American College of Physicians: Internal Medicine — Doctors for Adults ®

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From the July-August ACP Observer, copyright 2007 by the American College of Physicians.

PMC TipsThe first question on ACP's Patient Satisfaction Check Up survey tool asks how long patients spend on hold when calling your office for an appointment. If your practice scores low on this question, you may need to review some of your basic office operations, including your telephone system, the demands placed on your staff and the procedures they follow.

The following trouble spots and some potential solutions are worth investigating:

Insufficient staff to answer telephones
Free up the appointment scheduler. Designate a person to handle telephone appointment scheduling whose other duties can be delayed while appointment calls are completed. Next, determine whether there is enough staff assigned to accommodate the volume of calls during peak periods of the day.

Telephones not readily accessible to staff
Make telephones easily accessible to all staff by relocating phones throughout the office or ensuring there are enough phones for staff to use during peak times.

Unclear direction to staff on how to answer calls
Let staff know your specific expectations about how each type of call is to be handled, by whom and the number of acceptable rings before a line should be answered. Written policies should be readily available and specify which staff has primary and secondary responsibility for answering telephones.

Patients don't know the best times to call
Educate patients about your peak times and suggest they call during off-peak hours if it is convenient for them. Give them guidance on how to access different services within your practice and which staff handles what categories of patient questions (e.g., lab results, referrals, pharmacy refills).

Staff is unclear on how to prioritize tasks
When staff members have multiple responsibilities, they need to know what priority should be given to answering telephones.

Overloaded appointment lines
Special lines and automated attendant systems can help prevent prescription refill and lab results calls from clogging your appointment lines. Before investing in new features, ask your telephone vendor to help you use the full capacity of your existing system.

To find more information about telephone management and other aspects of patient satisfaction see the Patient Satisfaction Check Up and "The Patient Satisfaction Tip Book".

PMC Tips is a regular feature on small-practice management from ACP's Practice Management Center.

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