Front Desk Best Practices to Please Patients

The key to patient satisfaction and a healthy revenue cycle is a well-run front desk.

The front desk at any practice is key to patient satisfaction and a healthy revenue cycle. Front desk staff members not only collect expected copays and previous balances, and updates demographics; they are also the face of your practice because they are the first employees patients encounter. Ensure your patients’ initial experience is positive by following these front desk best practices.

Manage Phone Interruptions

The number one priority of the front desk is welcoming patients as they arrive at your office. Patients should feel like they are important. Patients shouldn’t have to wait while your front desk answers a call, and the person on the phone shouldn’t have to be put on hold while your front desk works with patients arriving at your practice. By removing the distraction of answering phones, front desk staff can focus on greeting patients, updating demographics and insurance policies, and collecting copays or past due balances.

To facilitate this change, use your phone system to route calls appropriately, instead of having your front desk people route the calls for the office. If your front desk answers the phone, make sure they wait for a response before putting the caller on hold. Billing issues should be passed to a biller and discussed in private, not at the front desk.

When you remove the responsibility of answering phones from the front desk, your staff is able to welcome patients as soon as they arrive.

Practice Great Customer Service

When you remove the responsibility of answering phones from the front desk, your staff can welcome patients as soon as they arrive. Front desk staff should greet every patient with a smile and show empathy towards the patient, while remaining firm about collecting expected payments. Your ideal front desk staff should be able to ask for money with a smile and have the patient smile back as they pay their copay and/or balance due.

Verify Patient Demographics

Demographic errors are a top reason insurance claims are rejected, which adds to patient dissatisfaction. Have front desk staff verify demographics at check-in for each visit. If your software supports it, consider using a pre-filled demographics form, paper or electronic, for the patient to review, update, and sign. Insurance eligibility software/websites allow the front desk to verify information before patients arrive so they know which patients to ask for updated insurance information. The front desk should always scan a new insurance card and update the billing system with the correct insurance information. Keep in mind: You may need to train patients to bring their insurance card to every visit. Consider including a reminder in appointment reminder notifications.

Collect Payments Promptly

Not everyone is comfortable asking others for money. If your front desk staff struggles with this, help them to become more comfortable asking patients for copays and outstanding balances through role play. Proper wording is key when asking for payment. For example, asking: “Would you like to pay your copay today?” tells the patient that paying your practice is optional. Instead, make sure your staff sets the expectation that payment is required. For example, they might say: “How will you be paying your copay today? We accept …”

This advice also comes into play for previous balances. For example, if Mary says she cannot pay her $123.45 balance today, your front desk should reply: “How much of the $123.45 will you be paying today?” This sets the expectation that the patient will pay a portion of the balance due. Your front desk staff should also explain to the patient why they have an outstanding balance. Train front desk staff to use notes from the billing staff or review balances in the billing software.

When your front desk does not collect a copay or previous balance, ask them to write down why they did not collect payment. Review these answers daily and determine if your front desk needs help role playing specific situations to make collection easier next time.

Set Goals and Achieve Them

Outline clear goals for your front desk that encourage them to be their best. Here are quality-of-service goals you can use to help them succeed:

The primary goal should always be great customer service.

This may seem difficult to track, but a brief patient survey can help you understand how patients think your front desk is doing.

Generate clean claims from a demographics standpoint.

This can be quantified by looking at the rejection codes for denied claims. If five percent of claims are denied for incorrect demographics or policy information, give the front desk a goal of three percent by the end of the next month, and lower their target regularly. If they are already at one percent, make it a goal to maintain or lower the current rate by the end of the next month.

Increase time-of-service payments.

This leads to a reduction in the number of collections needed after the visit; collecting money in person is always a best practice. It is harder to say no in person than to an impersonal bill or collection letter. Your billing system should be capable of generating a report that shows how much your front desk collects for copays and past due balances. If not, create a system to track this in a spreadsheet or manually. The goal for collecting copays is always 100 percent.

When your front desk meets a goal, reward them.

A reward can be something as simple as lunch or a gift card to a local business you know they frequent.

A front desk employee who is comfortable asking for money, and who is someone your patients like, is a valuable asset to your practice. This person will not only reduce work for your billing staff, but they will also know how to make patients feel valued, which is a great first step in building loyalty to your practice.

This article was originally published in AAPC’s Healthcare Business Monthly magazine.

Lynne Y. Gratton, CPPM, AAPC Fellow, works in New Client Implementation, Physician’s Computer Company (PCC). She has worked closely with pediatric practices for more than 25 years at PCC. Gratton’s experience in software development, implementation, project management, and consulting benefits pediatric practices nationwide. Her primary focus is pediatric practice management and workflow improvement. Gratton regularly speaks at regional meetings and consults for pediatric practices. She is a member of the El Paso, Texas, local chapter.