One of the most challenging parts of your staff’s job is handling upset patients. These communications most often occur over the phone and can escalate quickly, taking time away from other patients and responsibilities. Think back to the last time an upset patient called in. Maybe they were surprised by their bill or annoyed that their appointment was rescheduled. How that call impacted your office staff?
Now most phone training is customer or patient focused—what does the customer want or need, how do they feel etc. But, is that really the most important issue at hand? Think about this call from the lens of your front desk and other patients. The front desk answers the phone to hear an upset patient and immediately goes into crisis mode. They start solving for the problem as quickly as possible to calm the patient down and to be able to end the unpleasant phone call. The call might last 5-10 minutes. And, it often results in a marginally satisfied patient, a frazzled receptionist, and a waiting room full of uncomfortable patients who have just listened to a one-sided version of the call. How can you avoid these situations, while still helping the patient reach resolution? Ultimately, ending with a neutral to positive emotional state? Let’s look at some tips and training that might help…
Tips for Resolving Patient Phone Calls
Train your staff to transfer
the call once the appropriate recipient is identified. For example, your front desk handles scheduling and check-ins. But, billing is handled by a different staff member, then get the upset patient to billing pronto! The patient might really want to have someone listen to them vent about their bill, but that shouldn’t be your receptionist.
Have a warm transfer
to avoid unnecessary repetition and frustration. If the patient needs to speak with billing, train your front desk to place the patient on a brief hold while they establish the transfer. Simply dialing the extension and switching the line doesn’t set up a great customer experience. Instead, use the hold time to 1) call billing and ensure someone is available to talk and 2) give the billing team a heads up and important information (name, file number etc.) so that they are prepared to handle the call effectively.
Take the call in private
especially if your front desk is within full hearing of the waiting room. Always have an additional line or portable phone in a quiet room where the staff can handle the call discretely. Remember that access to computer records might be important, so ensure that a laptop or additional computer is available.
Report out on difficult calls or patients
so that management has full context of the conversation. If a staff member spends 20+ minutes on the phone with an upset patient that should be documented and shared with the owner and manager. This helps provide transparency and allows management to know when they need to follow up. Great customer service can be achieved when the owner personally calls a disgruntled patient to check in and make sure their needs were met. Your team will also feel supported and empowered that you are taking a vested interest in the communications.
Know when to take a message.
If a patient calls back several times to complain or starts to begin aggravated, train your staff to politely take a message, “I’m sorry, our patient coordinator is unavailable at this time. I can take a message and they will reach out to you within the next business day,” will end the call before things get heated and allow the patient time to cool off. This might feel counter-intuitive, but sometimes silence and “space” are the best tools to dealing with a difficult situation.
Your front desk is the “front-line” of your practice. From keeping the clinic operating smoothly to handling patients, the front desk needs to be on their A-game. A difficult patient or upsetting phone call can throw things out of balance. Training and supporting your staff, while helping the patient seek resolution, can ease tensions and leave all parties feeling respected and comforted.
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