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    Josh Weiner
    Josh Weiner
    The front desk is the face of a medical practice. When patients walk in, the first person they see and interact with is the staff member at the front desk. Then they think:
    • “What is the waiting room like?”
    • “How easy is it to check in?”
    • “How long is the wait?”
    A lot is riding on the experience patients have when they first walk in the door. Unfortunately, front desk tasks tend to be a catch-all for tasks that no one else can take on. From appointment reminders and recare calls to answering incoming calls and processing paperwork, a lot gets dumped on the front desk. This can make it difficult for the staff to focus on arriving patients.

    Streamlining these tasks can go a long way in appeasing patients. Practices face a crisis of patients leaving in search of a better experience. In the 2017 Patient-Provider Relationship Study, one patient in eight said they left their primary care provider in the past year. Nearly 40% of those patients attributed leaving to poor experience. When asked for details, many said they left due to negative experience with office staff.

    These patients felt more like a number than a person. A Physicians Foundation survey found that one patient in three considered switching providers due to service issues.

    In a McKinsey study, patients said that they have the same customer service expectations from a healthcare practice that they have from a retail store. When you enter a retail store, the staff greet you and ask if they can help you find anything. They may check in again after a few minutes to find out if you need a dressing room. They are focused on the customer. Their business model depends on it.

    Eliminating as many front office tasks as possible is the only way to provide this type of customer service in a medical practice. There is a formula for doing this: automate tasks that should be automated and use new tools to deliver personalized patient communication.

    Reminders and recare messages

    Phone calls are the least effective way to reach patients for appointment reminders and recare messages. Studies have shown that many people don’t answer their phone anymore, and 19% of people don’t even check their voicemail. Phone calls are also time-consuming. It can take two minutes just to call and leave a message. If you have to call 30 patients for the next day’s appointments, that can take an hour a day. Each minute front desk staff are making one of these calls is a minute they can’t spend with a patient in person.

    Patient relationship management (PRM) software allows practices to automate the reminder process while customizing to individual patients. It can ask patients about their communication preferences and send messages via text and email, which are generally preferred. The timing and number of reminders can be customized so patients don’t get too few or too many messages. In addition, reminders can contain specific detailed messages based on appointment types, making them more personalized.

    Patient preference-based reminders are more likely to be opened, read and responded to. This is good for patients and the practice. The practice increases appointment confirmations and reduces no-shows, and can fill appointments when they are cancelled. Patients get the care they need and get more personal attention from front desk workers who are less likely to be tied up on the phone.

    Appointment scheduling

    Appointment scheduling calls take more time than reminder calls. According to Accenture, it takes an average of eight minutes to schedule an appointment. That is a lot of time focused on a phone call while patients queue at the front desk. What if the front desk staff are handling multiple calls at once? Now you have agitated patients on your hands on the phone and in person.

    Nearly 80% of patients say that the ability to book, change or cancel appointments online is important. Offering online scheduling gives patients the flexibility to book at their convenience. It also helps reduce the number of long scheduling calls coming into the practice, freeing staff to focus on patients at the front desk.

    To maximize success with online scheduling, make it available through every possible channel. Include the link in all emails and texts, on the practice website, on social media pages and online listings, and remind people when they visit the office. Consider sending out a quick email and text newsletter about using online scheduling.

    Text messaging

    In recent years, text messaging has become the preferred method of communication: 76% of younger adults think text messages are more convenient than phone calls. The Patient-Provider Relationship Study found that about 60% of boomers want to send and receive text messages from their physician.

    Real-time, two-way text messaging is how people communicate with their family and friends. It is a great way for them to communicate with their provider as well. It is both personal and efficient. Texting can reduce the need for patients to call the practice and get answers more quickly. It takes as little as four seconds to respond to a text compared to two minutes for a phone call.

    Texting is a great way to save time for staff and patients. It can add convenience while reducing workload and allow staff to give their full attention to patients at the front desk.

    Freeing up the front desk staff can improve the patient experience both inside and outside the office by adding new levels of convenience and access. This approach can differentiate practices in a way that can help them retain patients, attract new patients and increase staff satisfaction.

    With the right set of solutions, practices can give patients a consistently excellent service experience, meeting the demands of the modern healthcare consumer.
    Josh Weiner

    Written By

    Josh Weiner

    Josh Weiner is the CEO of SR Health by Solutionreach. He joined Solutionreach from Summit Partners, a leading global growth equity firm. Through his work with Summit Partners, Josh served on the Solutionreach board of directors for three years. Prior to Summit Partners, he was a consultant with McKinsey & Company. Josh is a graduate of Stanford University and resides in Salt Lake City with his wife and children. Josh and his family spend as much time as possible exploring the natural wonders of Utah’s mountains and deserts. Connect with him on LinkedIn @joshfweiner.

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