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Medical Practices Failing in Customer Service Training


A recent MGMA stat poll found nearly half of practice leaders believe medical staffers need additional customer service training.

A recent poll by the Medical Group Management Association (MGMA) found that nearly half of practice leaders [47 percent] say their staff members need additional training in customer service. The poll also found that practice leaders see more training needed in the areas of revenue cycle issues, government regulations, and leadership.

Physicians Practice recently sat down with Ken Hertz, a principle consultant at MGMA, to dig deeper into the issues practices are having with training staff members.

What was the main takeaway from the poll?

Nearly 50 percent of respondents identified customer service as a key area where additional training is required. Customer service skills enhance our ability to work with an ever-increasingly set of patients. In the poll, customer service was followed by revenue cycle issues and government regulations, both notable issues that practices need to dedicate more training toward.

Why is customer service so important in healthcare?

For a couple of reasons, first we're dealing with patients/customers, these are people that are ill, who have issues that they want us to help with, so the need to have a caring, compassionate atmosphere is really important. Practices will be increasingly evaluated on patient satisfaction and those evaluations will contribute to reimbursement that offices receive. Practices need to use customer service evaluation as an opportunity to drive the improvement of patient care. 

Was it surprising to you that customer service was a problem for nearly half of respondents?

No, it is something that I see a lot in practices I work with. The question is how to practices go about training customer service and how do they make the training work? It was wonderful to see that level of awareness in practices.

Can you touch on some of the things practices need to work on as far as customer service goes?

In a practice, customer service is a state of mind, not a department. Every single person in the practice is responsible for customer service and patient satisfaction. Customer service training is not like a flu vaccine. You don't get it once and it lasts a year or two. Customer service training at a practice has to be ongoing and attention needs to be drawn to it on a regular basis. The evaluation of customer service and how each employee or staff member performs needs to be part of the employees' annual evaluation. If practices fail to evaluate it, they are effectively empowering poor customer service.

[The need for training on] Government regulations came in at 13 percent.  Isn't it difficult to train on something that is constantly changing?

I would say difficult would be the understatement of the world. It is very difficult, I will say that over the years, healthcare has been relatively adaptable to a lot of regulations that are regularly changing. Healthcare has also been adaptable to regulations that change retroactively. Having said that, there are ways for practices to stay up on the latest government regulations. There are a broad range of publications to read and organizations at every level to follow for updates. The problem is that practices spend so much time focused on daily operations that it's difficult to look out beyond that. What they need to do is enforce a rigor or discipline within practice leadership to keep one eye on what's happening internally and the other eye on what's happening externally.  

Is there a relationship between government regulations and revenue cycle issues?

Absolutely, we separated them out for the poll, but if you add them up, that's 33 percent, a third of respondents. The revenue cycle issues we face today are in large part due to government regulations, MIPS, MACRA, and how practices address those internally with electronic health records (EHRs). Then, how practices extract the data [from the EHR] and report on it.

How important is having good leadership at a medical practice?

For privately-owned practices, physician leaders serve two roles, they are employees and business owners. Those require two different skill sets. Practices need to continue to provide training for physicians who are in leadership roles as well as physicians who will be stepping into leadership roles in the future. Leadership strengthens the healthcare delivery system.

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