If you walked into your office through the front door, what are the odds that there would be a staff member there to greet you? Have you ever avoided your reception desk area, because you know you may end up checking in a patient yourself? I know this lack of coverage occurs in my office, and we have worked closely to improve this service point. I'll bet it occurs in most offices. We could just write the issue off and conclude that it is normal for that to happen, and patients understand that the office is busy! The problem is, your practice image is too important to take the easy way out, and once it is deemed "acceptable", the lapse of coverage will get worse and worse.
First impressions are far too important to be complacent about. Patient check-in is what management experts refer to as one of several "moments of truth" in a typical patient visit. There are many legitimate reasons why a receptionist is pulled away for "just a second". That valid reason that pulls her away can end up taking much longer than a second, and that is always when a patient will walk in.
Here are some of the initiatives we have taken to improve our performance in this area:
· We hired extra business office staff
· We established an office policy that the front desk should never be left unattended. If the receptionist needs to use the rest room or retrieve an old file, he or she is to find a technician or the insurance coordinator to cover.
· We held training sessions on how to acknowledge patients who approach the receptionist when she is busy or on the telephone. We know that a smile and a gesture that says, "I'll be right with you", makes a world of difference.
Even with this ongoing effort, we're not perfect - but at least lack of coverage is much less frequent. It only takes about 10 seconds for a person to start to feel ignored. Sure, you may be able to overcome the negative feeling that was created, but you're far better off preventing it.
Best wishes for continued success,
Neil B. Gailmard, OD, MBA, FAAO
Chief Optometric Editor, Optometric Management