Improving Your Patients’ Check In/Check Out Experience:

Written by on May 1, 2017 in Features - No comments

5 Tips for a More Efficient Front Office

More than any other area of your practice, your front desk has an impact on efficiency and patient flow. By implementing some simple procedures for checking in and checking out, you reduce the burden on your front desk staff and increase both the performance and revenues of your practice.

A study of nearly 35,000 online reviews of physicians nationwide found that customer service while checking in and out is patients’ chief frustration, not physicians’ medical expertise and clinical skill.

The study, published in the Journal of Medical Practice Management, reveals that 96 percent of patient complaints are related to customer service, while only four percent are about the quality of clinical care or misdiagnoses.

To summarize, the study found that fewer than 1 in 20 online complaints cite diagnosis, treatments and outcomes in healthcare as unsatisfactory, whereas 19 of 20 unhappy patients said inadequate communications and disorganized operations drove them to post harsh reviews.

In a medical practice, front office staff members often are treated as the least-necessary employees. These employees, however, meet and greet patients, schedule their visits, collect their co-payments, and field their phone calls. They are indispensable members of the medical office staff. They play an integral role in practice operations. From patient flow to patient loyalty, how the front office performs directly affects the bottom line.

To anyone with a business administration degree, this observation would be an obvious one. But to many people with medical degrees, it may not be obvious at all. And their practices often pay the price.

What sort of constructive role can the doctor play at their practice’s front desk? Here are some suggestions, each requiring a minimal amount of time and yielding every effective results.

1. Show Respect by Setting an Example

To show respect for the staff in the front office, it’s the little things that count. Know and address each staff member by name. Remain professional by avoiding the use of nicknames. Recognition, acknowledgement, and appreciation are important, so be generous with all three. “Thank you” and “great job the other day” go a long way, particularly when the words come from the lead physician.

2. Take an Active Role in Hiring and Training New Staff

Initial interviews are conducted by the office manager and are based on a candidate’s knowledge, experience, and ability to get along with other people in the practice, but it’s the doctor who must make the ultimate decision whether this person will fit into the practice. Be proactive in the final decision.

After hiring a new employee, be sure to make an appearance on their first day of work to extend a personal welcome. It will mean a great deal to them and will convey that even though you are busy, they are an important new member of the practice.

Even before office duties are addressed, the doctor should take a new employee through the entire day, step by step, so they understand how the practice operates and what the patient flow is like. This allows new front office staff members to understand the big picture, foster teamwork, and improve performance.

Then make clear to new staff members what the office duties include:

  • Reception Duties: The front desk staff greets incoming patients, directing them in person or by phone to the proper areas. Front desk workers also greet professionals, such as pharmaceutical representatives or consulting doctors. The receptionist is also responsible for keeping the flow of patients moving smoothly and maintaining a neat front area.
  • Collecting Patient Information: A patient’s personal information may change between visits. The front desk staff verifies the patient’s current address, contact information and allergy information. Regular insurance verification may also be necessary. Front desk staff will need to locate, review and update paper and computer files for the physician. Some other duties are collecting electronic medical records and laboratory results.
  •  Making Appointments: Another important front desk duty is making follow-up appointments. Many patients need continuing care and require regular appointments with their physician. The medical office assistant reviews the schedule, locating an appointment date according to the time period recommended by the physician. Also, office staff assist the patients when they need appointments for referred specialists, surgery or hospital procedures.

These tasks require medical office staff to be proactive and intuitive, have excellent organizational skills, and exude a helpful, friendly attitude.

3. Hold Meetings Open to All Staff

Front office staff members are often excluded from meetings at which everyone else in the practice is present. When front office staff members are invited to meetings and encouraged—even expected—to make a contribution, they will start to feel more like equal partners in the practice, and the rest of the staff will view them in that way, too.

4. Strive to Retain Good Staff

Retaining good front office staff definitely is about money, but it’s about so much more as well. If front office staff members are treated as second-class citizens, if doctors don’t acknowledge their existence, if other staff members look down on them or criticize them, if they are excluded from staff meetings as if they are non-persons, then turnover will be high regardless of pay. Staff members must feel not just that they’re being fairly paid but also that their contributions are valued. If staff members are treated appropriately as valued members of the team, they are more likely to stay.

5. Implement New Time Savers to Make Check In/Check Out More Efficient

  • Pre-registration:  Whether through the practice’s website or patient portal, all practices need to have new patients pre-registering and completing paperwork prior to their first visit. The front desk bottle-neck created by new patients filling out a stack of insurance and history forms can derail your day.
  • Simplify Patient Paperwork:  One of the easiest ways to save time at the front desk is to streamline patient paperwork. Does the patient history form make sense? Should they be filling out insurance card information when you will be making a copy of the card? Holding onto old paperwork standards can slow down your office flow, reduce the number of patient visits, and decrease patient satisfaction.
  • Patient Portals:  With a portal, patients can sign in to request appointments, print copies of records, pay bills, and ask questions…all things that your front desk would normally have to spend time handling. Not all patients will embrace the portal, but the ones who do will drastically reduce the strain on your front desk staff.

More than any other area of your practice, your front desk staff has an impact on efficiency and patient flow. By implementing some of these suggestions, you will reduce the burden on your front desk staff, increase both the performance and revenues of your practice, and improve your patient’s office experience.


By Thomas Hibbard
Creative Director, Physician Solutions

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