Excerpt of a conversation with the practice manager of a medical centre.
Manager: “I don’t know what to do with my receptionists. How can I encourage them to be more proactive?”
Marica: “What kind of tasks have you been setting them?”
Manager: “I want them to offer patients additional services and to join our membership scheme but I can’t seem to make it happen”.
Marica: “What kind of background do your colleagues come from?
Manager: “One is new to healthcare, two are ex-nurses, and three have worked in other clinics. However, those last three only ever greeted patients and helped them to fill out forms”.
Selling is an art, requiring practice, experience and the constant refinement of techniques. As such, when you are hiring new staff, it’s vital that you can carefully select those who are able to work effectively with clients.
Imagine that you are casting a fishing net into the sea. When you pull the net back aboard your boat, you find that it has been specially cut to create a large hole. As a result, you return to shore with only a portion of your potential catch. You could spend every day at sea and still end up catching less than you should.
Likewise, if you fail to properly organise your reception and phone workflows, then it’s no surprise that there’s a hole in your net, as it were.
Whether a patient continues their treatment in your clinic and goes on to purchase additional services and health packages will depend on far more than just your ability to acquire patients or hire good doctors.
In “diagnosing” one particular clinic, I sat and observed the reception team, which was unencumbered by a high patient flow. Their eyes were glued to their monitors. Whenever a patient came in, they looked up from their screens for a mere instant to offer a practically wordless greeting. While forms were being filled out, patients were looking with great interest at a screen showing all the services and packages available. Not a single member of staff took any notice. I didn’t even hear a simple “How can I help you?” nor any attempt to make the patients aware of the special offers they were clearly reading about. All that happened was the receptionist receiving the completed forms then told the patient to take a seat and wait for their appointment. That was it!
The clinic was spending money on patient acquisition, marketing, commission for partners and all sorts, but its employees were acutely unaware that their work directly influences the sale of additional services, patient acquisition and the beginnings of a long-term relationship between the clinic and the patient.
So, what should a practice manager do to train up their receptionists properly?
Your choice of staff is the ultimate deciding factor. As such, you need to be able to write a proper job description when a vacancy opens up and then understand how to select candidates. Remember that receptionists are not clinicians, they are involved primarily in patient communication and the sale of additional services. It’s more about professionalism than a person’s natural disposition although of course, that helps too. You would do well to learn from other industries which need to pay close attention to candidates’ resumes. Whether it’s banking, hospitality, insurance or any other business sector that sells consumer goods, they are all well-developed from a sales point of view and their employees are regularly encouraged to focus on their professional growth.
Aside from utilising relevant experience from their past work, reception managers must be aware of the various tools and methods employed to improve sales. That is to say, they ought to understand sales management.
Particularly when the private healthcare sector is growing as quickly as it is, you have to realise that it’s a constantly evolving process. As such, you are expected to develop and tutor your employees on a regular basis. However, you don’t really need to set up a special department for this. It’s quite straightforward just to outsource it.
Help your receptionists. High patient flow in a large clinic with multiple specialities will inevitably place a heavy burden on their shoulders. To minimise the potential consequences of this, you should make it as easy as possible for receptionists to find the patient information they need. Whether it’s about the patient or for the patient, you need a well-designed practice management system.
Automating your receptionists’ workflow is an effective solution that allows them simultaneously examine multiple schedules, remind patients about appointments via text or email, and automatically record information in the EHR. If you set up voice-over IP telephony, you’ll never miss another call. What’s more, the corresponding patient’s record will open up on your screen. Take a look at how easily this is all configured in Medesk.
Set a sales plan. It shouldn’t be anything you want to try out and see how it goes, but a medical business strategy that has already been proven in practice. Having a sales plan, specifically one to do with the sale of additional services over the phone or at the reception desk can increase your revenue by up to 30% (an average of 20-30% in my own experience). Your receptionists should then be made fully aware of what special offers and services should be suggested to every patient coming through the door.
Last but not least - employee motivation. Expecting your employees to make sales without a financial incentive is a road to nowhere. Think up a comprehensive bonus plan that works for your employees and watch as your clinic’s revenue grows before your eyes.
It’s true that any change demands time and effort but in this case, it’s certainly worth it!
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