Where You May Be Losing Staff Time and Money, and How to Fix It

Elizabeth Woodcock, MBA, CPC; Deborah Walker Keegan, PhD


November 28, 2012


Do telephone calls to your practice take big bites out of valuable staff time and spit back only hassles? That's because telephone calls require synchronous work -- you or your staff and the patient must be on the line at the same time.

To save staff time, make your practice more efficient, and get answers and information to patients in a more timely manner, you may need to rethink and make some critical changes to your phone system or your strategy for dealing with patient phone calls.

Inbound call volume to a medical practice should be no more than twice the number of patient visits per day -- not 4 to 5 times the daily patient volume, which is the norm.

Get a grip on your telephone. Measure your inbound call demand by day of week and time of day. The results will reveal the magnitude of opportunity that you can achieve by reducing the need for patients to telephone your practice.

Why So Many Calls?

Track the reason for each inbound and outbound call over 1 week. Any topic that has an equal percentage of both inbound and outbound calls is a problem awaiting your solution: Namely, figure out a better way to manage those types of calls.

For example, if 20% of your inbound calls come from patients seeking test results and 20% of your outbound calls are to report test results to patients, look for new communication options. A secure online patient portal, for example, leverages technology and means that patients won't have to resort to the telephone every time to get test results.

Callers deserve a consistent experience when they telephone your practice. That can't happen until you transform the telephone experience from people-dependent to process-driven. Following carefully designed protocols, each of your telephone staff should demonstrate compassion, use similar scripts, and have all the telephone-related tools they need to assist each caller. A good process is as steady as a rock and does not have "good days" or "bad days." That means it's important to develop those protocols and train your staff in using them.

Ask a colleague or friend to call your practice and be a "mystery patient." Provide them with questions to ask and areas of the telephone experience to evaluate. For example, how long did it take for someone to answer the telephone? Were they put on hold? If so, for how long? Did the operator show interest and concern? Could the operator answer their questions or find someone who could? A mystery patient survey helps you identify the extent of the opportunity for improving telephone management processes. Improvement is critical: Patients often assess the quality of your practice through the service they receive during interactions with your practice.