Zed Williamson

Common Front Office Challenges for Medical Practices (and How to Fix Them)

Hiring and retaining qualified front office staff in healthcare is no easy task. Here’s how to keep staff and patients satisfied.

Medical receptionist answering a phone call

From long hold times and poor patient experiences to complaint resolution and staffing problems, improving your front office workflow is essential. But you can’t improve your workflow without acknowledging the key challenges and devising a plan for improvement.

While it can be tempting to do something quick or simply find more employees to staff the practice, that could lead to other problems down the road.  

Instead, you’ll want to identify the root challenges and address them one by one with potential remedies. In this article, we’re going to break down the five most common challenges for medical office staffing, along with simple solutions and suggestions to make your life easier.

The 5 major front office staffing challenges in healthcare (and their solutions)

1. Managing high call volumes

The problem:

Depending on your practice, the front desk might be handling anywhere from 12-200 calls a day – and it’s not like these calls come at the most convenient intervals throughout the day, either! Sometimes, there are simply more calls coming in than a receptionist can answer promptly, leading to frustrated patients, not to mention long hold times.

The solutions:

Since a great deal of call volume comes from basic tasks (scheduling or rescheduling appointments, confirming the time for an appointment, or updating insurance information), one of the first ways to reduce call volume is to introduce an online system, such as an online appointment management portal.

This has its limits however, so you may also want to consider a remote patient services desk, so you can have qualified staff who work only when needed, and who only get paid for the time you need them.

If this resonates, learn how we can help with our Patient Engagement Solutions program.  

2. Poorly handled patients (on the phone or in person)

The problem:

The physician experience is important yes, but it’s only a small part of the whole patient experience. If a patient has a bad call or negative experience over the phone with your front office staff, it can be just as damaging to your reputation and/or patient retention.

Empathy is non-negotiable. Patients experience a wide variety of emotions when calling about their medical needs. While one could be forgiven for handling these situations unskillfully, it’s alarming to learn staff may have been rude to patients or rush them through a call leaving them feeling more like a number than a patient.

When patients call with complaints, this skillful handling is especially important, but it can be draining for underprepared staff to balance with a full plate of other responsibilities.

The solutions:

Ideally, this could just be solved by hiring more qualified staff, but this is already hard enough! High quality training for handling people would also help, and worth the time if you haven’t already implemented it, but it can also get expensive if you’re dealing with high employee turnover.

To take this further, you may wish to lighten the load on your front office staff by delegating phone calls to remote patient services. This can increase patient satisfaction, while lowering stress for your staff and enabling them to engage more positively with the patients in front of them.

Lastly, you may want to find where the holes in your training may be. We do a high degree of training with our calling staff and train them in psychology, human behavior and neuroscience for the most effective calling experience. After all, sometimes it’s what you “didn’t say” that actually leaves the impact.

3. HIPAA violations

The problem:

Unfortunately, this is a problem we all must tackle. The newer the staff, the less experience they may have in being HIPAA compliant during their communications. A single mistake can be manageable when addressed quickly, but in some unfortunate cases your only option might be to keep someone who has a pattern of these mistakes.

The solutions:

If you uncover a HIPAA violation, always address it as quickly as possible. Humans make mistakes, but you can always take steps to create more secure processes for handling protected health information (PHI) in your practice. HIPAA violation fines can be serious, but are generally larger for more serious violations, and for the frequency of violations.

Sweeping a mistake under the rug leads to much more trouble later on, but when you take preventative policy measures to keep it from happening again — before a fine is issued — you can present this as evidence for your case. Not to mention, taking these steps helps you mitigate the risk of future violations.

This may be another reason why outsourcing some of the front office activity to a credible, experienced third-party source may be helpful and can increase confidence in long-term compliance.

4. High wait times

The problem:

Wait times are a necessary evil in some scenarios, but it’s more about the psychological impact of the wait times that makes them so challenging. Sitting around, waiting for care when you’re in pain can be a major source of frustration. Patients may feel powerless at that moment, and an unsympathetic or inadequately communicative front office staff will only exacerbate this.

The solutions:

Transparency is paramount when patients are feeling… impatient. Make sure your front office staff keeps patients informed about delays. Hiring extra staff can help in some instances, but this comes with its own drawbacks too (which we’ll get to next).

5. Excess staff during non-peak hours

The problem:

To solve some of the issues above, practices may decide to hire extra staff, but this isn’t always a good idea. Excess personnel can lead to idle staff during slower hours, which can quickly lead to them texting friends on their personal phones or using work computers to shop online. Not only does this mean staff being less proactive about patients, but they’re still being paid when idle.

The solutions:

Firstly, you’ll want to make sure you have secondary responsibilities for staff to start working on when things are slow. Unfortunately, this isn’t always enough, especially when you’ve hired excess staff. You may also want to run a call and/or activity report to map out your busy times on paper. That will help in making some of those staffing decisions.

You may also consider exploring a service where you get qualified staff on demand, but only for the hours you need them. With Patient Engagement Solutions, TrackableMed provides highly trained remote patient services staff, ready to answer the phone when needed —and only when you need them.

Let’s Recap: Common Medical Office Staffing Problems & Solutions

Conclusion — optimize your front office and reduce the stress

From hiring extra staff to exploring third-party resources to analyzing the effectiveness of your staff training, there are a number of things you can do. It’s important to explore the root cause and identify a solution that works not only in the short-term, but sets your medical practice up for long-term success as well.

Because we’ve heard these challenges over the last decade from many of our clients, we developed a service called Patient Engagement Solutions. By providing you with a remote patient service desk, we give you the ability to lean on highly trained staff to handle patient calls whenever your front office gets too busy.

Our team is available 24/7, US based and English speaking, and is adept at handling even the most difficult calls. They build rapport quickly, put patients at ease and will provide clear direction for next steps. Plus, we can even book directly in your EHR if desired, and all team members are trained in HIPAA compliance.

If you’re interested in learning more, schedule a free consultation today.