5/16/22
Zed Williamson

Practical Tips to Schedule More Patient Appointments

A well-handled phone call can be the difference between a booked appointment and a lost patient.

Medical receptionist answering a phone.

Your front office staff’s phone etiquette and people skills are more important than you think

As technology continues to be a key part of our lives, it’s easy to forget the power of the human experience.

Patients are looking for empathy and understanding – and your front office needs to build trust with patients in order to convert those conversations into appointments. Beyond that, a number of basics should apply, including answering the phone promptly, staying attentive, and being conscious of how their tone and vocabulary is being received – even when the office around them is hectic and busy!

Let’s look at what you can do to improve your current front office practices and book more appointments.

7 easy things front office staff can do to build trust, convert calls to appointments, and keep patients coming back

1. Avoid medical jargon and excessive acronyms

Every industry has its jargon – and when you’ve been in the field for long enough, it’s easy to forget most people won’t know the terms you might use every day. Plus, some medical terms can be confusing, or even scary if they’re not properly explained or given the context understood by non-medical professionals.  

For example, instead of saying:

“I need to book you with an orthopedist to discuss a lumbar spine decompression. Let’s find a time in the next few weeks that you can get in for that.”

You may consider saying instead:

“It sounds like we need to discuss a potential procedure that can help you with (insert what the ailment is here). The name of the procedure a lumbar spine decompression and it’s commonly performed for people with your symptoms. It’s performed by an orthopedist – a surgeon who specializes in this type of procedure. I can give them a call now and see if we can get you in for an appointment within the next week or two. Does that sound okay?”

Similarly, avoid using medical acronyms without explanation (like “HMO” or “PPO”). That said, be sure to use professional language in text messages and emails, as this reflects on your practice’s reputation (this includes avoiding text slang like “lol” or “idk”).

2. Actively listen and give them your full attention

Have you ever been part of a conversation where the person says they care about what you have to say but their actions suggest differently? While this can frustrate us in our personal lives, this can be just as damaging when it happens in a medical setting.

Patients need to know that front office staff understand their concerns and are ready to help solve them, even on the busiest of days. This shows that you care about them and want to make sure they get the help they need.

Strategies to demonstrate active listening include:

  • Repeating back what they say to help show them that you’re listening and understanding. This might sound like “okay, so let me make sure I’m understanding correctly: you’ve been having these knee pains for three weeks now, even after keeping it rested and elevated?”
  • Make notes of details in patient files also makes it easier for the patient to feel respected, and that you’re taking their problem seriously. Ask them if it’s ok if you take a few notes while they’re talking so you can capture the full picture of their request.
  • Put a smile in your voice. Non-verbal communication can go a long way in putting a patient at ease and build trust. If you’re helping people over the phone, it might seem like a smile won’t do much, but you can sense a noticeable difference when the person you’re talking to is actually smiling while they speak!

3. Be helpful

If you’re practicing active listening, it becomes much easier to pick up on ways to be helpful. One way to do this is by telling patients about other similar services your practice offers.

Example issue: a patient needs a simple procedure, but mentions that they also have anxiety around surgeries

Possible solution: share with them the different sedation options that your practice offers

Even if the patient doesn’t end up needing those services immediately, knowing their options can put them more at ease and increase the comfort for the patient making an appointment down the road.

Another way to help patients is by providing information about financing options for procedures so that cost isn’t a barrier for getting care when it’s needed most.

4. Be friendly and empathetic

As mentioned previously, a smile on the other end of the line goes a long way.

Voice inflection is important here – make sure staff know to use tone to show that they’re enthusiastic about helping patients find solutions for their needs, or to convey that they understand how patients are feeling.

Put yourself in your patients’ shoes:

  • How would you want to be treated if you were the one calling or coming in for an appointment?
  • Would you want someone who was short with you or someone who took the time to listen and help you solve your problem?
  • How might the relationship change for the better if staff displayed empathy in understanding exactly what a patient was going through and how they might be feeling?  

This isn’t always easy. After all, if the front office is busy, the phone might be answered but patients could sense impatience or a rush in the conversation. If this is an issue at your practice, consider exploring the Patient Engagement Solutions program to see how we could help.

2/3 of medical organizations don’t have staff to answer the phone immediately

5. Take responsibility for mistakes

This one should be more obvious, but it’s worth a reminder: admit it when you or a team member makes a mistake, and apologize sincerely for it. If a patient feels like they’ve been wronged in some way, owning up to your mistake and apologizing can go a long way in diffusing the situation and ensuring that the patient doesn’t take their business elsewhere.

Say a patient comes in saying that their insurance denied their claim because it wasn’t submitted properly.

Instead of saying:

“I wasn’t there when you entered your information, so I don’t know what to tell you.”

You could say:

“It looks like there was a typo when we were entering your information, I’m so sorry about that. Let’s re-enter your information, and if you’d like, I can explain how to get this sorted out.

An angry patient can make staff feel defensive, but solving the problem is more urgent than figuring out who’s to blame.

6. Be prompt and responsive

Patients today expect quick responses to their questions and concerns, so it’s important to be responsive both over the phone and online.

  • Answering the phone by the third ring. Calling any organization for support is a hassle for most people, so small details like a quickly answered phone help turn an otherwise inconvenient task of booking an appointment into a more satisfying process for patients.
  • Avoid putting patients on hold: If you send callers into some kind of waiting queue, even when things get busy, you’re going to need to reconsider your system.
  • Manage expectations:  If you can’t answer a question right away, let the patient know you’ll find out the answer and get back to them as soon as possible. And remember to follow through on your promise!
  • Acknowledge messages received: if a patient reaches out to you online (via your website contact form, social media, etc.), respond as quickly as possible – even if it’s just to acknowledge that you received their message and will get back to them shortly.

Being prompt and responsive helps keep customers out of the dark, so they can feel confident their needs are being addressed in a timely manner.

7. Get feedback to improve your process

For all the tips and tricks in the world, sometimes an issue is specific to your practice. Find appropriate moments to solicit feedback from patients about their experience, so you can identify areas where your team can improve communication with patients. What are the easiest ways to get patient feedback?

  • After an appointment, you can simply ask “how was your experience today? Can we do anything to help you better next time?”
  • Similarly, a phone call within the next day or two carries a personal touch and allows them a bit more privacy when they answer (compared to a waiting room)
  • Send a personalized email with a link to a short survey online. You may also want to have the email include useful resources related to their needs. Consider giving them the option to answer anonymously.

Patients appreciate when practices go above and beyond, so these are great ways to build rapport and trust with potential and current patients alike. Feedback and follow-ups show patients you care.

Bonus: make sure patients come back for future appointments

Many people are hesitant to come see a physician until they feel they absolutely must. Unfortunately, this can risk letting untreated issues get worse. Have staff encourage regular appointments for patients who need it, to keep their problem from recurring or worsening. This might sound obvious, but for many people it isn’t.

Conclusion

By following these tips, front office staff can create a positive experience for patients that will keep them coming back. Creating a positive relationship with patients starts with small interactions that show you care about their experience and want to help them solve their problem.

If your front office staff struggles with a busy schedule or insufficient skill at handling patients, TrackableMed’s Patient Engagement Solutions (PES) provide you with extra help on demand. This means you get access remote staff, all trained in neuroscience and experts at managing how patients perceive an interaction. PES helps medical practices improve patient satisfaction and increase booked appointments.