Your Front Desk Staff Are Your Flight Navigators

Can your front desk be a profit center for your practice? Yes, but there are instances where physicians may not know what is happening out in the waiting room while they are taking care of patients. Any practice will have some bumps in the road with employees, but physicians must be conscious about checking in with every member of their team. When there is a lack of communication between the physician and staff, patients will feel the negative impact. How well the front desk operates could make or break your practice. The front desk is the first in line to a patient’s access to care making it one of many important elements in patient satisfaction. The front desk staff are the navigators of your practice and staying in tune with them to see how the practice is operating on a day to day basis not only keeps patients happy but helps retain them as well.

First impressions count–When a patient walks into the waiting room they are either walking into a warm and inviting environment or a stark and cold one. How you present your practice to the patients starts way before you see them in the exam room. For the receptionist a patient’s visit starts with the same, and sometimes monotonous, procedures like asking for insurance information, paperwork and answering questions. Receptionists may also be responsible for answering the phones as well, adding extra stress to an already busy schedule. Even though there might be high call volume and patients in the waiting room, this is not an excuse for the front desk to act exasperated by patients. If the practice is large, this might be a good time to suggest hiring candidates specifically for phone triage. If the practice is small, create a way to delegate responsibilities at the front desk. Instead of having all receptionists answer the phones make it only one or two people’s job. If the office runs smoothly patients are much more likely to feel comfortable about the capabilities of the physician. Some physicians may not feel like their staff is a direct reflection of them and this is a common mistake. You might value patient satisfaction as a physician, but if the front desk is doing a mediocre job patients will think that you must not care as well. Patients are much more likely to return to an office where receptionists, medical assistants, nurses and physicians work well with one another. If a patient is frustrated after dealing with disgruntled employees this will take away from important time spent with the physician. What can be done to remedy this?

For starters, physicians need to be aware of what’s going on in every aspect of their practice. Having weekly staff meetings where you discuss proper protocols for face-to-face and telephone communications with patients are a must. You’d be surprised by how many practices do not take the time to do this and it shows. Schedule one day a week where staff is able to come in 15-20mins before the days begins and use that time to have a meeting. This should be something that is understood by both current and prospective employees. You need people who want to be a part of a team and who respect that you are staying on top of what goes on in the office. Another way to ensure the practice is functioning well is by having a formal orientation for new employees making sure there is a set time for training at the start of employment. Training could take two weeks or possibly more depending on the job responsibilities. During this time period new employees should have ample time to learn what is expected of them from them professionally and how to carry out job responsibilities in an effective and timely manner.

Following-up with patients means much more than the physician calling after the original appointment. It means staying on top of follow-up appointments and referrals. It also means keeping in touch with patients. Receptionists should be responsible for collecting both phone numbers and emails to reach patients. Technology is much more advanced than it was even a decade ago and using it to your advantage will be beneficial. Sending out e-newsletters introducing new physicians to your patients or services your office has to offer is one way of keeping patients in the loop. Healthcare is a service industry so take the time to make sure your staff is cultivating long-term patient relationships.

If your practice is being managed properly then learning and professional development will be valued. All employees, whether they are receptionists, medical assistants, nurses or physicians, should undergo training for how to respond and engage with patients. The waiting room might just be the start of a patient’s visit, but it says a lot about how the office runs on a daily basis. If there are major issues in the waiting room physicians are unaware of that makes the patient think that there is very little communication between the physicians and the receptionists. When all employees are on the same page regarding how to care for patients then you will see the organization flow from check-in, treatment and follow-up.