Secretary at computer desk

Minimizing the Practice Pain Factors

by Ron Blue

1. BEING PLACED ON HOLD 

First, always ask the patient, “Do you mind holding?”  Allow them to answer and then, before placing them on hold, reply, “Thank you for helping me” or “Thank you”.

Remember, most patients will not hold longer than 40 seconds, so get back to them as soon as possible.  If it is going to be longer than 40 seconds, offer to take their phone number and call them back as soon as possible.

2. TRANSFERRING A CALL 

When transferring a call, introduce the caller to the person you are transferring them to.  For example, in the case when a caller asks to speak with the insurance department, say

“Mary is our insurance coordinator and she will be more than happy to talk to you about your concern.  Would you like to speak with her? (Wait for response) Then say, “Thank you.”

As in the example above, always ask permission to transfer and thank them after their response. Another example of this would be as follows:

“I would like to transfer you to Mary.  She is our insurance specialist and can better help you.  Would that be o.k.? Wait for response then say “Thank you for helping me out,”

Or

“Mary is our insurance specialist and she will be happy to assist you.  Would you like to speak with her?”  Wait for answer then say “Thank you,”

The above example should soften the transferring process.

3. WAITING A LONG TIME TO SEE THE DOCTOR ON THE DAY OF APPOINTMENT

As in all cases, honesty is the best policy.  Apologize and explain briefly to the patient why there is a delay.  Remember, patients do not want to hear excuses.  Assure them we are doing everything possible to help minimize any additional delays.

An example of a way to soften this “moment of truth” would be as follows…

“Meanwhile, we would like to make you as comfortable as possible, could I offer you some coffee?”

Or

“If the wait is inconvenient, we can arrange another appointment for you at no charge.”

If  it is a Medicare patient, no charge would mean any out-of-pocket expense.

If the patient has waited more than 30 minutes, the patient’s chart should be forwarded to the secretary for an apology letter which will be sent to the patient.

If we are running more than an hour behind and it appears as though we have no hope of catching up, it is suggested that we call patients scheduled later in the day to warn them in advance of the long wait time, giving them the opportunity of coming in a little later or even rescheduling.

Calling ahead when behind may be most beneficial to out-of –town patients or patients who are leaving work to make their appointment.

4. UNFRIENDLY, UNATTENTIVE STAFF

As the patient checks in, the receptionist should make immediate eye contact and greet the patient with a smile and if possible, call the patient by name.  This can be accomplished by familiarizing oneself with the patients due to come in.

As a show of respect for elderly patients, it is recommended that the receptionist stand up when making their greeting.

For established patients, language to the effect that “It’s nice to see you again” adds a soft touch.

At this point, the patient should be informed of what kind of waiting time there is and kindly direct the patient to the coffee.

Finally, ask them to please make themselves comfortable.

When greeting new patients, welcome them to our practice  and thank them for choosing us.

Always keep in mind the three essential elements to a friendly greeting: eye contact, smile and use of patient’s name.

5. PATIENT WISHING TO SPEAK WITH DOCTOR

The important thing to remember when a patient asks to speak to the doctor is that, in most cases, an assistant or surgical coordinator can answer the question as effectively and much quicker.

Use the following example:

“We appreciate that you would like to speak with the doctor, but I really feel comfortable that Jill, our surgical coordinator, can answer that question for you and much faster,”

or

“We appreciate your wanting to ask the doctor and it is important that you get an answer quickly, so I am going to recommend that you speak with Jill, our surgical coordinator.  I am comfortable she can answer the question for you.  If you are not satisfied with her answer, let her know and she will be more than happy to have doctor call you back.”

6. PATIENTS OBJECTING TO OPHTHALMIC/ OPTOMETRIC ASSISTANTS’ INTERVENTION AND TESTING

This concern can be addressed by saying:

“In order for our doctor to see as many patients as possible who needs his attention, many of the routine tests involved in an eye exam are performed by optometric assistants.  All of our ophthalmic assistants have been trained by the doctor and are highly qualified to conduct all the tests the doctor needs for his evaluation of your condition.”

You may also mention:

“It is a teamwork approach to eye care, which assures that everyone is getting the very best of care.”

Impress upon them that we are doing it for them, not to them.

7. PATIENT LEAVING WITHOUT FULLY UNDERSTANDING THEIR PROBLEM

This can be alleviated by asking the patient at the end of the exam, “Are there any questions you have that we haven’t answered?”

Also, when escorting the patient to the payment area, offer them a patient education brochure, appropriate for their diagnosis.  Then say

“Please feel free to take it and read it over.  If you have any questions, don’t hesitate to call me.”

Write your name and phone number on pamphlet or give patient your business card.

8. PATIENT OBJECTING TO PAYMENT ON DAY OF SERVICE

This objection can be addressed by saying:

“Well, (Patient’s name), we want you to be comfortable with your arrangement, but we do kindly ask that you pay for your services today, if at all possible.”

If patient voices a problem in paying, mention that we take credit cards, and as a last resort, try to get half the payment.  If all of these fail, then provide patient with a walk out statement and a stamped envelope.  In the case of an established patient, please peruse their ledger for any outstanding balance and evidence of slow-pay.  In either event, bring to the patient’s attention and take a stronger position in obtaining payment that day.