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Too many practices are devising telephone protocols for their convenience rather than that of their patients. Turning off the phones isn't a solution. These tips can help you provide better service without overwhelming your staff.
Poor telephone etiquette is a great way to frustrate patients and lose business. Yet it's rampant in today's medical practices.
I just tried to return a phone call from a physician. An automated message told me to call back during "normal" business hours. There was no option to leave a message.
Then came the ordeal.
"We are available by phone Monday, Wednesdays, and Fridays from 9 to 11 and 2 to 4, Tuesdays from 11 to 5, and Thursdays from noon to 5."
Good thing I had a pen handy.
I literally set an alarm on my Outlook calendar to coordinate my call. Otherwise, I'd never remember when. And I'm just trying to help the physician with a management issue.
This was not an aberration. On the contrary, telephone mismanagement is increasingly rampant. It's always been one of my pet peeves. But it seems to be getting worse - and frankly, it's starting to make me nuts. Most practices run their phones for the convenience of staff, not patients.
It's understandable - to some extent. Staff are overwhelmed, and their phones ring off the hook.
But turning the phones off isn't a solution. It's poor patient service and just delays the call to another time. It doesn't do away with it - unless the patient is so frustrated he leaves your practice.
So here are some suggestions for providing better service without totally overwhelming your staff:
Stagger lunch breaks and cross-train staff so someone is covering your phones all day.
On the weekends, consider letting callers leave messages, and then have one staff member come in early on Monday to sort through and answer or redirect them. Or pay your nonphysician clinicians extra to rotate handling weekend calls - most of which will be clinical questions or refill requests.
But don't expect this to happen overnight. You'll need to find ways to let your patients know your Web site is there for them. And remember that you don't need everyone in your practice using it. Redirecting even 5 percent of your phone traffic will help staff on the front lines.
What's your biggest practice management pet peeve? Tell me about it. Write to me at
This article originally appeared in the April 2006 issue of