As your practice gets busier, staying on track and handling the unexpected will become an increasingly important aspect of the way you practice.
The following strategies are time-proven methods of regaining your focus and efficiency.
Addressing problem phone calls
Your front desk person represents your passion and purpose, and implements your office policies in good times and bad. He or she handles problem phone calls by responding in a way that satisfies the caller. When the receptionist is involved in a sensitive phone call, the discussion is best completed in a private adjoining room.
Sometimes office policies are amended when a standing policy doesn’t work. For example: “I want to speak to the doctor and only the doctor.” The patient calling feels that he or she must be answered at once and only by the doctor. How do you cope with this problem?
Your receptionist might say, “Would you be willing to give me the information or the nature of your call so I can present it to the doctor as soon as possible?” If the patient offers that information, great; if they refuse, then the receptionist should ask for the patient’s phone number, and give it to you when you’re free.
What are likely reasons for this problem to arise? The patient might want to speak only to you because they are worried about their condition and are desperate for positive news; they were confused by something done or said in the office; they were dissatisfied with the care received; they had had a negative encounter with staff; they were confused about how their insurance worked, or; they are in a financial bind but need help now.
When your staff should seek your advice
If your receptionist does not know the answer to a question that a patient is asking, he or she should ask to be excused and then quickly gather the information, return to the patient and thank them for waiting, and clearly give the information requested.
If the receptionist believes it will take a long time to gather the response, he or she can ask the patient whether a phone call later will be acceptable. It is imperative that the receptionist make every effort to call as soon as possible. This shows interest, consideration, and helpfulness to the patient.
Demanding phone calls
Some calls will be requests for immediate appointments. If it is the first request, every effort should be made to assist the patient and his or her needs. If the request for immediate attention becomes a habit by an established patient, it should be handled in the same manner as walk-ins.
If a patient calls for an appointment at a stated time and it is not possible to schedule the time requested, state that fact, but also ask if the patient might have a second choice of time. Suggest that if there is any change at all in the appointment schedule, your office will be happy to call and reschedule the appointment for the time originally requested. This lets the patient know you are sincerely interested in helping and cooperating in every way. It builds friendships that deliver a long and secure practice.
A patient who is is in pain or emotionally upset might express a bad attitude, anger, and fear. A patient can fall into despair because they feel no one is listening to what they are trying to explain. Are you the one who will see past their anger and hear their story?
Once that patient knows their message was heard and that you are committed to helping them, they will usually start to mellow out and eventually show appreciation. Learning to listen is an acquired skill
Watch out for calls or confrontations that lead to anger. Many times you will get an irate patient or stranger who stops by or calls. They might be most unreasonable due to reasons that are not related to your office but you are the one they explode on. The receptionist’s job is understandably difficult under these conditions.
The receptionist should listen for the reason behind the call or impromptu visit. Once the root problem is understood by you and your staff, and the person is satisfied you heard them correctly, a neutralizing solution can be found. You may need to handle the call or person in a private setting so as not to be overheard.
If the office staff made a mistake, that staff member should admit their error to the patient offended. When correcting a negative experience with a patient, your office staff should be humble, friendly, courteous, and helpful. If further explanations are required, the receptionist should schedule an appointment so that the patient and you can meet personally and smooth out the differences.
By the time the patient finally does see the doctor, it is common for them to have calmed down to reason and are open to a fair conclusion.
You don’t have to accept every patient
There will also be patients who are angry and impossible by their nature. Remember you can only help those who want to be helped. You don’t have to accept every person who comes through your front door. If you think it will be a mistake to accepting them, refer the patient to another doctor. If you need to dismiss them from your care, do so by registered mail.
Some people don’t want to get better; they like being a victim. You can treat 100 patients that day and not be as drained as by trying to help that one person who doesn’t really want to be helped. A negative patient will keep trying to disrupt your office. Draw the line quickly before they drain all your positive energy.
Are your answers satisfactory?
“What are the doctor’s fees?” This question sometimes poses problems. The well-trained receptionist can handle it skillfully: Your normal office fees can be shared, and further explanations are given concerning the acceptance of new patients, Medicare policies, patient responsibilities, and children or family rates if offered.
Patients may need to be told when and how payment is expected; if credit cards, cash, checks, or debit cards are accepted; and how insurance is handled. Or, your receptionist might reply, “Mrs. Smith, I am sorry but it is a little difficult for me to answer your specific questions concerning fees. They may vary with the chiropractic service to be performed for your particular condition. I suggest you come in for an exam and the doctor will explain what care you will need and at what cost, if your condition is treatable.”
Each day does not belong to you
No matter how well you plan your day or prepare for it, unexpected events can happen. Will you bend like a palm tree or break like an oak? Will you grow through adversity or shut down and be a victim?
Gary A. Boring, DC, BCAO, LCP (hon.), is a board member of the Sweat Foundation, practiced for 42 years at Boring chiropractic, and is the author of Driven Towards Excellence 2014. he is also an extension faculty member at Cleveland Chiropractic College and president of the Academy of Missouri chiropractors. he can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.