The front desk of a PT, OT, or SLP practice is pretty much its control tower. When front office operations break down—and clinics fail to promptly return patient phone calls, schedule appointments at optimal intervals, check patients in and out, verify patient insurance information, or collect payment—then the efficiency and effectiveness of the entire organization suffers. If issues with your clinic’s front office system go unaddressed for too long, they can erode patient trust and practice reputation as well as breed frustration among staff. After all, no one wants to receive—or deliver—therapy care in a chaotic environment. With that in mind, here are three big tips for running a more organized front desk.
1. Use front office software to your advantage.
Scheduling best practices have come a long way since the days of pencilling patient appointments into a desk calendar, which is a good thing. After all, one spilled glass of water could wash away an entire week’s worth of patient info. Today, though, there’s intelligent scheduling software that’s not only water-proof (all data is stored safely in the cloud and protected with unique usernames and passwords), but also stocked with:
- Built-in automated appointment reminders;
- Embeddable intake forms;
- Easy access to patient charts;
- Drag-and-drop functionality; and
- Payment processing.
With the right tools in place, your front office staff will have everything they need to complete their most important tasks—all in one spot. And automation features—most notably, automated appointment reminders—mean more time for the activities that require a human touch, like providing a warm welcome to your patients and collecting patient balances. It’s even better if your scheduling functionality is integrated with your EMR, so you only have to enter patient information once. Talk about a time (and error) saver!
Note: WebPT’s enhanced digital patient intake portal is slated for release later this year. That means front office staff will save even more time, as they’ll be able to quickly disperse digital intakes to patients—and the information patients provide will automatically flow over to the patient chart.
2. Set clear (and reasonable) expectations—and adjust staffing if necessary.
We’re big fans of technology (obviously), but no amount of tech negates the need to establish open lines of communication with your staff and clear expectations that everyone understands—and aims to exceed. And that is (and will always be) the necessary foundation for successful operations, whether we’re talking about your front office staff or your clinical staff. To start, outline all front desk processes—everything your front desk handles from the first patient interaction to the last. Then, establish goals for each. For example:
- All patient calls and emails must be returned within one business day.
- Barring extenuating circumstances, all patient insurance verification should take place at least 48 hours prior to a patient’s first appointment.
- All patients should receive and complete intake paperwork as well as all relevant clinic forms (e.g., privacy and cancellation policies) prior to their first appointment.
- All patients should be warmly greeted at the beginning of their appointment, and warmly checked out at the end.
- Every patient should be asked to schedule his or her next appointment during the checkout step.
- At least 90% of all patient balances should be collected at the time of service.
Once you outline your processes and goals, share them with your team and ask for their feedback. Even small tweaks and changes over time can lead to big improvements in organization and efficiency (hello, optimization). But if automating processes via excellent software hasn’t reduced their workloads enough to make the goals you set feel realistic, then it may be time to hire more help. After all, you won’t be able to improve the organization of your front desk with burned-out staff members.
Want a tip to help garner buy-in from your staff on new processes and expectations? Share the benefits of an organized front desk and how it improves their lives. For example, having more structure in place should make their work lives easier—and a streamlined front office could improve patient volume and thus, your practice’s bottom line. And that could translate into bigger bonuses, if you’re into that kind of thing. Whatever you share, make it personal and true.
3. Provide excellent training—and support.
If you’re seeing a disorganized front desk or gaps in your staff’s ability to meet your expectations—and it’s not a staffing issue—then it might be time to consider implementing some team training. This can be as formal or casual as you’d like (anything from bringing in a consultant to provide ongoing training on operational best practices to a lunch ‘n’ learn led by one of your top staffers). Most people want to excel at, and be engaged in, their work. As we explained here, the ability to strive for—and attain—mastery is hugely motivational, as is a company culture that supports autonomy and purpose. (That’s on top of paying staff members a comfortable wage, of course.) Mastery requires personal and professional development opportunities.
As WebPT’s Melissa Hughes wrote here, the best way to support your team members (regardless of their role) is to ask them how they would like to be supported:
“If you want the nitty-gritty details on what your employees want from their work environment (and trust me, you do), then you need to reach out and ask them—whether that be by survey, in an informal meeting, or email. Maybe they’d like performance-based pay or a better retirement plan. Maybe a flexible schedule would help them juggle their personal and professional lives, leaving them more fulfilled and present at work—or perhaps they’d be interested in more training and career growth opportunities. The only way to find out what your employees are hurtin’ for is to ask.”
Just be prepared to address their requests honestly, even if it’s not something you can actually implement. People want to be heard, and opening up this type of a conversation can be a great way to establish an open dialogue and address potentially unmet needs. After all, a happy, motivated, engaged staff is an effective staff.
There you have it: three big tips for running a more organized front desk in your clinic:
- Use front office software to your advantage;
- Set clear (and reasonable) expectations—and adjust staffing if necessary; and
- Provide excellent training—and support.
Have your own tips to share? Add them in the comment section below. We’d love to know what’s working for your practice.