Are You Prioritizing the Patient in Front of You Over the Ringing Phone?
by Laura Hatch
If you answered yes, it’s time to rethink your front office phone policy.
You may be concerned that the caller will immediately launch into a lengthy description of their question or issue, once you pick up that call, but there are strategies to put in place to keep the incoming call brief, without being rude or interrupting, and still make the patient in front of you feel prioritized.
Let’s look closer at this scenario
The patient is standing in front of you and the phone rings. You decide not to answer it because you don't want to shift your attention off the patient in the office. The phone rings and rings and rings....
Is the patient in front of you more important than the person calling? Each patient is important and we must be able to handle them both. I understand why you decide to ignore the ringing phone while you have a person in front of you, but let's think about the patient who is standing in front of you for a moment. They may be wondering why you are ignoring the phone and will conjure the same memory the next time they call the office and the phone just rings and rings and rings. It is fair to assume when they call the office next time, they will think they must not be as important as the patient in the office.
Let’s switch gears and think about the patient calling in, enduring endless ringing and then going to voicemail. By ignoring that call, you are giving the impression that you are just too busy for them or that they are not important to you and the office. I don't want any of my patients to ever think that? Besides making them feel insignificant, it is likely they are going to hang up without leaving a message or worse, hang up and call another office.
This is a tough situation but I suggest unless it is completely unavoidable – you always answer the phone. Ask the patient in front of you if they mind if you take the call. Most people - almost all people will say, sure, please go ahead. You have now politely shown respect to the patient in front of you and can still answer the phone.
Then, answer the call in a friendly but controlled manner. I never recommend answering the phone and asking the person to hold because you have no idea how much time you need to handle the patient in front of you. To us, it feels like we only placed a person on hold for a few seconds but for the person on the other end of the call it seems so much longer.
Take a message and call them back, but that takes good control. As you answer or they begin telling you why they are calling, explain to them that you are in the middle of helping a patient in the office and their call is very important to you. Further clarify, that you want to give them your full attention, so you would like to call them back in a few minutes. Be sure to tell them it will only be a couple minutes and don’t forget to introduce yourself so they know who you are and they can trust you will call them back.
There are 3 easy things you can do to help you successfully engage the patient in front of you and the patient on the phone
- Phone call control is a must. Don’t let the patient get into a long explanation before attempting to ask to call them back. It must be done as quickly as possible after answering the call.
- Always take a good message. Ensure you have the phone number correct and call them back as soon as possible. Don't tell them you will call them back in five minutes and then forget about it and call them five hours later.
- Have a system for backup coverage. Train others on your team to help answer phones so you only have to ask the patient in front of you once to take a call. Once is fine, but more than that will likely frustrate the patient.
Each patient in your office and on your phone, is important. Find the balance and let them each know they are equally important. Front Office Rocks can help your team be better on the phones.
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