Practice Phone Etiquette: Book New Patients, Earn More Referrals

Practice Management

The front desk serves as the communication hub of your practice. Patients typically spend more time interacting with the support staff at a medical practice than anyone else. In many ways, the waiting room influences patient engagement more than the exam room. Only four percent of patient complaints focused on the quality of medical care, with 96 percent of complaints related to customer service.

Impact on Patient Perception of Practice

Patient satisfaction affects your ratings with insurance plans, online reviews, and the likelihood that patients will return. When it comes to satisfaction, patients focus on a few key areas, including:

  • Poor experiences with office staff
  • Impersonal interactions, where they feel more like a number than a person
  • Scheduling difficulties
  • Poor communication with the practice

Unsatisfied patients are less likely to remain at the practice. One survey reports at least a third of patients would switch to another provider after just one negative experience with the office staff.

Influence on Patient Referrals

When patients have an unpleasant experience with a service provider or company, then they are more inclined to speak poorly about that service provider and not likely to make a referral. In a recent industry survey, 39 percent of respondents said a practice’s reputation is one of the top four factors considered when looking for a new doctor.

Another one-fourth listed a friend or family member’s recommendation and 20 percent cited high user reviews as deciding factors. Patients’ opinions of your practice, then, play a critical role in gaining new patients.

Suggested Best Practices to Improve Patient Experience

Many opportunities for improvement exist. One often overlooked area is how your practice answers (or does not answer) phone calls. As the first entry point into a practice for most patients, your phone system plays an important role. Inefficiencies and inadequacies in your phone system can lead to caller irritation, staff frustration, lost calls and lost patients.

Availability of Live Person to Answer Calls Promptly

Even as more healthcare interactions move online, 88 percent of healthcare appointments are still made over the phone. Phone calls should be answered by a live person. If someone calls your office during typical business hours (Monday through Friday, 8 a.m. to 6 p.m., which allows for busy people to make calls before or after work, or during a lunch break), staff should be available to answer that call. If someone is calling to schedule a first appointment, reaching voicemail instead of a person may lead to that potential new patient simply calling another practice.

Training of Front Desk Staff

All staff in your practice require customer service skills, but your front desk and phone answering staff especially need the proper training. They need to understand the important role they play in the patient experience and your expectations when engaging with the public. Courteous language, a friendly demeanor, and a patient-centric orientation are some of the training topics needed.

Greetings to Use When Answering the Phone

While answering the phone is essential, how the staff answers the phone is even more so. If staff are abrupt, speak with a flat tone, or act rudely, then patients will feel unwelcome. The greeting staff use when answering a phone call is influential. Scripts can be helpful in guiding staff on proper phone etiquette.

For example, here is an outstanding greeting: “Thank you for choosing Premier Dental. This is Paula. With whom am I speaking? Hello, Stephanie. How may I assist you today?” This greeting thanks the caller for choosing your practice. Giving and getting names forms a personal connection. The last sentence provides a patient-centric, service orientation and projects a professional image.

First impressions matter. Don’t let your first also be your last.