Making the Most of Every Patient Phone Call
The telephone is the lifeline of every health care practice. It’s how patients schedule appointments, ask questions and get the care they need. That’s why handling phone calls with care and professionalism is so important. Being efficient during a call is one thing, but turning that caller into a raving fan of the practice during an ordinary call is quite another. It’s important that your front office staff understand the nuances of their job to ensure the patient experience is positive during every phone call. This Ask Fuel First article answers the following question: How can my front office staff make a difference in the patient experience during a phone call?
The Telephone: Your Lifeline to Patients
The telephone is at the center of every practice’s success. Patients won’t be scheduled if no one answers the phone, and the practice would lose income for missed appointments. In addition, each call is an opportunity to drive patient satisfaction and improve their experience and feelings about the practice, which is why each phone call should be handled with care.
Every second of a phone call is important. With each call, you can win the patient over or leave them with a mediocre or even negative experience. We hope you’re striving to make a patient connection every time. But now the question is: How? This article discusses four parts that make up the anatomy of a good call and drive patient satisfaction: 1) call etiquette, 2) handling patient data, 3) answering calls efficiently and 4) being professional.
Have you ever had a negative experience with a customer service representative on the phone? After pressing all the right buttons, were you either disconnected before talking to a real person or did the person who answered not listen to what you had to say? Maybe the person on the other line told you all of the things you couldn’t do and never offered a solution to a problem you were having. If you answered yes, you are not alone. Unfortunately, these experiences are all too common. But this doesn’t have to be the case at your practice.
When staff answers the phone at your practice, they should focus on providing an appropriate greeting, putting patients at ease when it’s clear they’re stressed and thanking the caller for their time. Saying things like “Thank you for choosing us” or “Let me help you get that taken care of” are small additions to the conversation but leave a lasting impression in letting callers know that the staff cares about their business. Also, saying something like “I’m sorry you’re going through that; I’m here to help” is one way to acknowledge the caller’s situation. Ending the call by saying “thank you” leaves the call on a positive note. You’re probably asking yourself, “Aren’t people saying these types of things on calls already?” You’d be surprised how often the answer to that question is “no.”
Handling Patient Data
With every patient call, patient data is being exchanged, whether it be information shared as patients describe symptoms they’re having in the hope of seeing a doctor or the demographic/insurance information needed for claims and data processing that they provide. When speaking with patients, your staff should constantly be asking for data to update their account information, such as their current address or phone number.
Patients expect to be asked for information but don’t want to feel like it’s all about the data instead of being listened to and heard. Callers may feel put off when there isn’t an appropriate transition. Consider coaching staff on a transition such as “Thank you for telling me the reason for your call. Before I help you with that, would you mind if I update your information in my system?”
With all of this data flying around, it’s important that the practice’s staff handle it efficiently and confidentially. Besides being trained for HIPAA specifically, practices should have clear guidelines on which data to collect and when. When giving patients data, be sure to ask if they’d like it repeated and verify they understand; many callers have hearing loss, so this is an important step. Also, your staff should explain medical terminology or processes because the average person won’t know what they’re talking about.
Answering Calls Efficiently
Before your staff can take steps to become efficient, they’ll need to know the purpose of the call. Inbound calls often generate appointments, which, in turn, generate revenue for the practice. Sometimes, booking an appointment is straightforward. A patient calls in asking for an appointment, and the staff checks the practice’s schedule to find a suitable time. Other times, they’ll need to convince the patient that your practice is right for them. Either way, your staff drives the conversation, fills gaps in the practice’s schedule and influences patients’ opinions of the practice.
To drive phone conversations, they should avoid asking open-ended questions. When asked, ”When would you like to come in?” that caller is in the driver’s seat. Instead, staff should ask, “Let’s get you in. Do you prefer morning or evening appointments?” This gives the caller two easy choices and drives the conversation towards empty time slots, which is more efficient.
When a caller isn’t sure about making an appointment, staff should have a 30-second elevator pitch ready. The elevator pitch highlights a difference that makes your practice better than others. If an established patient seems unsatisfied, they can also use the elevator pitch-type approach, but only after they’ve attempted to understand any issues they may have. If you or your team are stumped on building an elevator pitch, ask, “What makes us different from somewhere else? Why should people come here?”
Another aspect of efficiency is trying to answer patient questions thoughtfully and concisely every time. As health care evolves, there are new laws, technologies and services that patients will inquire about. Staff should answer questions when they’re confident they know the answer. However, if they need more clarification on a question, it is always better to refer to the correct person or tell the caller they’ll have to find a solution and then call them back rather than giving false/incorrect information. And then actually call them back with an answer.
It comes as no surprise that staff should remain professional and polite even during challenging calls. Working at the front desk involves elements of sales and customer service. Inbound calls mean new patients and more business for the practice. Professionalism and rapport building are essential at all times, especially when potential patients call, to elevate each patient’s experience.
The first step is for staff to be polite. Being polite can mean different things to different people, but we believe it is important to actively listen to patients when they talk by avoiding interruptions and speaking in a professional and friendly tone. If a conversation is wildly off-topic, staff should wait for a pause and then find a polite transition to bring the conversation back on topic.
When staff use appropriate call etiquette, handle patient data with confidence, answer calls efficiently and are professional, this helps to make each patient’s experience positive. Simply put, patients expect their experience to be good; it’s when staff are intentional about making sure they feel valued that the experience becomes memorable. If you’d like more information on the anatomy of a good call or front office training, please contact Fuel Medical’s Professional Development team at ProfDev@FuelMedical.com.