Service Matters: Tips For Improving How You Handle Calls

May 12, 2011
Richard Woodcock, MD

Yes, part of radiology service is accommodating what seem like demanding requests sometimes. But each call, be it from physician or patient, needs to be handled professionally, quickly and efficiently.

As a radiologist I, probably like you, get a lot of opportunity to talk to front office staff at non-radiologic medical practices.

When you call reports or want to discuss a case, do you find some offices seem organized and others not? Do some seem more competent as a result? Do you have more confidence in some offices and their physicians as a result?  That may all be in appearance since you are only getting to interact for a brief moment; but it is your impression of the practice, nonetheless.

For example, yesterday I called a spine physician's office to discuss a case and was transferred three times, as the physician was not available. There was no communication about to whom I was being transferred or why. The greeting was abrupt. I was not even sure the message would get to the physician. Today, I called another surgeon at a different office and received a clear, warm greeting. Although the physician was not in, I was quickly transferred to one of his courteous staff who took a detailed message, read it back and verified it with me. They later called to inform me that the physician had received the message.

That striking difference in service meant something to me. First, I was left with the distinct impression that one office, and by extension, its physicians, were superior to the other. Second, I realized that the same things were happening in reverse. They were calling us and judging us on that interaction. And while my opinion of the surgeons’ office might not affect their referrals much, their opinions of our office might very much affect our referrals and business.

So what to do?

In some areas of our practice, we don’t “own” the front desk. In others we do. Where we do, we need to make sure the staff knows what we and the referring offices expect. Yes, part of radiology service is accommodating what seem like demanding requests sometimes. But each call, be it from physician or patient, needs to be handled professionally, quickly and efficiently.

The staff needs to be educated about being the face of the practice, and therefore an important link to good care and more referrals as a result. Emphasize that most referring offices never see or meet us, and regardless of how nice we are behind the scenes, they need to learn that on the phone each time they call.

Our staff needs to be rigorous in phone courtesy and clarity. Having a lot to do can’t result in abrupt greetings or pressured speech.

They need to communicate to the caller any steps they are taking in processing the callers request. They can’t just put them on hold or transfer them blindly.

They need to be sure they have our and all administrative whereabouts (re: schedule) and phone numbers available. We constantly have comments about people trying to find us. The scheduler or administration should ensure that everyone in the loop has a schedule. And that when we make changes, we let everyone (or better yet, some centralized someone) know.

We, as radiologists, need to give each of our staff training in what should be quickly referred to us, and what can be handled most expeditiously by someone else. This means we need to arrange time to do this with every employee who will interface with referring offices.

The staff needs to understand that they should avoid confrontation or anything potentially discourteous.

In radiology, the calls we receive and how we handle them are one of the most important ways people get to know us, make judgments about us, and decide if they want to trust us with their business.  So we need to make sure that experience is optimized.
 

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