Read NewsCapsule Mar/April 07 text version

IS MONEY WALKING OUT YOUR FRONT DOOR?

By: Lisa Kohler Chubinsky, CTS, CPC, CSP In the midst of your busy day, caring for and listening to patients is without a doubt your priority. It's how you spend the majority of your time. But in today's competitive healthcare climate, it is imperative to make a frank assessment of how your staff treats your patients, as the level of customer service will directly affect whether you gain or lose patients. Quality patient service requires thought, training and discipline. Although every medical office hopes that its front desk conforms to the highest standards of professionalism, unless the staff has gone through customer service training, and their performance is strictly monitored with metrics, they may not be providing truly responsive service to your patients. Many medical offices, especially larger practices, spend so much energy on paperwork and other miscellaneous administrative details that patient service sometimes gets "lost in the sauce." Having specialized in healthcare Patient Service support staffing and customer servSometimes Gets ice in healthcare for over 20 years, "Lost in the Sauce." I'd like to share some insights with you. On the one hand, physicians should be treated with the highest level of respect by their patients. Yet, there is a balance or symmetry at work here since patients in turn expect, and these days demand, they be provided with the highest level of customer service. An important point here is that it's not enough anymore to just provide the best clinical care. Customer service counts, and it counts heavily. To ensure patient retention, a quality customer service training program should be introduced and implemented in every practice. The staff you employ throughout your organization must be cognizant of delivering quality service all the time. Patients speak with your office at various points during the process - it starts with the patient having the idea to call you, and ends with performance of the clinical function and payment of the bill. Reception, front desk, call-center, checkout and billing are only a few of the departments that your patients may interact with in the course of their experience with your medical practice. You have to be certain that each step along the way does not present obstacles that could unintentionally equate to poor representation of your practice. One way to improve your office's professional image and customer service delivery is through your telephone. Ideally, patients should have the opportunity to speak directly with a person. However, most patients today accept the fact they will be greeted by voicemail. Therefore, I would suggest you call your own office

NEWS CAPSULE, Fairfield County Medical Association 13

How well trained is your front desk at providing exemplary customer service?

and evaluate your voicemail. How does it sound? Is it warm and welcoming? I hope so. Many voicemails are rather dictatorial. Take a moment and listen, really listen to the voice greeting your patients. Let's be brutally honest. Is it the best you have with which to greet your patients?

You want to elevate the patient's experience and it all starts with the phone. That voice can be a real sales tool for your practice if it sounds great. If you feel the voice greeting your patients should be changed, by all means make the change. Chances are it's free to find someone with a great voice that sounds enthusiastic and caring. Have them rehearse by reading a brief script and then re-recording the outbound message. In the realm of top-tier customer service, nothing is worse than a voice that sounds hard or strident. I guarantee, your patients will notice and appreciate the change.

To eliminate immediate frustration for your patients, the outbound voicemail should indicate how long it will take for the phone call to be returned. For example, if a patient needs to leave a message to schedule an appointment, the call should be returned in less than three hours and the outbound voicemail should state that the call will be returned within three hours. If your outbound voicemail requests a lot of initial information such as name, date of birth and doctor's name, it can be overwhelming to many and not welcoming. Patients get flustered. Your initial thought might be that you need the information, however, remember, patients can go to other medical practices if they feel your practice isn't user-friendly. Many practices make the mistake of letting non-urgent calls wait. That's a bad idea. Although most physicians' practices are working with precious few resources, letting non-urgent return calls wait is an invitation to losing patients.

Imagine if patients are greeted by an unfriendly voice and then their request for an appointment takes 24 hours for a return call. Usually when the call is returned, the patient isn't home and your office leaves a message. This results in the process starting all over again. UGH! How frustrating is that! It's conceivable that if the initial call to schedule an appointment for an annual physical is placed on a Monday it could take up to four days or more to make contact with the patient, and then the appointment might have to be booked far into the future, perhaps up to several months. Don't ignore the fact that this scenario plays out in practices all day long. It's the perfect preamble to patients taking their business elsewhere. If you are speaking with a patient and they seem unfriendly, it could be because of how they've been treated on the phone. The same goes with the front desk. If patients are waiting a very long time and your staff has not opened the reception window to greet them, patients will initially show their dissatisfaction with their mood. Once patients start getting the red carpet treatment, they'll treat those on the phone and at the front desk with greater courtesy, which will be a win/win.

March/April 2007

Once you make a commitment to creating a quality patient service program throughout your practice, you will notice immediate improvements. Choosing great staff is only a small part. If they're not properly trained and monitored, they won't deliver quality consistently. Take Starbucks for example, whether you're having a Mochachino in Seattle or Chicago, it's consistent. You know what you're getting. Your patients need to feel important. And, they need to know whether they call on Tuesday or Friday, they will always get consistent, quality service. Once your practice is trained to make patients feel good before they walk through the door, just imagine how positively they'll react when they come to the office. Making your patients feel good starts before they see you. Hiring responsible employees isn't enough. They need to be trained and motivated to bring out their potential to deliver top-rate

quality service. Once you've made a commitment to this process, the entire office will reap the benefits. All in all, if patients have good phone and front desk/waiting room experiences, it will make for a very pleasant work environment, improved employee morale and higher employee retention. With competition for patients on the rise, implementing proper customer service training will be the best investment for your practice's future profitability and growth. The author is one of the founders of Staff Providers, LLC, a staffing firm specializing in healthcare support occupations serving the clinical and administrative needs of medical practices, hospitals, laboratories and healthcare companies throughout Fairfield, Westchester, New Haven and Hartford Counties. She can be reached at [email protected] or 203-834-2100.

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