Managing Front Desk Procedures

Do you really know the level of customer service your patients are receiving?

First in an occasional series.

As a former multi-clinic private practice owner, outpatient physical therapist for over 28 years, and business consultant, it’s become increasingly obvious to me in this continuously changing healthcare environment that a practice’s front desk staff and procedures can impact a practice as much as the treatment provided.

Private practitioners often undervalue the importance of front desk operations and are unaware of what goes on at their front desk. This article series will address the four main front desk procedures that can make or break your practice.

Before focusing on any single procedure, the first questions to ask yourself are these: Do you really understand your front desk operations? Would you be able to sit at the front desk and perform all the tasks you’re asking your front desk staff to do? Do you have the right people operating the front desk? Usually, the honest answer to these questions is “no” or “I don’t know.”

There is an old saying: “Don’t judge someone until you’ve walked a mile in his shoes.” So take a half day to sit at your front desk and shadow your front desk staff to truly understand what they do and how they do it, as well as the obstacles that make their jobs difficult. It will be time well spent. Not only will it be an enlightening experience that will give you a deeper appreciation of your front desk staff, but it will allow you to better understand and evaluate your front desk people and procedures.

The first procedure that will be addressed in this series is scheduling. You’re probably thinking to yourself, what’s so hard about scheduling?

Believe it or not, a majority of practices lose a staggering number of visits due to poor scheduling procedures for both new and existing patients. Because capitalizing on every new referral and patient visit is critical for PT-owned private practices, it’s imperative that practices adhere to efficient scheduling procedures focusing on customer service and accommodation of patients’ scheduling needs.

Does your practice currently have written scheduling procedures or are you just “winging it” and hoping your front desk staff is “doing the right thing”? Are the scheduling procedures in your practice conducive to converting potential patients to actual patients, and ensuring that current patients are seen as often as recommended, whether that’s once, twice or three times per week?

Scheduling includes some decision-making, which is often overlooked or not even considered when creating scheduling procedures. Specifically, how does your front desk staff handle patients whose authorized visits have expired, or Medicare patients who have reached their therapy cap? What often happens is that unbeknownst to the practice owner, front desk staff dissuades or even prevents patients from scheduling because they believe it’s in the best interest of the practice, when in fact it’s silently crippling it.

A recommended strategy for all private practice owners is to designate someone a “secret shopper” to call and/or walk into the clinic to observe first-hand what greeting the patient receives and to determine whether your front desk staff is providing the utmost in customer service.

It’s also helpful to conduct periodic surveys of your existing patient population to determine whether your front desk staff is accommodating their needs and going above and beyond to make scheduling appointments easy and stress-free. The bottom line is that every practice must have clear, effective written scheduling procedures as well as ways to ensure these procedures are being followed.

Scheduling is multi-faceted. It includes not only scheduling patient appointments but also rescheduling, cancelling and confirming appointments, as well as managing patient compliance including frequencies per week and patient dropouts.

Hopefully, your practice utilizes an EMR system that can easily provide cancellation and no-show statistics, patient frequencies per week, and names of patients who drop out. If your current EMR system does not provide this information, you must either devise manual ways to monitor these metrics or consider acquiring a better EMR system.

Scheduling both new and existing patients is an art and a talent that’s often overlooked in private practice, despite its tremendous impact on the patient census. It’s critical that you scrutinize both the people you employ at your front desk and your front desk procedures to ensure that they’re both providing what your practice needs to thrive, not just survive.

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