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I often recommend that doctors act as their own consultants by analyzing
every step that occurs during a patient encounter. I call this process Influence
Point Analysis (IPA). An influence point is any factor where the practice
interacts with the patient. Conducting an IPA is a large task, but let’s take it
one step at a time.
My favorite place to start analyzing a practice is at the front desk when a
patient first walks in. This is the first impression and the tone of the visit
is set here. I believe this point of contact is extremely important to the
success of your practice, yet it is often allowed to wallow in mediocrity.
Doctors become too busy with clinical duties to even notice what happens and
receptionists can easily change the desired positive tone into a negative one if
they are having a squabble with a co-worker or have personal problems that they
bring to work. Doctors would do well to stay aware of this first greeting and
office managers should definitely be monitoring it.
Is there anyone even at the front desk?
This is a very common problem and I recognize that it can’t be totally avoided
in all cases. But I also believe that many offices simply stop trying to keep
someone at the front desk. I don’t recommend that. Maintaining top-notch
customer service is an important competitive advantage for a practice and it
pays big dividends in patient loyalty and higher fees. A warm greeting that is
nearly immediate is key to that level of service.
It’s easy for the legitimate reasons for a coverage lapse, such as retrieving an
old record or a bathroom break, to turn into longer absences. We discuss the
importance of the greeting at staff meetings and we brainstorm ways to maintain
coverage. Quite a bit can be done if everyone tries. Frequent absences at the
front desk signal the need for an additional employee. Of course, very small
offices such as those with only one assistant are the most vulnerable, but as
the practice grows, I would look to remedy that.
Receptionists should receive training about the importance of presenting a
positive practice image to all visitors; one can’t just assume that warm,
friendly behavior is intuitive. I view it as part of the job and I tell my
business office staff that they play a role much like a good hostess in a fine
restaurant. They are goodwill ambassadors for our practice. When we hire for
that position we seek people who smile easily and project a friendly
Ideally, a receptionist will be kept busy at the front desk while being
available to greet people. Answering the phone, scheduling appointments,
accepting contact lens orders, preparing files and confirming insurance benefits
are a few of the many duties that keep this employee productive. It’s important
that the receptionist be able to do more than one thing at once. It’s not
difficult to look up while speaking on the phone and make eye contact and smile
at a patient who walks up. Holding up one index finger and nodding as if to say
“I’ll be right with you” makes a world of difference to the person who walks in.
To ignore the visitor seems to project that he is an interruption.
What’s in a name?
A lot if it’s your name. It always amazes me that receptionists will not seize
an opportunity to use a patient’s name, even when they know it! I’ve seen it
happen many times, an established patient with an appointment walks in. The
receptionist looks up and says “Hello, may I help you?” The patient states his
name and says he has an appointment. The receptionist acknowledges and
instructs. It seems like all went well, but did it? I often ask later if the
receptionist knew that patient by name before he said it and most often, the
answer is yes. Let’s not forget that she has the list of today’s appointments in
front of her, and staff often recognize patients they have worked with before.
Think how much more powerful the scenario would have been had the receptionist
said “Good morning, Mr. Jefferson. It’s a pleasure to see you again! The doctor
is right on schedule and we’ll be with you shortly. Please make yourself
comfortable in the reception area. May I get you some coffee while you wait?”
That kind of greeting builds relationships and cultivates loyalty.
Try to avoid bad news
If your office is really clicking in the area of customer service, your staff
will not have to deliver bad news very often at check-in. Ask them if they do.
Doctor is running behind schedule.
We don’t take your insurance.
We take your insurance, but you’re not eligible for benefits.
You should have had your contacts out.
You should have had your contacts in.
You should have brought your old glasses.
We didn’t receive your records from your last doctor.
Some of these issues could be discovered long before the patient shows up in
person, some could be prevented and some are really not all that important. Work
toward keeping your needs invisible to the patient and try to make their visit
easy and pleasant.
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.