly, it puts the practice at risk for financial & liability issues.
Solution. Consider limiting or banning the use of cell phones at the front desk, and recommend that employees check their phones only during lunch or while on break. Reassure employees that the office phone number may be given as an emergency contact number to schools, relatives and the workplaces of relatives so that if someone urgently needed to speak with them, they would be able to reach them via the office’s landline.
Using Work Computers for Leisure
Problem. Using work computers for personal use not only causes a distraction and takes time away from other job responsibilities that need tending, it could pose a risk if a virus is mistakenly downloaded or if indecent material is associated with the computer’s IP address. It also may look unprofessional to patients who happen to see or hear someone using the computer for leisure, and suggests that the employee is not attentive to their job and is indifferent to patients.
Solution. Establish your own office policy about computer use for personal reasons. If you decide to allow employees to use work computers for leisure, make sure they are not abusing that privilege by using it when patients are present or when there is other work that needs to be done. So, instead of viewing the latest YouTube video that has gone viral, employees should be focused on the to-do list of secondary responsibilities that will help the office run more efficiently. Examples: purging old files, calling patients who haven’t picked up materials, cleaning/dusting the office or rearranging the optical frame boards.
Problem. The definition of a HIPAA violation is “the disclosure of personal or identifiable patient information to a non-privileged or non-authorized source––regardless of whether it is intentional, accidental or otherwise,
The consequences are serious. Significant fines can be incurred “as well as potential litigation by the patient if the patient suffers injury or harm as a result of negligence by the doctor or staff under the theory of respondeat superior,
As with many blunders, the best solution is to prevent the mistake from even happening in the first place. Take steps to make sure that your staff is taking HIPAA seriously.
Problem. A patient comes into the office and does or says something that is impolite, inappropriate or downright rude. A stone has been cast into the calm of your staff’s workday. Will they let that the incident cause a flustering ripple effect, or will they stay cool and keep everything copacetic? It can be tough to remain firm yet polite when a patient is giving staff a hard time for whatever reason. However, staff members need to know how to recognize a disruptive situation, to remain calm and respectful, and to choose the best way to defuse it.
Solution. Patients are people. They have bad days and, for all you know, they may be having the worst day ever. Try to give patients the benefit of the doubt. Remain calm, don’t raise your voice and keep your tone professional. Maintain good eye contact and listen to what the person is saying. If a patient feels like she or he is not being heard during a complaint, the situation can escalate or continue on and on.
If there’s no reasonable way to resolve the problem immediately, tell the patient you’d like to give the problem further consideration and time, which you’re unable to do at the moment, and then take down their contact information. A resolution to the situation may be more obtainable once both parties have had a chance to cool down and think more rationally. If the person refuses to “let it go” and a staff member feels attacked or threatened, it is best for the staff member to calmly walk away from the situation and have another staff person take over, again suggesting that the person be contacted at a later time by the office manager or the owner of the practice.
Obviously, front desk staff should know to not engage in hostile exchanges with patients, but it is equally important for staff to understand that they should not talk about the situation at the front desk after the person has left. Other patients in the waiting room or the optical up front may be within earshot—even if the patient was inappropriate and rude, you don’t want any patients thinking that they might also be talked about when they leave the office. If something needs to be discussed about a patient and the staff member needs to report it to the office manager, it should be discussed and documented behind closed doors in another room and away from the front desk.
Improper Insurance Charging/Billing
Problem. In an ideal world, patients would walk into a doctors office with a working understanding of their insurance coverage and the staff would be proficient in matching chief complaints and diagnosis codes to determine what code it was appropriate to bill under. However, this doesn’t always happen.
“In many medical offices, the front desk staff themselves don’t understand the difference between these plans, and therefore can’t help a patient to understand how to apply them to their visit, which results in a frustrated patient, a frustrated front desk and in turn, a frustrated doctor,”
Solution. To avoid errors in billing, at least one person in the office—whether it be the office manager, head of the front desk staff or the doctor—should understand all of the different insurance plans that the office accepts and how they work,
PBA also suggests having a binder at the front desk that contains information on each insurance plan, including the office’s login and password needed to access each plan’s website.
Front Desk Presentation
Problem. Although doctors offices are not hospitals, patients have certain expectations for the environment in which they see their health care provider. For example, a messy or cluttered front desk may give the impression that the office is run inefficiently. Also, some patients have allergies or chemical sensitivities to dust, pets, smoke or perfume. Strong smells on the clothes of the employees or at the front desk such as fast food might be offensive to a small segment of the population. Some patients may also see food and drink consumption at the front desk as out of place, unsanitary or impolite.
Solution. Desks should be well organized and clutter should be kept to a minimum. Staff should be dressed appropriately and professionally and ideally they should be as “scent-free” as possible. Eating at the front desk should also be discouraged, unless the staff member is unable to leave the front desk to take a break or eat elsewhere. Drinks should have lids or caps on them and should be kept in an area where they won’t get bumped or spilled.
By keeping the front desk and its staff as clean and neat as possible, the patients and staff members will see the office environment as more pleasant and professional. Take the first step in successfully building a loyal patient base by making a good first impression with a stellar front desk staff. By giving staff explicit guidelines and clearly stating expectations for front desk staff behavior, you can keep your office running smooth and help to ensure that patients and staff alike will enjoy the time they spend there and look forward to coming back.