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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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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Don’t Just Sit There! Do Something!

Every so often researchers find data that enlightens us profoundly and at the same time ruins some of our favorite pleasures. Chinese food, cheeseburgers – maybe we should have known they were not great for our bodies. Now we are learning that we can’t even afford to sit down — at least not for too long. U.S. News recently reported that “mounting evidence suggests that those who spend hours with little movement are at higher risk for developing blood clots, diabetes, cardiovascular disease and a constellation of other maladies fueled by insufficient physical activity.”

And guess who is not exempt from this diagnosis? People who exercise vigorously and regularly. group_running_cropped

Really? You could be forgiven for doubting, but the surprising conclusion is that even super fit sitters are at risk from the biochemical effects of being sedentary for continuous periods of time if they routinely sit still for more than an hour, research says.

There is an answer. Get up and move around every hour. US News indicates that a 2015 study in the Clinical Journal of the American Society of Nephrology recommends two minutes of exercise per hour of sitting to reduce the chance of death by one third!

What other good ideas do they have for us?

  • Count your steps – Try an innovative wearable or even a simple pedometer!
  • Just move it – Even mild exercise that breaks up sitting spells is a big help.
  • Ping yourself – A reminder from your watch or smart-phone is a great idea.

Cardiologist Edward J. Teufel, MD has a few other ideas on how to avoid the sitting disease:

“Get up and move at least once an hour, and walk at lunchtime.  There are even some companies that are providing employees with ‘walking desks’ which is basically a standing level desk with a treadmill in front of it that allows you to walk while you are working!  Another idea is to put a set of pedals under the desk (which are available at medical supply stores, often used for physical therapy) and pedal while sitting. I think it is up to employers as well to make accommodations for their workers to prevent these issues.  It will benefit them in the long run to have healthier employees.”

The upshot: Don’t give up on plain old diet and exercise as secrets to a healthy life, experts say; but whatever you do or don’t do for exercise, get up and move around for two minutes every hour. And put simple personal technology to use to keep you on track!

The Patient Will Indeed See You Now – If You Really See The Patient

In the United States, the public still puts more trust in nurses and doctors than in any other two professions. But the patience of patients trying to get an appointment is wearing thin. We all know the feeling of relief upon hearing the words, “the doctor will see you now” but thought leader, physician and author Eric Topol stood those familiar words on their head in the title of his recently published book in order to make his point. The Patient Will See You Now, is a book he wrote to shed light on how the doctor-patient relationship is getting better for everyone involved, thanks to…smartphones.

Dr. Topol believes that mobile technology puts patients in the driver’s seat and can both save lives and dramatically improve lifestyles. As a physician he also knows that updating their way of doing business is very good for practice management and patient satisfaction.

There are many apps to enhance chronic care. Physician ratings sites are available at the tip of a finger. Telehealth has arrived too, bringing the exam itself right into the palm of your hand. Scheduling is joining the category and has much to contribute.

In The Patient Will See You Now, Dr. Topol acknowledges that scheduling appointments is one of many categories where a patient has long been expected to accommodate the needs and norms of a busy doctor and his or her office. Consider the original 1847 Code of Ethics of the American Medical Association, which Dr. Topol quotes from in the book’s first chapter:

“[p]atients should .. avoid calling on their medical adviser unnecessarily during the hours devoted to meals or sleep. They should always be in readiness to receive the visits of their physician, as the detention of a few minutes is often serious inconvenience for him.”

There is a growing consensus that getting a convenient appointment simply has to be made easier, given the computing and communication power most of us are holding in one hand. Serious studies including a June 2015 report from the Institute of Medicine are placing the blame for delays in access to care on scheduling systems that benefit providers more than they do patients.

Study after study about smartphones shows that almost everyone has one, and we almost always have them by our side. And smartphones may be the first technology to truly cross the digital divide, reaching equally high levels of penetration in traditionally underserved communities.

Why not tackle the challenge of scheduling appointments via smartphone if we are already using this technology to improve efficiency in so many other parts of our lives?

If you are developing a smartphone scheduling innovation agenda for your practice, clinic or institution, here are three things to think about while you finish Dr. Topol’s thoughtful book:

  1. Don’t just put an appointment booking tool on your website (even if it has a mobile format option). After all, that merely carries the same old relationship and dynamic over to the internet and fails to turn the new technology into an opportunity for real improvement.
  2. Think about allowing a patient to indicate the times she or he is available, and let your office respond rather than doing it the other way around? If the result is you are seeing more patients and seeing them at times more closely tied to the needs of their health, everyone is going to be pretty happy.
  3. Don’t go it alone. There are discussions emerging among all of your professional groups about how to tackle the future of scheduling. Get connected to the conversation.

There are many new terms for this kind of thinking. Participatory care and patient-centric care are two you will see increasingly.  Find the language that works for you and make it a part of your practice. Maybe you like the nice ring that Dr. Topol’s turn of phrase has: “the patient will see you now.”

Don’t Wait! See Your Doctor Now!

MillennialsHow many times have you cancelled a doctor’s appointment because of work? I can personally say that I have rescheduled or cancelled about five doctor appointments in the last six months. For many people, especially those of us in the millennial generation, this is not uncommon. According to a study, 41% of Millennials would cancel a doctor’s appointment because they are too busy. Why go in to the doctor when you can just research your symptoms?

While it may be a more convenient to sit in bed and self diagnose, it’s not exactly the best option for your health. Making time for the doctor is hard, but it’s worth it. People who visit the doctor for regular checkups are less likely to be diagnosed with preventable chronic diseases like heart disease, diabetes, and cancer.

Maintaining a healthy lifestyle with regular exercise and proper nutrition can help you avoid seeing the doctor frequently for different illnesses. But, there are other reasons why it’s a good idea to see your doctor at least once a year. Here are a few to consider:

  1. Avoid preventable diseases – Your primary care physician preforms many routine checks and tests to catch anything out of the norm before its too late. It’s also their job to gather information about your lifestyle to make sure that you’re maintaining healthy habits. Asking questions and educating you about weight management, alcohol abuse, stress & anxiety, and tobacco use can prevent issues later in life.
  2. Build your medical records – Creating a base line to monitor your health from will be extremely valuable for you over time. If an emergency comes up, your medical records can be used to rule out any existing conditions and any changes to your health can be a sign that something is up.
  3. Maintaining a trusted relationship – Building and maintaining a trusted doctor patient relationship is extremely important so that the doctor knows your specific wants and needs in your healthcare. Having a relationship with your doctor will also make it easier to talk about hard or uncomfortable issues you may be having.
  4. Get your appointment faster – When you become an established patient, the doctor will often make time to squeeze you in, and may even be willing to treat or diagnose small issues over the phone or email. This is great news for us Millennials who hate leaving work to go to the doctor.

While it might be a pain to schedule an appointment with your doctor now, it will definitely make a difference in the long run. With Everseat, you never have to worry about the hassle of booking an appointment over the phone. All you have to do is show up once a year.

Telehealth & mHealth for Acute Care? There’s a Bunch of Apps for That

Healthcare mobilization (mHealth) is a growing trend, and one that is beneficial for both providers and patients. Healthcare is becoming increasingly available to patients whenever and wherever they need it.  It is an important tool for many situations – for those that need to go to the doctor often, or those that can’t find the time for even their yearly checkups, or for those mishaps that sometimes happen:

There are two groups in particular that have seen a greater need for this type of service – patients with chronic conditions and those with mental health issues. Programs in Colorado, Iowa and New York have already paved the way of this new type of patient care.

Telehealth for Chronic Conditions

Health apps, monitoring systems with Bluetooth capabilities, and electronic health records have granted patients the ability to pull their health history online, or get a helpful tip for their chronic condition in the form of a text message. Chronic conditions range from having a mostly normal life to needing assistance to get through the day. Through telehealth, a doctor can offer a busy mom with a mild chronic condition the personal touch of a video chat to check in. Or, a grandfather suffering severe pain and his caretaker who needs to weight in can have a consultative video conference with his doctor. All without causing patients any of the undue pain of travel or the discomfort of a waiting room.

On March 22, 2015, Governor Hickenlooper of Colorado signed a bill into law expanding telehealth services, which began in 2008. The telehealth service in Colorado provides subsidized broadband connectivity to 200 physical and behavioral healthcare sites. Providers have advocated for virtual care for patients to help with:

  • Managing chronic conditions.
  • Educating on diseases and home treatment.
  • Answering health-related maintenance advice from home.

The University of Iowa’s eHealth Extension Network began a similar initiative a year ago, after receiving a nearly $500,000 grant to bring needed equipment to rural healthcare facilities throughout Iowa. This includes telehealth carts, equipped with high quality video conferencing and cloud-based image sharing which will allow for better telehealth services to those who cannot get to their healthcare providers. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vislick said this investment meant that “people who live and work in rural areas will not have to travel long distances for specialized healthcare services.”

The more access we give to these patients through the convenience of their mobile phones, the more we can bring comfort to those with chronic conditions.

mHealth Services for Mental Health

Chronic conditions are not the only group that has seen a great need for this type of technology. People with mental diseases need greater and easier access to help, such as that offered in New York City.

TXT ME is a new campaign launched in New York City for teens that struggle with ailments such as substance abuse or depression. This pilot was the brainchild of Mayor Bill de Blasio’s 20-year-old daughter, Chiara, who has seen these struggles herself: “I know from personal experience that reaching out when you’re in pain can be the turning point – the first step on the road to recovery.”

Simply text “TXT ME” to the helpline and a counselor will respond via text. They provide compassionate services, actively participate in the teen’s concerns, and help them get through whatever they need. They can also look up local counselors in the teen’s area to provide more help or face-to-face encounters. Technology has often been criticized for taking away some humanity from our day-to-day, however, programs like TXT ME take advantage of technology by offering care for those that need it.

Keeping Patient Care Focused on the Patient

Patients in need of acute care can especially benefit from the growing popularity and possibility of personal care through technology. Making services more easily available to these patients can lessen the chance of chronic pain or a mental health issue going untreated. And while telehealth and mHealth are valuable for practices, healthcare and technology are pushing the focus to the convenience and comfort of the patients.

Right now, rapidly changing technology is directly affecting healthcare. Healthcare is also changing through legislation. Telehealth has been caught in the crossfire, with many people supporting covering telehealth– particularly those in defense of the elderly on Medicare – because it allows for the personal touch, without the cost or time of travel for the patient or doctor. To protect these patients, bringing technology to personal care is becoming better regulated all the time to mitigate the chances of privacy, or data errors.

As technology continues to advance, we will certainly see an increase of these trends. Hopefully, with more initiatives focusing on the specialized, ongoing needs of those with chronic conditions and those with mental health issues. mHealth and telehealth services are working towards the same goal: helping patients find the appointments and care they need faster and easier.