‘WHAT Did My Staff Person Say On The Phone?’

Lynn Homisak PRT

Have you ever heard something your staff person said on the phone that you wish you hadn’t? It amazes me that even though doctors willingly hand over their phone, such a critical practice tool, to their staff, they do so without making proper phone etiquette training a mandatory requirement for the job. Sure, everyone is familiar with answering the phone but that doesn’t mean they are qualified to do so.

It is disheartening to find out that your biller or receptionist was arguing with a patient over a bill or inappropriately giving medical advice, or not accurately responding to a potential new patient’s inquiry. This goes on more than we realize. It is only when the doctor finally hears it for him or herself that the shock really hits home.

It is true that many times patients drive us to our limits but instead of reacting in a defensive or angry way, trained personnel would know exactly how to communicate with this individual and follow proper protocol toward a successful outcome. Going head to head with the patient is clearly not the right path to take. It only tends to irritate the patient further and we all know how many other people an “irritated” person tells about a bad experience. As a rule, a patient calling to complain about a bill does not mean this as a personal attack. He or she wants information. If staff members know enough to remain calm, control the conversation (with open and closed questions) and provide patients with answers instead of a runaround, they can easily take the phone call in a more constructive direction.

If you are suspicious that your staff is mishandling your phone calls, don’t wait another minute to take action. Your phone is your lifeline to your patients.

Since we cannot possibly take the necessary time to monitor every phone call that comes into the practice, I have started working with a company that has developed a more scientific system designed to help train staff by recording conversations and have found it to be a promising answer to this dilemma. I used to be in the camp that thought this tactic of recording was sneaky and that no staff would appreciate being “spied” on but that is not the purpose of this. There is nothing sneaky about it. Your staff and your patients are advised up front that calls are being recorded for training purposes. Interestingly, one staff person pointed out that it actually supported her efforts when trying to convince her doubting doctors that she did indeed offer those vacancies in the schedule to several patients who refused.

Half of the patients who have chosen not to continue visiting your practice have done so because of an experience they have had with your front desk staff. We cannot fix a situation until we first know where the breakdown has occurred.

In reviewing these calls, we learn the following information.
1) Did the staff answer the phone in a friendly, helpful, polite manner?
2) Did the staff clearly identify your practice name?
3) Were your patients on hold (without permission) for an eternity or, worse yet, disconnected?
4) Did patients get wrong information to a question?
5) Were staff offering unauthorized medical advice?
6) Did staff make patients feel their call was unimportant or that taking the time to speak with them was an inconvenience? Did patients feel rushed or satisfied?
7) Did your patients feel that their call was worth their while enough to make an appointment? Alternatively, did they give the kiss of goodbye, “Thanks for your information. I’ll give you a call” and hang up?

I do not suggest going this route to try to “catch” your staff doing something wrong and if that is your goal, then this method of professional training is not for you. Let’s face it. Staff are either going to know their stuff or not. If they cannot appropriately handle the call, then number one, they should not be in that seat and two, they should receive better training. On the other hand, if your staff can handle it, it is yet another reason to appreciate their proficiency and praise and congratulate them for a job well done.

As a staff trainer and coach, my purpose is to help staff perform their job in the most efficient, effective way possible and to teach them how to convert every potential new patient call into an appointment. I have gotten a lot of panic calls from doctors who say, “I can’t believe what I just overheard my receptionist say on the phone!” When I find a tool that can help me help them turn that around, I go with it. Isn’t it time you took the wondering out of your staff’s phone skills and replaced it with the wonderful?

Please post your questions or comments about your experience with staff phone etiquette. For more info, please email me at lynn@soshms.com.


Phone calls are so important to my business. In most cases, they are the first point of contact for new patients. If they don't get a good impression right from that point, we may lose them before they can even make an appointment.

I have advised my receptionists to offer to call back if it is likely the call may be put on hold for more than 30 seconds. If there are patients waiting at the desk, they need to feel like they are being attended to as well. I get the receptionist to offer to take their name and number, and call back within 10 minutes. I find most people appreciate this option and will tell you if they are happy to stay on hold.


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