I would like to start a new series in the MTOTW called “Pick One Thing” (… and get really good at it). In each of these articles, I will help you look at one small part of your patient care process and make it really great. Over time, you will reinvent many of the details in your practice that create the total patient experience and ultimately, you will build a stronger, more successful business.
Let’s start with the greeting of patients at the front desk when they arrive for an appointment. This brief interaction sets the tone for the whole visit and it goes a long way to shape the patient’s perception and even their behavior. It is very important, and yet most optometric practices don’t handle it all that well.
The following subheads will be used in future articles in the Pick One Thing series.
Take an objective look at how your office currently handles the check-in process. You may have multiple staff members who do this task and the exact process may change with each patient, but look at a typical cross section of what usually happens. You may want to sit in the waiting area yourself, although admittedly, staff may behave differently when they see the boss is observing them. But even with that, you can learn a lot by watching and listening. Also, just ask staff to tell you what happens and if there are any aspects that patients don’t care for. Make some notes.
Review Your Resources
The resources for an office procedure are the people, office space and equipment that are used in providing the service. In this case, it is the staff, telephones, computers, photocopier, scanner, paperwork and the desk itself. All of these factors play a role in the efficiency of the process. More about this below, but one big resource is staff. In many offices, quite often, there is no one staffing the front desk at all! That is a very negative impression and it is not OK.
Review Your Financial Investment
Sometimes you have to spend money to make your business better. The smartest investment may not always be something tangible, like a new instrument. Have faith that investing in your process will also produce a good financial return. An improved patient experience will result in additional sales, more referrals and increased loyalty in the future.
Consider these possible ways to invest in your first impression at the front desk:
Hire an additional employee if it seems that your current staff at the front desk is either absent or too busy to take care of people arriving for an appointment.
Add more phones and workstations so your larger staff can take care of all tasks quickly.
Make the front desk larger to accommodate more people. If this is not possible, consider building a call center in a back office so the front desk staff does not need to answer the phone.
Review Your Process
Much of what happens at check-in was created by you, the practice owner. That may have been years ago and many things may have changed. Many new procedures may have been added without ever taking any away. Now is the time to look at everything you do from the patient’s point of view. With the goal in mind of making the check-in process easier and more pleasant, see if you can change the requirements and weed out what you can.
Internal paperwork and file preparation. Could staff do this a couple days before the appointment (during a slow time) so everything is ready when the patient walks in?
History forms. Do you need all those questions on every patient? Don’t make every person complete all that if you don’t really need it. Remember that you only need extensive review of systems, past, social and family histories if you are billing 99 codes. 92 codes can be used in many cases and do not have the onerous history requirement. Additionally, many exams are billed to vision plans and not medical and they also do not require extremely long histories. By all means, get the history you need to do a good job clinically, but don’t require more than that.
You and a clinical tech can verbally ask what you need to know. Avoid asking for the same thing multiple times in different ways.
Be sure your staff requests that patients go to your website before their visit to download and complete forms.
Many offices offer a screening test of some sort for an additional fee. I think a yes/no form can work fine for this, but keep it short and have the receptionist provide a brief verbal explanation when it is presented.
Staff members should smile at every person who walks up to the desk. Oddly, this simple task can be the most difficult thing to implement. Ideally, you would have hired a person for this job who smiles easily and has that kind of personality in the first place. In any case, a smile sends a huge positive message and front desk staff should understand the importance and master the technique. Talk to them about it.
Multitask. Even if the receptionist is busy or on the phone, he or she must make eye contact with the arriving patient and gesture “I’ll be right with you”. We do not want the patient to feel like he is a bother or less important.
Greet warmly. Discuss what the staff person should say. Maybe, “Good morning and welcome to Main Street Eye Center”. Always use the patient’s name if you know it! Hearing one’s own name is like magic for relationship-building!
Let the patient know honestly about the expected wait time.
Offer any refreshments that are available, like coffee, tea or water.
Review the wording staff should use to explain any paperwork and forms that are required.
Put all these elements together and you have an action plan for improving your front desk greeting and check-in process. Be sure to monitor the procedures to be sure the staff does not revert back to old habits.
Best wishes for continued success,
Neil B. Gailmard, OD, MBA, FAAO
Editor, Optometric Management Tip of the Week
Dr. Gailmard's new book, Practice Management in Optometry: A Blueprint for Success Based on the Optometric Management Tip of the Week, is now available on Amazon.