"I called to make an appointment and I had to leave a message!" That just makes me cringe when I hear it, read it, or experience it firsthand. Typically, when I call to make an appointment, if I have to leave a message, I will end up calling another medical practice.
A call from a patient, and specifically a first call, is often your only chance to connect with that patient. Prospective and established patients should always get to talk with a live person when calling to schedule an appointment, unless it is after hours. Each call that comes into your office is a chance to build revenue by helping a new or current patient.
Have you ever looked at your numbers to track the number of patients that have to leave a message for appointments vs. the number that schedule when/if you call them back? If your receptionist has a voicemail, and patients routinely have to be called back for appointments, consider the idea that you may lose one of those patients per day. Assuming that patient was coming in for a lower-end appointment, you could be losing $10,000-20,000 per appointment, at ONE per day. Larger practices could easily be losing four to five times that amount.
Here are some ways to make sure you don't lose patients to the "please leave a message" trap:
1. Make sure everyone in your clinic is cross trained to schedule an appointment. When a patient calls to schedule an appointment, there is someone in the clinic that can take that call, whether it is the office manager, receptionist, billing person, MA, or nurse.
2. Make sure your EHR has a "quick appointment" capability, or set one up. Require only the name, DOB, and phone number for the patient. This way you can schedule the appointment and write the patient’s name on the list to call back and complete their new patient information, and you could even move them at this point to a more appropriate time if it is an absolute must.
3. Create a sense of urgency for every call that comes into the office. Answer the phone after two rings, and have others in the office "back up" reception when calls are on hold.
4. Discuss in your staff meetings that goal for each person who answers the phone is to convert that call to an appointment.
5. If you use an automated answering service ("press 1 if you are a doctor or hospital, press 2 to schedule an appointment") consider setting the phones to not allow a "press 2 to schedule an appointment" to route to a voicemail. A receptionist should not have a voicemail that is used for appointment.
It is imperative not to let patients be lost to something this simple to fix. Even one patient a day can prevent your clinic from having the extra capital you need for staff, renovations, etc. Answer those phones!