Checking patients in and out of their appointments in a friendly and efficient way is a complex process that leaves a deep impression – for better or worse – of your practice. Because first impressions are often lasting ones, leaving this process up to chance is not a risk you want to take.
When patients enter your office, are they seeing the image of your practice you want to convey?
If not, educate your staff about the specific image you want to convey and provide the standards to support it. By establishing high standards, you eliminate mixed messages patients might get if they see another patient getting more personal attention or courteous, discrete service. While all office staff has a role to play in achieving high standards, the office receptionist is the first contact a patient makes when he walks through the door. Her efforts to maintain those standards need to be supported by the rest of the office team.
Here are some “check-up” tips to consider for your check-in and check-out procedures that will assist you in making that first impression a good one.
- A clean, well-organized front desk and reception area will go a long way toward creating a positive impression and making patients feel comfortable.
- Desks and work areas visible to patients should be neat and organized. Establish rules about eating and drinking in the reception area. Ensure that confidential phone calls to insurance companies by your billing personnel be made outside of earshot of the waiting room.
- The front desk should be configured to help the receptionist efficiently perform her duties. For example, have a copy machine available to copy insurance cards, driver’s licenses, and referral or pre-authorization information. Some practices let receptionists lose valuable time by requiring them to walk to the back office to perform these simple tasks.
- Consider using “cheat sheets” to assist staff in answering questions about insurance co-pays, hospital/lab phone numbers or directions to your office. The station responsible for collecting payments should have a cash drawer and credit card machine available.
- A good receptionist has a demanding position that requires she courteously deal with difficult patients, scheduling delays and other problems. Making small improvements in the working conditions lets her know her skills are valued. For instance, consider providing a telephone headset that allows her to handle calls and appointment changes without getting a cramp in her neck.
- Staff should arrive at the office before the first scheduled appointment. This would be a good time to hold an informal staff meeting to discuss the upcoming day’s appointments, open slots, potential problems, and other short timely topics.
- Unless you have implemented an electronic charting system, patient charts should have been pulled or created for new patients the night before or prior to the day’s first appointment. A list of the scheduled patients and appointment times should be prepared and ready for the receptionist as each patient arrives. This will allow for proper greeting of the patient along with an efficient means to follow-up with the patient through-out the visit.
- A friendly, attentive receptionist can reduce the anxiety of a doctor’s appointment. Does your receptionist make eye contact when speaking with patients? Does she listen and respond rather than spout rote phrases? Standard scripts can be helpful in ensuring that office policies are followed, but they must be flexible to accommodate individual situations.
- To assure confidentiality, patients should be signed in on a list that’s kept next to the receptionist instead of on the counter. Patients requiring special assistance should be escorted to a seat in the reception area and then to the examination room.
- New patients should be pre-qualified during the appointment scheduling and reminder calls. Before the patient arrives at the office, you should know what type of insurance coverage the patient has; whether you are a participating provider in that plan, and if your practice provides the services needed. All such information should be in the patient’s chart and verified upon arrival.
- Be sure to verify the patient’s address, employer and insurance plan at the check-in time. It is better to ask the patient to provide this information than to assume that “everything is the same”, which could create billing or reimbursement delays. This is also a great opportunity for specialists to obtain the patient’s referral and/or authorization form.
- Whether a practice collects co-payments and deductibles at check-in and check-out depends on the practice’s philosophy and type of services offered. For all practices, however, it is important that the patient be aware that payments for which the patient is responsible are expected at the time of the visit. Providing patients with a copy of your written financial policy as part of a welcome packet or prior to their visit with you can be helpful for having this discussion.
- If a follow-up appointment or referral letter is needed, handle it immediately. If the patient will be sent to the hospital, a lab for tests, or to another practice, provide directions and a phone number along with the appropriate forms. If necessary, make the appointment for the patient.
- The receptionist should know the co-payment, deductible and other fees due for the visit and politely request the payment. Here’s a courteous way to phrase that request: “Mrs. Smith, your co-payment for today’s visit is $30. Will you be paying by cash, check or credit card today?” If the patient has forgotten her checkbook, provide a stamped, self-addressed envelope so that the check can be mailed as soon as she arrives home. By not expecting appropriate payment for your services, you are implying to the patient that your knowledge, skill and care are not worth the fee you are charging.
- Before the patient leaves, ask if there is anything else you can do. Conclude the visit by thanking the patient and, if appropriate, relaying your concern for his or her well-being.
You will need to modify your procedures from time to time. Regularly schedule discussions at your staff meeting about how to handle a difficult patient; resolve scheduling problems, adapt to changes in insurance information; doctor delays, and the like. As new problems arise, the entire staff can work on providing a solution.