Everyone knows that in a medical office the phone is a critical element in delivering quality patient care. Making appointments, scheduling diagnostic studies, making referrals, and reporting test results to patients . . . it’s all done over the phone – a tool too important not to take seriously. Here are a few tips on making the phone work for you, and for your patients.
Set the bar high. Upon hiring someone into your practice, you may assume they know how to manage themselves on the phone. That’s a risky assumption. Even if a new employee has medical office experience, it’s possible that they never received proper telephone training. Make sure that every new staff member knows what is expected of them and how things are done in your practice.
Set the bar high for how every staff member (new and seasoned) conducts themselves during telephone encounters, and monitor the situation periodically to make sure standards are adhered to. Here are some basic telephone rules that, when followed consistently, will keep patient satisfaction high.
Prompt response. More than three or four rings on a regular basis may mean you need additional staff to manage incoming calls. Ditto if you’re getting complaints from callers about being placed on hold too often or for too long.
Appropriate greeting. Keep your greeting short and sweet. “Hello . . . thank you for calling Any City Gastroenterology . . . we’re here to serve you . . . my name is Mary Beth . . . how can I help you today?” is too much. “Any City Gastroenterology, Mary Beth speaking,” said with a smile and a positive attitude is plenty.
Clarity. Employees should be instructed (and, if necessary, trained) to speak directly in to the phone, loudly enough for callers to hear them, clearly, and slowly. Mumbling and using slang and medical jargon are out.
Gentle hold. If you must place a caller on hold, never do so without permission. For example, “Any City Gastroenterology, hold please,” followed by a click is unacceptable. If you have multiple lines ringing and putting someone on hold is unavoidable, the appropriate greeting is, “Any City Gastroenterology, may I place you on hold for one moment?” Wait for a yes, say “thank you, I’ll be right back,” and then put the caller on hold.
Use technology wisely. If you use an automated call routing system, keep it simple. When deciding which options to include, think first about patient needs, and then about your own. If you offer more than four or five choices, you risk confusing callers to the point that they press “0” or simply give up and hang up.
Speaking of the “0” option, callers should always have that choice at any point during the recorded message. And for goodness’ sake, don’t include “Please listen carefully, as our menu options have changed.” That’s just annoying.
If your callers listen to music while they are on hold, consider your audience when choosing the soundtrack. You’re probably safer with light classical or jazz over the latest from Eminem, no matter how talented the guy is.