The Receptionist is Key

The key to controlling appointment compliance and smooth patient flow is for the receptionist to fully understand that the appointment book has been placed in his/her hands, and he/she is fully responsible for its handling.

The receptionist must become fully aware of the appointment policies of the practice and trained to apply those procedures, including using your “General Policy” statement to educate patients/clients on the necessity of keeping appointments.

When speaking with patients or clients who call to cancel or reschedule, your receptionist must have an honest and genuine attitude to show that your office really cares about this person. Explain to each person why it is important for them to set and keep their appointments for the recommended care.

It is vital for the receptionist to communicate your own commitment to good health and good service to the patient, and to know that this appointment for the recommended treatment is necessary.

Your receptionist should also communicate this same commitment when setting appointments in the first place.

Add the Following to Your Receptionist’s Job Description:

You should call any patient or client who does not show up within 15 minutes of the scheduled appointment time. Here are the steps to take:

Find out from the person if something is wrong that caused him/her to miss the appointment. Convey a caring “time is valuable” attitude to the person and let them know that you want to work with them to ensure that they can make it in.

When a patient or client calls to cancel, investigate diplomatically to discover the real reason why they are canceling. Many times you’ll find it is a financial consideration, or a lack of understanding about why they need the recommended care.

It is vital to really listen to what the person is saying. Never assume that you know what the problem is. In this way you will be able to help resolve whatever the problem actually is.

Work with the patient/client to remove the barriers that are preventing them from adhering to the scheduled appointment. When you have found the real reason for the cancellation, you then must handle it so that the person does, in fact, keep the appointment.

For example, if you find that the person is having financial difficulties, the following points could help:

Determine the exact problem and inform the person that this can be worked out with the financial secretary or accounts manager. If he or she is available, it might be effective to put them on the phone right away. Otherwise, have your financial or accounts person call the person ASAP.

You’ll get the best results, though, if you deal with the situation over the phone right then and there, at least to the point of willingness on the person’s part to come into the office where matters might be more easily and personally taken care of.

Always try to handle the barrier you have found as best you can right then. If you are able to fully handle it, but the person cannot come in right away, go ahead and reschedule an appointment for them. Assume that they are now going to make an appointment and give them a limited choice as to when to now come in (i.e. “When would be best for you Mrs. Smith, next Tuesday or Wednesday?”).

If the problem is not financial, but of some other nature (e.g. upset with service or another staff member), and you are not able to handle the problem with them on the phone at that moment, let them know that you are concerned and that the doctor always wants to know about such matters. Let the person know that you will have the doctor or the office manager give them a call to discuss the situation. Make sure that you immediately inform the proper authority (doctor or office manager) of the person’s concerns so that they are called at the first opportunity.

You will not be perfect and able to handle 100% of the situations that arise, but you can always improve your technique. Your intent and caring about the patient/client will prove to be more influential in your success than you might imagine.

When the going gets rough, read over the “Purpose” of the practice and the “Purpose” of your position, and in your own words, impart this to whomever you are speaking with. When dealing with a difficult person, always keep in mind those numerous patients who have been helped at your office. Don’t let the few tough ones get you down. Work together with the doctor and the office manager, as a team, to handle the difficult situations.