Improve Patient Satisfaction and Retention Through Improved Routing

Bailey Sutherland, In-Practice Technology Services Associate Electronic Health Records (EHR)

How Clear Phone Routing Processes Can Improve Patient Satisfaction and Retention

Your phone system is the primary point of contact for your office. For new patients, it is your chance to make a positive first impression. For existing patients, it is your chance to improve satisfaction and retention. Phone routing systems are something that everyone understands because we all use them every day. Whether you are trying to reach your credit card company, your health insurance, or your physician’s office, no one likes to wait on hold or sift through an endless stream of voice prompts.

Here are a few common frustrations that patients may encounter when trying to reach your office:

  • Being placed on hold for an extended period of time.
  • Not knowing which option best fits their needs.
  • Not having the option of using voice commands to make their selections.
  • Not being able to reach an operator who can assist them.
  • Being transferred from one person to another without resolution.
  • Not being able to get a hold of the on-call doctor.

Here is a classic scenario that plays out all too often in primary care settings. A parent brings her child in to your office with a sore throat. The physician provides a prescription and advises the parent to call the office if the child does not get better within a few days. It is now Friday afternoon and the child has not gotten any relief from the symptoms. In fact, he seems to be feeling worse. The parent tries to call your office for assistance but ends up stuck on hold and unable to reach an operator. In a panic, the parent decides to take the child to the emergency room. After waiting there for several hours, the child is finally seen, and the emergency room physician recommends that the child continue with the same medication and add a pain reliever. The parent returns home, feeling frustrated and exhausted.

This type of situation can have a negative impact on the perception of your practice. It also results in a lower quality of care, as the child would have been better served by his primary care provider. The expenses associated with emergency room visits are also higher – both for the insurance companies and for your patients.

The goal for any physician practice is to provide timely access to care and answers for your patients – both day and night. Making sure your patients have a simple and straightforward way to reach your office is an important step in this process. According to Change Healthcare, here are a few signs that your patient call center might be in trouble:

  • Five percent or more of patients hang up before they’re helped.
  • Patient wait times are longer than 60 seconds.
  • Call routing accuracy is under 99 percent.
  • Patient satisfaction scores are trending down.
  • Turnover among your front desk and/or call center representatives is high.
  • You lack the capabilities to record patient calls.
  • You don’t have time to provide ongoing coaching and training to your staff.

This assumes, of course, that you are able to track these types of statistics for your call center. If not, then data collection should be a high priority for your practice. There are many ways you can improve the effectiveness and efficiency of your call center. Here are a few solutions you might want to consider. You can make adjustments based on the size of your practice and volume of calls.

  1. Create one main phone number that all callers can use. Publish that phone number on your website and all patient handouts.
  2. Limit the complexity of your routing system so it is easy to understand. Have your office staff test the system to ensure the options make sense.
  3. Use voice recognition software that allows the caller to speak the option of who or what department they are trying to reach. This is especially useful for people who are making calls from their car and cannot easily press buttons on their phone.
  4. If a patient must remain on hold for over two minutes, offer the option for the patient to request a call-back. This service is becoming more common, especially in large call centers. This can help to eliminate frustration from time spent on hold.
  5. Have an easy way to reach the on-call doctor after hours. Make sure this is one of the first options available if a person is calling in after hours.
  6. Ensure your patients have access to a comprehensive patient portal where they can interact with your office via email and view their medical records. This will help reduce the overall number of calls you receive.
  7. Provide clear instructions for new patients so they know how to contact the various departments of the practice, including after-hours access.
  8. If you do patient satisfaction surveys, include a few questions about your phone system and look for ways to improve based on feedback from your patients.
  9. Use an online billing system that allows patients to pay their balance online as opposed to calling in and paying by credit card.

As you work on making improvements to your phone routing system, be sure to keep the customer’s perspective in mind. It should be easy to do, since most of us have had at least a few negative interactions with call centers of our own that shape our perceptions. Remember that offering a clear and concise set of instructions and options to connect with your office is critical to your patient retention and satisfaction rates. As providers and office staff, it is your duty to make it easy for patients to get a hold of your office and access the care they need.