The Importance of the Phone Call

Today is Monday at the end of August. People are back from vacations and schools are starting up. The pace of activity in your office is picking up — the phone is ringing more often, more patients, more details to handle.


To the patient, the first contact is with the person who answers your phone. A call should almost always — I would say upwards of 98 percent of the time — be answered by a live person. If you use an auto answer, it makes sense to have options for physician offices, pharmacies and prescription refills. You should also announce a general option for new patients or those who aren’t sure what to do with their problem.


Internally, while you may have one person designated to answer calls, you should also set the system so that it rolls over after three or four rings to other staff. Forcing a patient looking to make an appointment or who needs help to leave a message is a poor outcome. If that has to happen, then the call should be returned within five minutes.


The person principally responsible for answering calls is a very important and often overlooked person in many businesses. This person is the voice and personality of the practice. When you hire this person, who they come across in person and on the phone is a lot of the characteristics that you want. They also need to know how the practice works so that they can forward calls appropriately and answer many questions themselves. In short — they should be armed with the knowledge to best help patients. They should know when to handle it themselves, be able to reassure a patient and when the call needs to be transferred to clinical staff.


I’ve written before about some tools that can help your receptionist. One is simple — a hands-free headset. This allows the person to have both hands free, it relieves neck strain, and it allows some freedom of movement. There are wireless systems as well that allow calls to be answered anywhere in the office (walk into many a retail store). A list of the insurance and managed care plans that you participate in, specific directions (including landmarks for turns and where to park), brief bios of the physicians and other “frequently asked questions” are the kinds of resources that you receptionist should have right at hand.


The more knowledge that your staff has, the more they can do, and the more they can do, the less you have to do and the better your patients are being served. It’s often overlooked, but these seemingly inconsequential interactions between your patients and your staff go a long way to attracting and retaining patients.