Avoid Losing Revenue to Your New Patient Coordinator

December 20, 2012

Don’t let your office fall into the trap of poor customer service and losing patients to the “new patient coordinator.”

Back in early November I wrote about losing revenue to your voicemail, today let’s talk about another scenario that plays out time and time again. 

Here is the scenario: A new patient calls a pediatric clinic (in a small community) asking for an appointment for an acutely ill child, and gets to talk to a live person (she describes in detail to the receptionist the high fever, cough, and wheezing). Minimal information is taken, no appointment scheduled, and a return call from the New Patient Coordinator is promised.  Twenty-four hours later, the call still hasn’t been returned. (For the patient, a return call now would be a moot point, as this patient chose another office to take care of her sick child.) 

What did they do right?

1.  A live person answered the phone

2. The receptionist took down enough information to schedule an appointment, and referred the remaining information to someone with the time to handle it, the new patient coordinator.

What went wrong?

1. The appointment, even tentatively, was not scheduled.

2. There was no follow up from the new patient coordinator.

3. No call back at all.

What is the backlash potential?

Some will see this as a patient that has slipped through the cracks and we are all human, errors happen.  Unfortunately, this particular clinic staff already has poor online reviews, which is made particularly worse by the fact that most of the reviews start out with “I love the Dr., but the staff is awful.” In this real-life scenario, the patient’s parent won’t be writing any online reviews, though the damage is far worse in the small community. The patient’s parent is active in the community, PTA, president of a local charity for moms, or something similar, and as each one of her contacts reaches out to her about the sick kid, she has launched into the story of the first failed attempt at reaching out for help for her ill child. The damage done is far greater than a single lost patient.

How to avoid this scenario in your clinic?

1. Make sure every patient who calls for an appointment gets one, even a tentative appointment until insurance information can be cleared and other issues vetted. If there is not time to get all of the information, the patient needs to be scheduled and immediately called back by someone who has the time to thoroughly get the patient information and ensure that your clinic is the right place for them. Always let the patient know that they are being “tentatively scheduled” and that someone will be calling them back very shortly to get all of their information.

2. Have check-and-balance systems to check and double check that patients/potential patients receive a return call in a timely fashion. Just because you roll your phones over at 4:30 or 5 p.m. doesn’t mean that your staff can’t call out to address any issues left hanging for the day.

3. It is up to the leaders in the clinic, be it the office manager or the providers, to create a sense of urgency for their staff to perform at the highest standards of customer service, and the leaders of the clinics should accept nothing less.

4. Make sure that your receptionist is trained to check with a nurse or provider about a patient that is describing certain symptoms (symptoms like wheezing, difficulty breathing, temp over 1XX, etc), even if they have to refer them to an emergency room or urgent care or to call 911.

Fortunately for the office mentioned in the scenario, this patient’s mom was wise enough to seek out urgent care at another clinic that evening. Many patients are not that proactive and would have simply sat and waited on the office to call back, especially after having given that the information given to the receptionist about the condition of the patient. Some lay people would expect that receptionist to have triaged that information in a way that they would have been called back immediately if there was something to worry about. In this case it would have led to life-threatening consequences, and in the litigious time we live in, that is a risk that should not be allowed to happen to your clinic.

Don’t let your office fall into the trap of poor customer service and losing patients to the “new patient coordinator.” It is a money pit for your revenue and frankly for the salaries you pay your staff to actively destroy your business.