Chronic problems at the front desk are a way of life for medical practices in most specialties, and it seems there to little effort resolve these problems. The painful reality is that the demands on the front office are often unrealistic.
It’s unlikely that the staff can handle a high volume of inbound phones calls at the same time they are helping patients check in and out, updating patient information, collecting patient payments, scheduling follow-up appointments, and answering patients’ myriad questions – and do it all well. No wonder a recent MGMA survey reveals that the front office has the highest rate of staff turnover in the typical medical office!
Front office staff is set up to fail
These tasks all demand more attention and time than your front office staff have. Since there is never enough time to give any task the attention it requires, front office staff is set up to fail. There is never enough time to get the work done and give patients the service they expect and deserve.
It’s time to get realistic about front office workflow
Start by understanding the distribution of tasks in the front office. Instead of front staff being generalists that all do same thing, divide the work in a way that makes each of them an expert and gives them sufficient time to manage their workload.
- Study the job description(s) for members of the front office team and diagnose workflow. Include the team in the process of improving the function of the front office. Compare the written job descriptions to the actual tasks and responsibilities of the position. Probe staff to get their input about workflow and what happens during the work day that makes the job difficult and demanding. Map out the current workflow, identifying bottlenecks and what causes them.
- Seek to divide and group tasks sensibly. For example, doesn’t it make more sense for patient inbound calls to be taken away from the front desk, so the patients can be checked in and out without interruptions that irritate patients or allow patients to slip out the door without scheduling an appointment or collecting payment? Having one person away from the front desk managing inbound appointment calls also ensures that critical task can be done better. Doing it better means they can collect vital information such as demographics, insurance details, and eligibility. It also allows time to inform new patients of your payment policies and expectation for payment at the time of their visit and remind existing patients about outstanding balances. A focused appointment scheduler can also collect emails from patients, a valuable tool for communicating with patients and automating many existing tasks, including sending patients to the patient portal where tasks that now require a phone call to your office can be done online. This is a real time-saver for staff.
- Make your receptionists customer service experts, so they can be the practice’s patient ambassadors. The most important aspect of the receptionist role is meeting the patient’s service needs and making patient feel valued, beginning with being the welcoming team at the patient’s very first visit to your office. And since the schedulers have already informed patients of their financial responsibilities, it will be far easier to collect payments, with less uncomfortable dialogue about why they owe money in the first place.
These three steps will make an amazing difference in front office function – from improved patient service and cash flow, to fewer scheduling errors, more accurate insurance claims, reduced stress, and greater job satisfaction.
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