As a patient arriving for treatment, many people have experienced the front desk conundrum: just as you’re about to check in, the office phone rings. For an excruciating moment, the receptionist panics over which to respond to first: the patient in front of her, or the one on the phone?
This scenario plays out every day in clinics across the country and is an excellent case study for practice management issues. How it’s handled can greatly impact the satisfaction of both patients, and ultimately the reputation of the care provider. However, the circumstances of your front desk will dictate how you approach the situation.
In an Ideal World: The most efficient front office practice management strategy has at least two people at the desk: one for handling check-in, and one to handle phones. Both individuals would be cross-trained to support each other during busier times. In a perfect world, the assistant would meet with the patient following treatment to schedule follow-up appointments. The assistant would also complete the check-out procedures and handle any questions. Of course, the perfect world doesn’t really exist, or at least sometimes it doesn’t work the way it’s supposed to. If your assistant isn’t taking care of the check-out, then someone at the front desk has to. Many patients, however, head for the door and mutter, “I’ll call to reschedule,” as they hit the exit.
Front Desk Priorities: Your practice management system should be clearly defined so whoever is responsible for greeting and checking in patients has a clear understanding of how to handle this dilemma. If you only have one receptionist when the phone rings and a patient arrives, the patient who is present is the priority. Imagine the scenario like this:
Receptionist: “Hello, Mrs. Smith. It’s good to see you again. Will you sign in here for me?”
Mrs. Smith: “Thank you.” She signs in or takes the registration paperwork. The office phone rings. “I have a question about my insurance.”
Receptionist: “Pardon me for a moment while I take a message from this call and then I will be right with you.” She answers the phone. “Thank you for calling Cooper Dental. How may I help you?” She jots a note and then continues, “I will be happy to help you with this. I currently have a patient I’m assisting. When would the best time be for me to call you back with this information?”
If the receptionist is on the phone when Mrs. Smith arrives, the conversation might go more like this:
Receptionist: “Mr. Jones, I hate ask you to wait, but I’ve had a patient come in. May I place you on a brief hold and get right back to you?” After placing the caller on hold, the reception continues. “Good afternoon, Mrs. Smith. It’s nice to see you. Will you sign in for me please? I just need to finish this phone call and I will be right with you.” She then completes the call and continues with the patient in person.
Phone manners are a very basic part of practice management, but they are critical to your patients. The wrong front office person can turn scenarios like this into increased stress for staff and patients alike. Having a comprehensive practice management strategy, ensuring you hire the right staff, and cross-training them so that they can perform effectively will help you attract and keep happy patients.
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