Find the Right Front Office Staff for Your Medical Practice

January 30, 2012
Aubrey Westgate

As patient satisfaction begins to play a larger role in reimbursements, make sure you have the right people representing you in your front office.

You could be the most friendly, caring, intelligent physician around, but if your patients have a miserable time setting up appointments or sitting in your reception area, your patient retention and satisfaction scores will drop.

As patient satisfaction begins to play a larger role in physician compensation structures and reimbursements, it’s especially important make sure you have the right people representing you in your front office.

In a recent webinar hosted by NotifyMD, a provider of healthcare call center services, practice management consultant Elizabeth Woodcock provided several tips for recruiting and retaining these essential employees. Here are the highlights:

Don’t rush to hire. When your practice loses a front-office employee, everyone suffers. Patient wait times increase, phone calls back up, and appointment scheduling becomes a mess. But don’t be tempted into hiring the first candidate that comes along.

Front-office staff members have “challenging” responsibilities, says Woodcock. Make sure you find a candidate who can fulfill those expectations and fit in with the rest of your staff.

Description matters. A great job description is the “key” to finding the right candidate, says Woodcock. Here’s what to include in your job description to ensure it is thorough and appealing to candidates:

• Position title and summary
• Responsibilities 
• Reporting Structure (supervisor, etc.)
• Qualifications
• Practice location, overview, contact information
• Work schedule (full- or part-time)
• Compensation and benefits
• Expectations and basis for performance valuation

Qualifications must include “exceptional” verbal and written communication skills, strong negotiating skills, emotional intelligence, a calm and confident demeanor, and tech savvy, Woodcock says.

“Be a little bit more creative” when posting the description, she says. Consider a social networking site like LinkedIn. And consider advertising on Healthecareers.com, a healthcare excusive job positing site.

Be fair and specific about compensation and benefits. When determining what salary range to offer, consider using MGMA benchmarks, says Woodcock.

Salary.com is also a great option because you can search by zip code to view the median salary for similar jobs in your area, she says.

To give you more of an idea of salary range, salary.com currently lists the national median salary for “clinic receptionists” at $29,770 annually.

Benefits should include “tangible benefits,” such as health insurance, life insurance, paid time off, and a retirement plan, Woodcock says.

Also note “intangible benefits,” such as flexible scheduling and growth opportunities, says Woodcock. “Create a path for your patient communications staff to go in your practice when they grow professionally.”

When meeting with candidates list the benefits offered and beside each item, show its monetary cost to your practice. This is especially helpful to candidates when they are comparing job offers, she says.

Interview better. “Take it up a notch” when it comes to interviewing candidates, says Woodcock.
Ask test questions to assess their skills, such as: “When the phone rings, what would you suggest as the initial greeting?”

Evaluate perceptiveness by asking, “What did you notice about the reception area when you came in?”

Also implement skill-testing scenarios. For instance, pretend you are a patient calling to schedule an appointment. Ask the candidate to take a message based on the information you provide.

Finally, when you’ve narrowed your search down to two or three candidates invite them into the office for a “working interview,” says Woodcock. At this time the candidate can ask questions, observe, and meet other employees.

It gives the candidate an opportunity to “really understand the job,” she says. And it’s an opportunity for current staff members to assess the candidate and “provide feedback.”