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Train Staff to Handle Phone Calls to Improve Quality

The Doctor's Office, August 28, 2008

Phone calls to a medical practice are usually numerous and labor-intensive. New staff members are often hired to help handle the call volume, many times with limited formal training on practice policies and procedures. The results of these fast hires can be disastrous to a practice.

Start by reviewing procedures and tracking the number and type of phone calls that come into the practice. Listen to your staff members conducting the call to determine how to restructure this function.

Since phone calls are an integral part of a patient's satisfaction with the practice, management should develop a telephone training program for new employees. This program can also be used as a refresher course for experienced staff members.

The following are topics to include in your manual:

How to appropriately answer a telephone call. For example, refer to a script that includes answering with the practice's name, introducing yourself, and asking, "How can I help you today?"

How to deal with angry patients. Create a script that reassures patients that you will be able to answer their questions and refer them to the appropriate resource to resolve their issue.

How to handle patients' individual requests, such as leaving a message with a provider or asking for guidance with a medical emergency. Staff members should have a list of nearby medical centers, hospitals, pharmacies, and other resources for which to refer a patient.

Practice managers should conduct staff training before or after office hours. This gives staff members a better chance to focus on the materials presented and to more quickly learn and perform the functions.

Training programs should be designed with a positive spin to improve and update efficiencies within the practice, rather than a forum that tells staff members they are doing the job incorrectly.

Have a planned agenda, along with supporting documentation and handouts. Start the session on time and factor in a short or long break depending on the length of the session. Allow enough time at the end of the program for staff members to ask questions and share their concerns.


This article was adapted from one that originally ran in the August 2008 issue of The Doctor's Office, a HealthLeaders Media publication.