Massachusetts Medical Society: 6 Tips to Help Your Front Office Provide a Positive Patient Experience

6 Tips to Help Your Front Office Provide a Positive Patient Experience

Dr. Stephen Metz
Dr. Stephen Metz

Although front-office staff members do not practice medicine, their actions can lead to medical malpractice liability for physicians. We’ve all heard the stories: the scheduler who fails to get in touch with the patient who needs surgery urgently; the receptionist who says there are no appointments available and tells the patient to take Tylenol; the staff members who ask about insurance before they will schedule an appointment.

In the practice of medicine, a patient’s interaction with staff can determine whether the patient has a positive experience, complains to the physician, or hires a lawyer to bring suit. No physician could possibly fill all the roles necessary to run a practice, but there are certain effective steps that can be taken to improve the patient experience.

The Committee on Professional Liability recently met to discuss this issue and to collect experience and wisdom from its members. Our committee is sharing that information as part of its charge to educate members of the Massachusetts Medical Society about professional liability issues.

Clearly, different situations require different solutions. Some practices and organizations have found the following six tips and efforts helpful:

  1. For a surgical practice, have a “go-by” book to describe common post-operative conditions, so a receptionist is not giving medical advice (as in the “take Tylenol” situation above). If a situation is not described in the book, staff members should be required to reach out to the physician.
  2. View patients as customers who expect and deserve a good service experience.
  3. Be sure to close the loop on all conversations and interactions and learn from every patient who expresses dissatisfaction.
  4. Ask a friend to call the practice as a “secret shopper” and report back to the physician on his or her experiences with the staff.
  5. Educate staff members as to the significance of their role and how they can greatly affect a patient’s perception of the care received.
  6. Designate a senior staff member to lead and coordinate a patient-­experience improvement program, with the support and input of the physician.

Notably, much of our committee’s recent discussion centered on the similarity between this aspect of practicing medicine and other customer- facing businesses. Physicians could benefit from looking into some business focused texts that address customer experience.

Finally, because the issues and challenges of office staff communication with patients may vary based on practice setting and specialty, physicians who wish to make improvements in this area should also reach out to their specialty societies, which may have helpful and specific resources available.

For resources on improving the patient experience, see the resource page of The Beryl Institute and the Patient-Physician Experience page of the AMA STEPS Forward™ collection of educational tools and practical guides for physicians.

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