Many practices complain about the volume of incoming telephone calls and how much time their employees spend handling them.
Why is the office getting so many calls?
- It is the only way patients can make or change appointments.
- Patients call the office for refill authorization.
- Patients were distracted during their visits and are calling for clarification.
Instead of continually adding more employees to handle more calls, smart practices are determining ways to reduce the volume of telephone calls. They are accomplishing their objectives by using telephones more strategically and by opening alternative channels for patients to reach clinicians and get answers. These solutions come about by implementing new information technologies, making better use of existing systems, and getting back to basics in staff training.
Examples of the ways poor incoming call management can take its toll on your medical practice include loss of revenue, inefficient use of staff time and risk to patient health. That said, take the following tips into account to improve productivity and deal with patients’ concerns properly:
Simplify, shorten and reorder the greeting:
Many greetings are unnecessarily complicated. Having nine options that take callers to another menu of nine options only sounds efficient. It wastes the caller’s time and it ties up the phone line. Keep it simple.
Reduce the number of rings before rolling to voice mail:
Listening to the telephone ring is a waste of the patient’s time, especially if he is going to voice mail anyway. For some practices, it may make sense for incoming calls to go directly to voice mail.
Equip staff well:
The person calling your office is often feeling anxious or worried. To handle these calls, equip your staff with best practices training and regular refreshers on proper phone etiquette. In a medical office setting, everyone intends to be helpful, courteous and friendly; but long, busy days can often wreck best intentions when staff is not afforded proper training on inbound call management in a high call volume environment.
Tell patients when to expect action or a call back:
Manage the patients’ expectations. Some people will call every 30 minutes no matter what you do. Most people, given a “we will call you back no later than” time, will not call back before that time is past. Saying something like, “We will call you back by 7 p.m.” is much more effective. You can include the standards for callbacks in the telephone greeting and in information for new patients.
Provide patients with educational materials they can reference at their leisure:
These materials can be given to the patient at the end of the encounter, or they can reside on the practice’s website. The objective is to allow patients to serve themselves when they have routine questions.
Provide patients with a summary of the visit:
A meaningful use requirement is the ability to give patients a summary of the visit. The summary is a good opportunity for the provider to anticipate patients’ questions as they reconstruct the information received at the visit. This will also minimize the number of calls the practice receives from patients requesting information clarification.
By taking the time to listen to your patients carefully, you can prevent them from feeling alienated. Miscommunication is one of the main reasons why medical practices fail in providing complete patient satisfaction. It is important to remember that phone issues are equal opportunity irritants; they are a nuisance for patients, staff, and providers. Managing this effectively with a combination of approaches will relieve patient fears and demonstrate that you have the right communication procedures in place.