Understand the Challenges Facing Your Front Desk Staff

Understand the Challenges Facing Your Front Desk Staff

Your front desk staff: they’re the face of your practice to every patient who walks through the door or calls your phone number. They are the front lines, responsible for everything from greeting patients to managing patient flow to collecting copayments.

The performance of front desk staff directly affects your ability to retain patients — and thus your bottom line, according to practice management expert Elizabeth Woodcock. Yet they’re often among the most overlooked employees in a practice.

It may be an overstatement to say that the ability of your front desk staff to maintain an efficient, frictionless, and welcoming waiting room experience will make or break your practice, but maybe not by much. Indeed, regardless of a patient’s relationship with their doctor, if the front office staff is unpleasant to deal with, that could be one reason why they may consider changing practices.

You’re probably already aware of some of the more obvious challenges faced by your front desk staff — managing inbound phone calls, scheduling, and greeting patients — but your staff are also dealing with issues that you may not have considered. What else are they facing?

Managing patient emotions
A study in the journal Social Science and Medicine found that a “significant portion” of front desk staff’s work involved managing patients’ and families’ emotions, ranging from “confirming a prescription with an angry patient, to congratulating a new mother, to consoling a man whose wife had just died, to helping a mentally ill patient make an appointment.”

Handling call volume and maintaining phone etiquette
Your front desk handles dozens (maybe more than 100) calls a day, and it’s impossible to know how time-consuming an individual call will be. A patient may be calling to confirm the time of an appointment (a less than five-minute call), update their insurance information, or reschedule an appointment. Patients also ask questions about their doctor’s instructions, which may not be something the front desk can answer — but those staff still have to field the calls.

Much has been written (and many phone system solutions developed) to help practices manage their incoming calls and maintain exceptional phone etiquette. Using a patient portal can help significantly reduce call volume by enabling patients to get many of their questions answered online. But few practices have robustly embraced portals. Another way to temper call volume is to offer patients other ways to book, reschedule, or cancel appointments (i.e. an online appointment system or scheduling app).

Managing patient wait times and patient flow
It’s simple: patients hate waiting to see the doctor. According to a survey by Consumer Reports, long waits were among the top 10 gripes that patients have about their doctors. Managing that frustration isn’t so simple.

That’s because it’s not just patient frustration over wait times that receptionists must balance — it’s the needs of the doctors who are juggling increasingly packed schedules and who need help choreographing the flow of patients from the waiting room to the exam room. From using techniques like keeping waiting room patients informed about delays to referring to “scripts” that help guide service during common challenging patient scenarios, receptionists are constantly on their toes keeping patients calm and balancing the flow of traffic somewhere between a trickle and a tsunami.

Complaint resolution
Receptionists are responsible, at least in the immediate, for fielding and responding to complaints about issues ranging from long hold times to the quality of care they’ve received. Balancing empathy for the patient’s situation and determining how best to address it is a drain on energy and time, no matter how experienced a receptionist may be.

In sum, your front desk staff are the unsung heroes of your practice, and they’re key to maintaining efficiency and productivity as well as excellent patient relationships. Don’t forget to spend time acknowledging and evaluating the challenges they face. The effort you spend managing your front desk will pay off handsomely.

For more information about how to make life easier for your receptionists and other front office staff by streamlining the appointment booking process and more, contact Everseat today.

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What Today’s Patients Look for in Medical Practices

What Today’s Patients Look for in Medical Practices

For a long time, the old adage of “customer is king” didn’t really seem to apply to the physician-patient relationship. That’s changing, as reimbursement has grown more tied to patient outcomes and satisfaction in recent years. The importance of ensuring a good patient experience has never been more important.

Patients want great doctors, of course, but they aren’t qualified to evaluate your clinical skills, so they tend to judge you based on their experience as a consumer. And consumer expectations are changing rapidly, especially among young people, as one industry after another leverages the Internet to communicate and sell.

So what, exactly, does that mean for you? Let’s look at some emerging trends to better understand what patients want from their doctors.

More Access and Greater Convenience

We’ve talked before about how people are working more hours per week than ever. That means it’s harder to find time to get to the doctor. Combine that with the fact that it takes an average of 18 days to get an appointment, and you’ve got a recipe for frustrated patients who might be forsaking appointments simply because they can’t find the right time to come in.

Patients want convenience — and younger patients in particular equate convenience with online access. That means they want to schedule an appointment, communicate with their doctor, see test results and other health information, and pay their bills from their keyboards or even their phones.

According to Salesforce’s 2015 State of the Connected Patient report, as many as 31 percent of responding patients said they place value on “the ability to book appointments and pay bills online when they’re choosing a doctor.” Among millennials (individuals aged 18 to 34), these numbers are even more pronounced: upwards of 70 percent said they were interested in the convenience of a mobile application that would help them manage their own care by scheduling appointments and viewing personal health information.

Appointments need to be convenient (i.e. available during times before and after business hours and on the weekends, for full-timers) and easy enough to come by. Practices that can’t provide easy access risk losing patients to those that can.

Access to Medical Records and Digital Services

Patients want the days of spending time, energy, and money to get copies of their medical records to be over — yesterday. They want 24/7 digital access to their medical information via a patient portal that would prevent them having to call the doctor’s office every time they need to get a look at their records. One survey of 406 patients conducted by TechnologyAdvice Research showed that over 60 percent said that access to digital services played a role in their selection of a provider, and over 30 percent wanted to be able to see test results online. Yet, in the same study, only one-third said that their providers actually offered such access.

A similar study by Intuit Health showed that nearly 75 percent of patients polled said that they wanted to be able to pay their bills and communicate with their doctors online. Further still, patients wish to be able to engage digitally not just with their personal medical records, but also with their doctors. And they want to do this outside of scheduled appointment times. The vast majority of patients — 93 percent, in fact — are more likely to choose a doctor who is willing to communicate via email even if they were charged for those email communications.

Time With the Doctor

Patients don’t want to feel rushed in the exam room — and neither do doctors. But with new patients flooding the system under the reforms put in place by the Affordable Care Act, the pressure to squeeze as many visits in to each day is overwhelming.

The problem lies, in part, in low reimbursement numbers for primary care physicians and particularly for practices that accept Medicare and Medicaid. When reimbursements are low, doctors must see more patients to survive — leading to jam-packed schedules and harried providers who crank through appointments as speedily as possible.

The result: as many as three in five patients feel like their doctor is rushing through their exams, according to one poll by NPR, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, and the Harvard School of Public Health. Patients can tell when their doctor is eager to “get them out,” and this can feel especially upsetting when they are ill or frightened about a particular ailment. Rushing may also lead patients to feel concerned that they aren’t getting the most thorough care — all reasons someone might consider looking for a new doctor.

Good Communication and Empathy

No matter how much time we spend on our mobile devices and no matter how much technology reduces our need for human interaction, good bedside manner from doctors will always remain important to patients looking for the best care. In fact, as reported by one recent study, nearly 60 percent of people said that physician-patient relationships and physician personalities were “the most important factors in distinguishing a high-quality physician.”

The importance of clinical empathy hasn’t been lost on teaching institutions, either: Duke University’s oncology fellows are required to take a dedicated course on the subject, Massachusetts General Hospital offers an online course called Empathetics, and starting this year, the MCAT will include questions about human behavior and psychology for the first time.

Empathy doesn’t just lead to happier patients — it can lead to healthier ones, too. One 2012 study conducted by Italian researchers indicated that, of 20,000 diabetes patients, those who were treated by physicians displaying the most empathy ultimately had lower rates of complications than those who were treated by physicians who showed low levels of empathy.

So, what do we know? Patients want to feel that their doctors are accessible, and that their doctors care about their well-being. These desires can be addressed with technology — like patient portals, for example — and with adjustments in doctor behavior (since showing empathy can lead to better patient satisfaction, outcomes, and retention, it truly does pay to pay attention to it). In other words, remembering that patients are customers, too, can go a long way to ensuring that your empowered patients don’t choose to start visiting one of your competitors.

Interested in learning more about how to improve your patients’ experience with your practice? Get in touch with Everseat to discover a simple way to enable your patients to conveniently book appointments, simplifying your scheduling and reducing your number of unfilled slots.

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Patients Outpace Doctors in the Use of Digital Technology

Chances are, you see patients immersed in smartphones all the time in your waiting and exam rooms. It likely comes as no surprise, then, that patients are plugged in more than ever before — and turning to digital technologies not only to connect with friends but also to manage and improve health. Consider, for instance, these findings from Makovsky Health’s 2015 “Pulse of Online Health” survey:

  • 91 percent of patients in the United States look online for health and medical information.
  • 88 percent would share personal information digitally to improve care and treatment options.
  • 66 percent would use a mobile app to manage their health. (Millennials all the more so.)

Yet as patients’ use of digital grows, studies show that doctors and healthcare organizations are slower to adopt these same technologies — whether because they question the ability of popular technologies to solve health problems, or they’re simply stretched thin and don’t have time to learn a new tool. If you run or operate a medical practice, hospital, or health system, turning your back on digital can come with hefty consequences, from failing to meet the needs of patients to disgruntled staff members, inefficient work processes, and even a loss of revenue.

If you’re struggling to keep pace with patients’ use of technology, what can you do to catch up? For starters, know and understand the three key ways patients use (or want to use) digital technologies to live healthier, less stressful, and more active lifestyles.

1. To boost knowledge and learn
Friendly, easy-to-use tools like Dr. Google, WebMD, and various web-based “symptom checkers” tout the ability to diagnose patients in seconds. Of course, the convenience of a speedy “diagnosis” is alluring, given the increasing amount of time patients have to wait to see doctors across a range of specialties. And the information patients can glean is growing more credible, with platforms like Dr. Google utilizing top-notch physicians (including those from the Mayo Clinic) to validate and fact-check information.

Many doctors, on the other hand, use the Internet far less often to research medical information, relying instead on traditional channels like print-based medical journals, a recent article from Physician’s Weekly explains. Plenty, in fact, have been quite vocal about the dangers of so-called “DIY diagnosis.”

But whether you prefer print or digital resources to stay abreast of your field is, ultimately, your own business. The fact of the matter is that your patients most certainly look for health information online. So instead of scoffing at their use of the web, work with them to suggest websites, forums, and other sources that align with your approach and meet your approval.

2. To track and monitor health
Digital technology provides more than information. Today’s patients use digital tools to track and stay on top of their health. From mobile apps that count calories and track nutrition, cholesterol, and exercise, patients are leveraging technology to acquire their own health data — and use it to gain insights and make sound health-related decisions. In 2014 alone, FitBit, Inc. had 6.7 million subscribers and sold a staggering 10.9 million of the wristwatch-like devices that track physical activity, sleep, and other health-related data. To date, however, clinicians have shown little interest in data collected by wearable devices.

Where physicians have shown more interest is in areas that blur the line between medical devices and consumer health products. Just this last year, Dexcom created a way to transmit real-time blood sugar readings to smartphones and smart watches — a move with real potential to improve life for people with type 1 diabetes. Plenty of other medical device companies are following suit, finding ways to use mobile to make data accessible not only to patients but also to doctors. Patient portals facilitate the sharing of data and information between doctors and patients — and are improving care.

3. To make healthcare more convenient
Skyrocketing healthcare prices, hectic schedules, and long appointment wait times likely contribute to the fact that people in the U.S. actually go to the doctor less than those in other countries — as few as four times a year, compared with, for example, Japan’s 13 times. But studies show that patients in the U.S. place a high value on convenience when it comes to healthcare, and this is where digital technologies can help. How, exactly?

For one, remote monitoring systems communicate symptoms, vital signs, and even pain levels for chronically ill patients to their doctors via a safe and secure server. And electronic medical records (EMRs) potentially eliminate the need for patients to coordinate their own care across physicians and health systems.

Likewise, mobile and web-based appointment booking apps like Everseat empower patients to schedule doctor appointments on demand, without having to pick up the phone and endure long hold times, only to be told they need to schedule weeks (or even months) in advance.

The reality? You can no longer dismiss digital technologies as a passing trend. To stay afloat and compete in the modern healthcare market, you have to embrace the same technology your patients use day in and day out to manage all aspects of life, from finance and parenting to entertainment, education, philanthropy, and social networking.

Want to learn how digital technologies can help you streamline operations and get ahead in today’s competitive marketplace? Get in touch to find out how Everseat’s revolutionary mobile and web-based app can streamline your operations, grow your bottom line, and increase patient access to timely care.

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4 Reasons Your Patients Cancel Appointments at the Last Minute

The occasional missed appointment happens at every medical practice, and may even feel like a welcome break in an otherwise jam-packed schedule. But last-minute appointment cancellations and no-shows hurt your practice’s finances — and can even take a toll on your patients’ health. By some estimates, missed appointments and last-minute cancellations cost the U.S. healthcare system $150 billion per year. Another study found that, in family medicine practices, cancellations and no-shows represented nearly one-third of all scheduled appointments, with only about 60 percent of those appointments being filled subsequently by walk-ins.

The amount of staff time spent trying to fill last-minute cancellations adds to the high cost and interferes with other priorities, like greeting patients and managing check-in and check-out procedures efficiently. The bottom line? Cancellations hurt your bottom line. Key to reducing them is understanding why patients cancel in the first place. If your practice isn’t doing what it can to remind and encourage patients to attend their appointments, you may be just as culpable for cancellations as patients themselves. At a time when medical liability experts say that missed appointments pose significant legal risks for physicians, reducing cancellations isn’t just good for business — it’s an ethical responsibility.

So, what’s keeping your patients from keeping their appointments?

Nerves
Let’s face it: going to the doctor isn’t at the top of most people’s fun list. But for many patients, fear and dread of the doctor visit result in avoiding, delaying, or cancelling appointments altogether. It’s not hard to imagine the reasons. Doctors can bring bad news. They might tell patients something they don’t want to hear, or lecture patients for putting off treatment, not following medical advice, or engaging in unhealthy behavior. With procedures like colonoscopies, stress tests, and blood work, prepping for the procedure (fasting, for instance) or the procedure itself can be reason enough to call and cancel.

How, then, can you calm patients’ nerves? Understanding and empathy go a long way. Instead of lecturing patients, try to understand why the problem exists and work with them to address it in ways that make sense for their lifestyle. A friendly demeanor matters, too. As the independent research organization NORC at the University of Chicago found in 2014, patients consider listening, attentiveness, a caring attitude, and bedside manner among the most important factors in determining quality of care.

Money
In the first quarter of 2015, only 11.9 percent of Americans were uninsured. But being insured is no guarantee of good care. A late-2014 Gallup poll found that as many as a third of people in the United States say they don’t get the medical care they need because of the cost. In fact, 22 percent of the 828 people surveyed put off treatment for a serious condition due to the expense, up from 12 percent in 2001 and 19 percent in 2013, Gallup found.

The Great Recession might be over, but plenty of patients struggle or aren’t able to pay for medical care. What’s to blame? Rising out-of-pocket costs and employer deductibles, combined with stagnant U.S. wages, are common culprits. So when patients are strained financially, cancelling an appointment last-minute might look like the only option.

Convenience
Hectic work and family schedules can make for a packed day. Studies show, in fact, that U.S. citizens not only work more hours per week than people in any other developed country, we’re also working more than ever in our own history. When the repercussions of taking time out of the work day to go to the doctor feel more serious than the health problem itself, it’s easy for patients to prioritize meetings and tasks over the doctor appointment they scheduled — especially if they aren’t acutely ill. Add anticipated wait times in your waiting and exam rooms, and the motivation to keep appointments can dwindle further down the list of priorities.

Offering early morning, evening, and weekend appointments, your practice can offset the cancellations you receive from harried patients who, despite best intentions, can’t feasibly get there during the workday.

Availability
Is your practice’s waiting list growing? Do your patients have to wait too long to get an appointment? If so, know that these factors affect your cancellation rate. Sick patients frustrated by having to wait a long time to get an appointment will cancel and go elsewhere if another doctor can see them sooner. Practice loyalty flies by the wayside, especially if someone isn’t feeling well and needs urgent care.

Last-minute cancellations come at a high cost to both your practice and your patients’ health. By figuring out what barriers your patients face — and working with them instead of against them — you can take the first steps in creating a system that works for your practice and patients alike.

Want more help reversing the revenue loss and other consequences of last-minute cancellations? At Everseat, we’ve created a mobile and web-based application to solve the problem on all ends. Get in touch or sign up for a demo to learn more.

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