Improving the Staff and Patient Experience
While the patient experience is important to your practice, your staff experience is very important as well. Everyone knows that making a good first impression is critical. So when a new patient comes into your practice for the first time, what kind of impression are you making? The people in your front office are the first contact your patients have with your practice, so it’s critical that you hire, train, and retain the best quality people to staff those key positions.
The challenge is that keeping top-notch people in these high-stress positions and keeping up their morale can be difficult. Front office staff members are under pressure to perform their job duties, be courteous to patients, ensure the patient experience is positive, answer questions, find information, and support office efficiency. So how can you recruit and keep quality staff and how can better staff management help?
Pay More for the Right Candidate
From the very beginning, be willing to pay your staff more. Research has shown that employees will work up – or down - to the level of pay they receive. Saving money on staff payroll is no savings if the wrong person gets hired and costs you patients.
Even with the best practice and staff management, you may not be able to keep the stress level low, but if you can fairly compensate your staff, they will find it easier to handle the rigors of their daily experience.
Speaking of Stress
Unhappy patients are one of the most (if not the most) stressful components of working in a front office. Make sure that front office staff are trained to respond appropriately to unhappy patients. Is the patient in pain? Verify how much longer before the doctor can see them. Is the patient pushed for time? Offer the option to reschedule. And be certain that you cross-train your front office staff on these techniques so that patients are handled in a courteous and efficient manner. This cross-training also serves to decrease the likelihood that any one staff member gets burned out. All of this combines to develop loyalty among your staff while improving the patient experience.
Use Staff Management for a Professional Environment
You’ve worked hard to build your practice, so ensure that you are supported in your continuing efforts. Treat your staff with respect and professional kindness, and let them know that’s how you want your patients to be treated as well. Make sure that your equipment is in good repair and train each front office employee on how to use it (and what to do in the event it quits working).
Set the standards by which employees will be measured, and hold each one to the same standard. Each person you hire will have unique skills and strengths, but all of your staff should be working up to their maximum performance and contributing to the efficiency of your front office.
The 500 Pound Gorilla
One of the most obvious sources of stress in your practice is the phone. It’s wise to periodically track incoming calls to identify the peak times for phone calls and the types of calls you’re receiving. Good staff management is about listening. Strategize with your staff about what they observe and their suggestions for handling it. For example, if your front office people arrive at work to discover multiple messages requesting appointments, consider an online scheduling option for your website and social media pages. If the bulk of your morning calls consists of requests for appointments and cancellations, you might look into an ASAP automated system which contacts patients on your waiting list to let them know an opening is available. When your office staff is freed from making cancellation calls, returning appointment request calls, or manually calling to remind patients of appointments, they are available to assist those patients who are already in your office to keep a good flow to your system and minimize wait times.
Automation to Reduce Stress
Another way to keep your front office staff functioning at peak levels is to use a patient portal on your website. A portal is an interactive tool that allows patients to ask and receive answers to questions, receive test results, and request prescription refills. They can also find important information about your location, hours, and access your online library of health and wellness information. Your staff can respond quickly to patient requests, and the HIPAA secure portal ensures that the information is safe and your staff is remaining compliant.
A portal keeps your patients happy because they have 24/7 access to information from their smart phone, tablet, laptop, or desktop. The added convenience of the portal gives patients increased incentive to stay loyal to your practice as well. While portals continue to grow in popularity, many providers are reluctant to offer them because they don’t understand the security features and the benefits offered to their patients and staff.
You can also improve the patient and staff experience by automating your check-in process and switching to an electronic tablet. Rather than a clipboard full of paper forms that are frustrating for patients to complete and often difficult for office staff to read, a tablet allows you to reduce effort for both patients and staff. Making several tablets available can expedite your check-in process and improve the efficiency of your front office.
Keep Your Eyes Open
One of the most effective and simple ways to keep your front office motivated and efficient is to ask for their input. Who better knows the strengths and failings in your practice management systems than those who work with them every day? Ask for comments and suggestions from your front office staff, discuss them as a team, and choose which ones to implement. You can even give awards each quarter for the best idea. This further motivates your staff to find solutions to problems on their own and to proactively seek to make improvements that benefit everyone. When your staff members feel that their opinions are valued and that they matter to your office, they will be far more committed to giving their best and to carrying out the ideas they created.
It’s no secret that better staff management provides a better employee experience, and that makes for a better patient experience. A few small steps can improve morale, build rapport, and make the front office environment a much friendlier place.