Article

Customer Service

Create a backup plan

Develop a system for unexpected patient issues.

Regardless of how much we care about patients, we will all experience moments in our careers when we are unable to satisfy them. Creating a backup plan for when things go wrong in the office is critical to correcting customer service challenges. By developing a system to manage unexpected problems and challenges, we can better address our patients’ needs.

Anticipate Problems

The best way to manage a patient problem is to detect it early. When we can foresee an issue becoming worse, we can work to remove or reduce the negative impact on the patient or the practice. For example, if a physician is late returning to the office after surgery, the team can notify patients at check-in about the upcoming delay. The front desk can also call patients later in the day, to determine if the patient would prefer to reschedule. Patients will appreciate having a heads-up that the clinic is running behind schedule. They can be prepared for delays, and they now have a choice about how to structure their day.

Educate on Practice Policies

Patients will typically be more understanding if they know what to expect during the exam. If the patient needs testing, such as a visual field or pre-op measurements for cataract surgery, the exam can take several hours. Touch base before the visit on what to expect.

Read the Signs

When working with patients, we can often sense when they are becoming agitated. Acknowledge what you observe. For example, if a patient is getting upset when talking about an outstanding balance, we may need to intervene. We can often diffuse patients by giving them a way out of the situation. “Mrs. Jones, I can see why this balance could be concerning, and I appreciate your perspective here. Let me do some research to ensure this bill is accurate. If it is, I will at least be able to give you some more information about why your insurance did not cover the entire amount.”

Assume Positive Intent

When a patient approaches us, we may groan internally, perhaps even thinking, “Now what does she want?” By automatically suspecting the worst, we can inadvertently give off a “vibe” that the patient is bothering us. This adversarial approach to patients can slowly creep into our office culture until we find ourselves meeting in the breakroom only to complain about patients. To counter this issue, we must train ourselves to approach every problem with a fresh perspective.

Help with the Red Tape

Patients may become disgruntled while working through their insurance plans or other “red tape” present in today’s health care environment. While insurance issues are generally between patients and their carriers, we can find ourselves playing the middle man or even being blamed for the problem. Instead of deflecting blame back to the insurance company, see if the office can assist the patient in resolving the issue. For example, offer to make a call on behalf of the patient, or request a three-way call with the insurance company and the patient so everyone can find a solution together.

Provide a Peace Offering

In other customer services settings, such as restaurants, managers can make peace offerings if a customer is dissatisfied. For example, if a customer does not like his steak, the manager can write-off the charge or even “comp” his meal.

Due to payer contracting, our offices generally cannot provide a monetary write-off of an exam just because a patient is unhappy. However, an office may find other ways to help right a customer service wrong. For example, the manager may keep gift cards to local restaurants or stores on file. If a patient is disgruntled, and the issue is truly the office’s error, then the manager can offer the patient lunch on the practice.

If a patient is upset because she had to be rescheduled, offer her the first appointment in the morning to ensure she does not have to wait next time. Make a special plan to have practice swag — such as pens, mugs, or baseball caps — available to her when she arrives, and ask the front desk to help put a smile on her face.

Empower Yourself

When faced with a patient problem, take ownership of the situation to resolve the matter. When considering solutions, ask yourself:

  1. Is this good for the patient?
  2. Is this good for the practice?
  3. Can I take care of this for the team?

If you can answer yes to all those questions, give yourself permission to move forward.

We cannot always prevent patients from becoming upset, but having a plan to deal with issues can help us resolve problems more efficiently. OP