So, you’ve landed yourself a new patient. You’ve run through the marketing rigamarole of advertising your clinic online and to your community. You’ve demonstrated your value to people who could benefit from your care (or to a referring physician), and now a new patient has reached out to say the magic words: “I’ve never been here before, and I’d like to make an appointment.” That means the hardest part of the patient acquisition process is over—right?
A healthy new patient funnel relies heavily upon the satisfaction and loyalty of a clinic’s active patient population. You can post on Twitter and target SEO keywords all day, but ultimately, your clinic needs happy patients to post reviews and spread the good word about your care. Excellent health care will make patients plenty happy—but a good first impression at the front office will set them up for success. Here’s how you can ace your first interaction with patients.
1. Reach out to the patient ASAP.
New patients don’t exactly reach out at a single designated time. Sometimes they may call and leave a message during the front office’s lunch hour, or when the clinic is closing for the night. They may even send an email or an appointment request through your website over the weekend, when they have the time to give their to-do list a little attention.
In any case, if a new patient contacts your clinic at a time when no one can assist them, best practice is to get them on the phone as soon as possible. After all, the longer a potential patient is left waiting, the more likely they are to call up another clinic that can help them right away. This is an easy fix: Enforce a rule that asks front office workers to reach out within 24 business hours—or even sooner.
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2. Verify the patient’s benefits and report back with payment information.
Most times, when patients call to schedule their first appointment with a healthcare provider, they experience a near-identical (and arduous) intake process. First, they announce that they’re trying to schedule a new patient appointment—with a specific provider if possible. Then they’re asked to provide a heap of personal information, ranging from their name, birthdate, and medical history to their current ailment and their insurance information.
Only after doling out all that information can they schedule an appointment—and there’s a good chance they won’t hear another peep from the clinic until they receive an appointment reminder (if they get one at all). There’s no discussion of payment or insurance coverage, and oftentimes patients are forced to guess what they might pay when they show up for their initial evaluation.
There are two very easy ways to humanize this process and offer a better patient experience. The first is to simply verify the patient’s benefits and contact them with their estimated payment responsibilities. This extra attention will make patients feel more valued—and give the impression that you prioritize a smooth billing process. It will also help you identify billing mistakes that could have caused problems—and it has the added bonus of preparing patients for payment, so they don’t balk at a last-minute price.
This is the second way is to humanize and streamline the intake process, which I’ll dive into next.
3. Send the patient digital intake forms.
Practitioners (or more specifically, their billers) need a lot of information in order to successfully collect payment from insurance carriers. But is asking patients to sit on the phone for 10 minutes really the best way to collect all of this information—especially when you plan to hand patients a stack of papers and a clipboard when they show up for their first appointment? Probably not.
Instead, ask patients only for the most vital information you need to check benefits, and then encourage them to fill out digital intake paperwork before their appointment. This cuts down on unnecessary phone time, provides your patients with the opportunity to fill out their paperwork when it’s convenient for them, and reduces wait times in your clinic’s lobby. Plus, these digital intake solutions often integrate with existing EMRs, meaning that patient information gets transferred directly to the patient chart. No transcribing necessary!
4. Offer a no- or low-touch check-in process.
Okay, I see you reeling at this suggestion. To be clear, when I say “offer a no-touch check-in process,” I don’t mean that staff should ignore patients as they walk in. Instead, I’m envisioning a check-in process where patients don’t have to write on a sign-in sheet or fill out a hefty packet of paperwork. They can greet the front desk and announce their arrival, then park themselves in a chair and wait to be seen.
Obviously, this won’t be possible for patients who haven’t yet filled out their paperwork, but simply offering this check-in experience can mean a world of difference to patients who are strapped for time and who may be opposed to sharing writing utensils due to COVID-19.
5. Be ultra-welcoming.
Before you call me out for putting a gimme on this list, let me explain. It’s pretty safe to say that everyone knows the importance of hospitality and politeness when creating an excellent patient experience. But I’d recommend trying to go above and beyond that by offering patients information that they may not always get. If your therapists are running behind schedule, for instance, perhaps the front desk staff can give patients an idea of how long they’ll need to wait. Maybe they can offer patients bottled water while they wait, strike up a conversation with them, or offer to answer any and all questions.
The smallest gestures can mean a world of difference to patients—and a be a key contributor to creating lasting relationships with them.
6. Brush up on the patient’s chart before you first see them.
This suggestion falls in the court of the clinical provider. Patients want to feel heard and acknowledged—and an easy way to check both of those boxes is for providers to take a few moments to review the patient’s chart before walking into that initial evaluation. If they ask specific questions about the patient’s ailment (e.g., tell me more about your knee pain), it gives the impression that the provider is already deeply invested in that patient’s care.
Plus, with the right front office software, much of this information will automatically pre-populate into the patients’ charts, giving clinicians and even bigger leg up on their SOAP notes documentation.
7. Iron out your checkout process until it’s smooth as silk.
The last moments of a patient’s first appointment are more critical than you might think. According to peak-end rule heuristic, people form strong opinions about a new experience during the peak and end of the event. The “peak” of a patient appointment occurs during the clinical side of things—and the therapist should have that on lock. But the “end” of a patient appointment is during those quiet moments when a patient stands, once again, at the front desk while trying to make a payment or schedule another appointment.
The trick here is easy; simply ask the front desk to prioritize patients who are checking out. Ensure that you have a well-forged check-out process that doesn’t often result in payment processing snags or delays in follow-up appointment scheduling. Show the patient that you value their time, and be as quick and efficient as possible (while still being polite, of course).
Patient satisfaction is heavily influenced by all aspects of a clinic—including the front office. A smooth check-in and check-out experience makes a world of difference to patient satisfaction and is the perfect complement to exceptional health care.
Questions? Check out our webinar, “Organize to Optimize: Front Office Efficiencies to Improve Patient Outcomes and Boost Clinic Revenue.” And for any other lingering queries, feel free to drop those in the comment section below!