Although the use of patient portals and email has reduced call to practices; all practices must deal with the volume and diversity of phone calls from patients, other practices, pharmacies, and insurance carriers. How efficiently your practice deals with these calls will make a huge difference in how patients view your practice. The first encounter most patients have with your practice is by phone. Most of the communication patients have between visits is by phone, and your outbound calls to remind patients of appointments and give them information contributes to your over-all patient care strategy, or at least it should.
Most practices have a phone tree that patients first encounter when calling a practice. Make sure the options given are clear, precise and cover 99% of the calls coming to your practice. There will always be calls that fall outside a tree option, but they should represent exceptions. Keep the options short. To many options mean patients will get lost and confused. The KISS principle (Keep it short and simple) still applies. Most patient calls fall into three categories:
- Schedule/change appointments
- Clinical inquiries – lab results/symptoms/treatment questions/medications
- Insurance/self-pay/other financial inquiries
Make sure the persons taking the calls can actually answer the questions posed to them. Nothing is more frustrating than finally getting a person on the phone only to find they have to take a message or find someone else to answer the questions.
Many times the call must go to a voice mail. Your internal policy about when these calls are returned and addressed must be clearly followed by staff. This policy must also be clearly understood by patients. Your practice can create the expectation that will help patients wait for return calls or call multiple times because no expectation has been provided.
Clear communication whether written, spoken or phoned must be the overall goal of your practice. Patients need to feel that their concerns have been addressed, their fears allayed their questions answered and their needs met. Striving to do this will mean less frustration to your practice and to patients.