Front Desk and Patient Retention

As Healthcare evolves patient retention is always a major part of how healthcare organizations will remain successful.  In any industry the relationships with your repeat client/customers is what the company’s success stands on.  Loyal patients are where trust relationships develop, that is where future referrals come from, that is also where you see results in treatment and recommendations. How would a provider truly measure outcomes if patients never come back to follow up or continue care?  They would not be able to gauge their own impact on their practice.  Having these clients also allows for providers to continue to grow as they learn in real time the effectiveness of prescribed and recommended treatments on their patient population, they can see what works in their current environments and what is affecting the community of those environments the most.  This helps improve individualized care over time and provides patient satisfaction, not only through patient care but also the knowledge of the provider.

Good experiences allow for your patients to feel understood and cared for by your facility.  Even if we step outside of the medical office and hop over to a radiology facility, the patient retention is just as important.  Although the patient may only come in once a year, the facility would want that patient to return year after year.  If the techs performing the service are not professional, or not attentive to the patients needs at that time, the patient may try a different facility the next year.  You could potentially lose a patient and never know why.  A client that does not require much care in a years’ time is much more likely to take time and find a new physician or group to join before the next visit needs to be scheduled.

How are Medical Receptionist assisting with patient retention this year? Have things changed drastically? Should we be considering some other approaches?  These are all good questions, I believe that the ability to retain patients is a group effort, everyone the patient meets is a part of their experience coming to your medical practice.  We have seen new obstacles with patients being hesitant to obtain routine care or waiting as long as they can to address problems.  Not only due to the cost of healthcare but also the pandemic.  Some people have even delayed or avoided emergency room visits due to fear of COVID-19.  Once these patients reach your office, they have a more urgent need than you may normally expect as they are hoping they can receive the care they need with their primary or specialist without a hospital visit.  Medical Receptionists are also faced with appropriately booking these patients and making sure they are directing certain patients to a clinical staff member for a proper triage of the situation.

We have seen how much can be done, even when strict restrictions were put in place.  Every industry had to find creative and some not so creative ways to keep things moving.  From a front desk perspective, several different processes have taken place to protect patients and staff.  Including registering patients from the car, over the phone.  While patients may not be communicating with you as much face to face, the phone interactions are still just as important.

Assisting someone with online forms and directing them where they need to go without them being in front of you requires patience.  Some patients are not as accustomed to some of the new processes and may require a little additional assistance.  With so much phone and online communication happening it is important that the front desk staff obtain as much accurate information as possible the first time a patient calls in.  I can imagine that nurses and physicians are sometimes overwhelmed with call backs for results and imaging.  Having a front desk that understands how to best route calls and take messages is extremely important and beneficial to patients, clinical staff and the overall flow of the practice.

If you are allowing multiple patients to wait in your waiting room, what have you done to make them feel safe?  These are the questions we must ask when things change.  Something as simple as disinfecting chairs or shared tables along with a little distance between seats could be the answer.  We are now coming to a time where restrictions are reducing, however every office will not be as quick as others to fill up the waiting room.  The risk level of the patients you treat will be a factor.  Your location is also a factor.  No matter how fast or slow things return to a level of normalcy I am sure we have all learned some ways to better manage areas of the check-in/checkout process, as well as prioritizing tasks, appointments, and the needs of the patient population.

I do not believe the core values that retained patients before has changed much, it just may need to be demonstrated more strongly in other areas as we move forward.  Also, experiencing the same level of professional service and follow up every time a patient visits or contacts your office is particularly important to their overall view and experience.

As Medical Receptionists you will never control your patients’ clinical needs or treatment, but you can control the experience upon entry and exit.  You are the first and last impression on the phone and within the office.  Your impact is important to how families and visitors view your practice and whether they will return in the future.  The best advice is to treat people the same way you would expect yourself or family members to be treated in a healthcare setting.

Lastly, your interactions with your co-workers at the front desk is also impactful to how a patient will feel about the office and the way the office functions.  If you are rude or communicate badly with your fellow staff members it will reflect negatively on the practice.  You should not only respect and communicate well with your patients you must demonstrate that same level of professionalism with your colleagues.

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Communication, Tension, and Difficult Situations at the Front Desk

Have you ever walked into work excited to start the day and then within 15 minutes you feel completely defeated? Healthcare settings can be some of the most fulfilling yet most challenging places to work.  Your duties and tasks may be your own, but you often rely on others to do their job for you to effectively do yours, thus the term “team effort”.  Perhaps you are constantly waiting for orders to be entered so you can schedule an appointment.  Maybe the appointment times are not long enough, and you encounter an overcrowded waiting room daily. Sometimes every call you answer requires a ton of time, which keeps you from helping those who have signed in.  Patients are upset or not feeling well, and they are taking it out on you. These are all common to medical practices, not the best part of your career in healthcare but a part you can’t always avoid.

How do you handle these stressful times? Do you just keep moving, and addressing one issue at a time? Do you get upset to the point where you can no longer hide your dissatisfaction in the presence of patients/clients? Perhaps you start cutting corners to save time? Maybe you just check out mentally and complete your shift in such a robotic manner that nobody dares speak to you?

We must always approach our work life with an open mind, and a solution-based approach.  If your first thought when faced with a problem is “how can I resolve this?”. “What can I do to make this better?” Or “What way can I impact this scenario positively?” Then you are on the right track.  Avoid initial responses that may add fuel to an already difficult situation.  For instance, the patient may not always be right but that doesn’t mean it is your job to prove how wrong they may be.  You do not have to tell someone why they are wrong or incorrect all the time.  You can just provide the information that will resolve the situation.  It may counteract the patient or client’s original thought, but you did it without adding hostility.  People know when they are wrong, some will retract a statement or even apologize.  However, others may just continue to do be combative, rude, or attempt to prove their point of view.  The direction of the conversations at the front desk are up to you.  You could change the direction and the outcome.  Your responsibility is to make sure the patient has what they need, is provided accurate information, and receives stellar customer service while visiting your facility.

What if the issue of the day does not concern patients at all, but behind the desk there is some unavoidable tension.  On top of that, perhaps it has nothing to do with you! Now what, how can you be the problem solver among your colleagues?  You probably won’t be.  Although, if you remain neutral, proceed as usual, you will not add to whatever conflict has taken place.  If you keep your mood even and your actions professional your energy alone can improve the situation.  Others may find themselves feeling disappointed in a coworker or having had a professional disagreement.  If you do not instigate or seek out information about the situation it will generally resolve itself faster.  When more people get involved in a matter it is equivalent to adding fuel to the fire.

Whether you have struggles with your patients or your coworkers there are always ways to keep the conversation from getting out of control.

  • Keep lines of communication open, listen instead of preparing your response in your head
  • Don’t add to an already hostile environment
  • Don’t feel like you must get involved in every issue, do not become a part of it
  • Be positive and professional in your engagement with patients’ and coworkers
  • Alert management if you witness anything becoming out of control
  • Take a deep breath before you respond during any heated conversation that may arise at work
  • Remember “You are the bridge” and your role in your organization is valuable. Customer service is #1 and it starts with you.

A bad moment or experience does not have to equal a bad day.  You have the strength and power to move past it and change your mood and future interactions.  You are also allowed to get frustrated and overwhelmed at times, it happens.  Recognize when your work environment is affecting you negatively and do your best to change or take the right actions to improve it.  Immediately.  Medical settings can be some of the most stressful but at the same time some of the most rewarding in terms of communication, problem solving, cohesiveness, accountability, and teamwork driven results for patients.  Always remember why you entered the field of healthcare; it will help during the tougher times.

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