Mobile devices and the Internet have forever changed the way patients communicate and get information. Yes, good old-fashioned inbound calls to your dermatology practice are still a crucial access point for patients. Not only does the way your team handle phone calls greatly impact the patient experience, they’re often the first interaction new patients have with your practice — creating a first impression. Fail here, and your practice may lose a patient before they’ve even walked through your door.
It’s important to recognize that your front desk is one of the most challenging positions in your practice. The employees here balance demanding needs and expectations. Often they are tasked with having to satisfy in-office patients with customer service, assisting the back office by thoroughly processing patients and collecting payments in a timely way, as well as new and existing patients who are calling in with questions, concerns or appointment needs. It may be a recipe for failure.
The consequences of steep expectations can be devastating to your practice: High turn over, agitated patients, and even the loss of patients and their valuable referrals. So I recommend that phone management be taken off the front desk.
Let your receptionist focus on communicating value to patients in the practice while properly processing them, boosting productivity and the patient experience.
A scheduler who triages calls for other departments can manage phones without having to choose a caller over a visiting patient.
A phone menu can also route callers to the appropriate staff, but be aware this can frustrate callers if laden with too many options to wade through and no option to speak with someone live.
Decide on the best solution for your practice by analyzing phone volume, top reasons for calls and if there are other ways to reduce and manage calls.
Focus on two primary goals for inbound phone management: Maximize productivity and deliver a stellar patient experience.
Let’s break these down by reviewing what your dermatology practice needs to meet these goals with excellence.
#1 Maximize Productivity -
- Skillset Staff who schedule patient visits need to be administratively efficient and great communicators. Patients need to be made aware of what to expect financially and have the ability to schedule an appropriate appointment slot for their needs to be addressed. You may have to shift staff until you get the right fit. It’s crucial your schedulers are accurate and efficient.
- Training When phone management is handled incorrectly it silently impacts your practice by adding tasks to other staff members when patients are not properly communicated with or processed into your system. Both back office and billing staff can train schedulers in what information they need. This inter-practice communication will sharpen staff understanding of each other’s roles and increase efficiency while boosting team morale.
- Tools When you equip the front line you relieve the back office! You may want to explore using self-service check-in devices or upgrading your PMS. Keeping in mind the patient experience, invest in technology and training to improve efficiency and productivity for your entire practice.
#2 Deliver a Stellar Patient Experience
- Personality You can train some skills into staff but that special ‘ray-of-sunshine’ who gets it done with a smile is usually something that’s either there or it’s not. You may have a valued employee who is in the wrong position for their strengths. Don’t waste time waiting for them to turn into something they’re not. Work with staff to find their best role in your practice.
- Training Invest in training this person not just for the technical side of the job, as described above, but in the customer service aspect. In this role they are a front-line marketer; the voice of your practice. If they fall short of communicating confidence in the practice and converting callers into booked appointments, money is slipping right through the phone line into another practice.
- Tools Training and technology tools need to be utilized to provide a patient experience that keep patients talking to their friends and family about your practice and wanting to come back! That means quick and easy scheduling, transparent financial policies and concierge style customer service. All staff, but especially front desk receptionists and schedulers need a strong understanding of the practices strengths and offerings.
All of this boils down to investment. Are you willing to invest in those areas of your practice that impact patient experience and influence patient retention? When a patient calls your dermatology practice, the person representing your practice becomes your most important marketing and sales tool. Will they be able to “hear” what the caller is really asking for (“convince me it’s safe, I’m nervous”, “Will I get the results I’m hoping for?” “Would you choose this physician for yourself?”)? Equip your staff to provide the answers callers are looking for and you will have added an effective marketing position to your front line!
Cheryl Bisera is founder of Cheryl Bisera Consulting, a California-based image development and marketing company that focuses on the healthcare industry. She is the co-author of “The Patient-Centered Payoff.”