All of us by now have had the feeling of being held captive by a merciless phone tree or being asked, “Can you please hold?” before being left in limbo for five, ten or even fifteen minutes or more. Like you, patients don’t like having their time wasted when calling your practice. Nonetheless, many practices have taken high demand and technological developments as an excuse for failing to review and refine the systems they have in place for serving their patients over the phone. If you’ve recently reviewed your online presence and encountered a negative review, you can appreciate how important it is to establish with your patients a sense that you are dedicated to taking good care of them regardless of whether they are in or out of the exam room.
Improving patient phone service needn’t be an overwhelming chore for your all-ready busy office. In fact, this process is ideally suited for working on around your schedule as there are many components that can be improved in fifteen minute blocks.
Most modern telephone systems have impressive reporting capabilities, despite the fact that most practice staff usually know nothing about them. Make it a priority to generate reports that can serve as benchmarks for your practice’s performance in this area. How long do callers wait on hold? How many calls come in relative to your patient visits? When are calls coming in?
One very common problem is the rush of calls that often occurs as the practice opens up after the lunch hour. As the lunch hour is the most convenient times for many of your patients to call, the simple fact is that you should have telephone coverage over lunch. Rotating this assignment through your staff is easy to implement — you’ll get more new patient bookings and smooth the flow of calls, meaning happier patients and staff.
You should have a current diagram of your phone tree that illustrates that patients can find their way through the tree in a timely manner. Consulting with your systems reports, eliminate branches of the tree that are infrequently accessed. You’ve probably been the victim of a phone tree that didn’t offer you any appropriate choices from which to choose — the choices should be mutually exclusive (non-overlapping) and all inclusive (giving an option for all callers, e.g., “For all other callers, please stay on the line.)”
It is hugely important that whomever handles the calls appreciate how patients experience the totality of customer care. Naturally, many patients calling into a physician are tired, sick and in pain. Considerate and compassionate care should be delivered at every single point of contact. Accordingly, time is of the essence and you’ll want to have good, solid data on what patients are calling about and when in order to serve them in a timely manner. A quick and easy way to collect this data is for those covering the phone to keep a log of the types of incoming calls — sometimes for just a single day is sufficient — and use this data to assess the quality of your existing systems. Heading this process can be a great opportunity for a receptionist to shine when they present their findings at your next staff meeting.
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