5 Tips for Improving Physician Call Response with Marketing Strategy
“Please hold,” it’s one of the most familiar responses heard during the first minutes of a call to the doctor, and quickly it’s becoming one of the most outdated. Integrating call response into comprehensive healthcare marketing strategy frames today’s challenge and its solutions in proper context.
Some Things Change… and Some Things Don’t.
The opportunity is easy to miss. Review of the incoming call experience is often neglected for years, especially in established practices. Often, practices slap a Band-Aid on the subject making superficial changes as they upgrade to T4 lines and EHR. These updates give the illusion of modernization while the culture of call response remains the same. Having called on physicians for over 30 years, I can attest to the reality that I’m hearing the same auto response in some practices I heard in 2003.
That’s assuming you survive the call tree, which can offer up to 7 options before you hear the one that gets you to a live person. During peak time prospective patients can wait up to 60 seconds before getting a live person who says, “Please hold.” Today, with Pew Research Center reporting over 90% of US adults seeking online health information, and 91% carrying mobile phones, surveys suggest this is too much to endure even for the benefits of a heavenly bedside manner.
Traditional front office response protocols are ineffective in a consumer-driven healthcare environment. Yet, during a decade of shrinking reimbursement front office teams have grown leaner than ever. Stakeholders who manage incoming calls are usually multitasking experts responsible for any number functions from preparing medical records to patient discharge. So, how do you make necessary improvements FAST?
Shifting perception of incoming calls from administrative gatekeeper to marketing opportunity can uncover opportunities for patient engagement. Objectives for meaningful use, word-of-mouth referrals, and website optimization are all deeply impacted by what happens when the phone rings.
To tackle the challenge of improving call response, first understand what’s driving call volume. Among Mary Pat Whaley’s top 6 concerns driving calls to the front office, three factors are well within impact range for a front office team: prescription requests, appointment logistics, and visit follow-up misunderstandings. In particular, a high-impact group will be patients calling back because of what they didn’t hear or didn’t understand during the visit. Stephen Wilkins, MPH, writing for the Center for Advancing Health, notes that survey results from Mayo Clinic’s 2013 study found up to 50% of patients leave the visit without fully understanding discharge instructions.
Improved Response Yields Measurable ROI
The array of tools for effective communication with constantly-connected patients has never been as rich or as inexpensive per capita as it is today. There’s a ton of data on the patient experience, but not much on the tangible return on investment yielded by improved front office culture and processes. At Carestruck, we tailor an integrated marketing strategy to help clients realize cost reduction through greater staff and resource efficiencies, and deeper patient engagement.
Five tips based on that experience
1.) Find out what’s going on.
Get an objective evaluation of your front office typical practice through patient surveys, and direct experience, e.g. call the main line periodically. Physicians and managers frequently use private lines for direct connection. Instead, call the main number, stay close to what patients experience and keep your front office team alert. Finally, ask staff what they’re seeing. They’re the front line. They know what causes bottlenecks and lost opportunities, and they’re a goldmine for ideas.
2.) Reevaluate phone trees, after-hours and on-hold messages.
It wouldn’t be presumptuous to suggest that if you haven’t updated recorded messages in the past 12 months, it’s time. Learn what percentages of incoming calls are answered live vs. auto-response. Set objectives around this metric. Mobile devices and meaningful use incentives have revolutionized objectives for automated messages. They represent an opportunity for market differentiation wholly different from that of just 3 years ago.
3.) Segregate new patient calls and first encounters to a separate incoming line.
New patient calls and first encounters are unique, and deserve the greatest attention. You get one shot at making a first impression, and there’s no way to measure lost business. New patients don’t leave messages and rarely call back. Traditional response to these calls has been internally focused, centered on getting the information we need to pre-certify insurance and complete EHR fields for appointment. It’s easy to lose sight of the opportunity in every call. Progressive practices are driving engagement from the first call. How you differentiate value and set expectations in the initial contact can save time and resources.
4.) Leverage your website for precious resource-saving efficiency.
A practice website is one of the most powerful tools to extend patient engagement beyond the visit. Drive traffic to the site from the initial call through every patient visit. Provide compelling reasons to explore your website while patients are waiting during visits. Staying clear of HIPPA, show patients where they can replay general follow-up information, get branded support, click to health resources, manage appointment logistics, and give you feedback. Capitalizing on this opportunity today requires more than a static DIY website, but its dividends are well worth the investment.
5.) Keep staff well trained, educated and motivated.
Training alone won’t change a toxic or indifferent front office culture. Some traits must be hired, because they can’t be taught. However, once you have the right stuff up front, an effective organizational plan and clear performance objectives, the yield on training, education and incentives will ripple throughout the practice.
Recognize call response as a moving target and remain engaged over long haul. No matter how good the strategy is today, prepare to reevaluate again in 9 – 12 months. At Carestruck, we’re differentiating ourselves as a marketing partner that combines a passion for today’s opportunity with the conviction of experience to deliver results our clients deserve. Visit us at www.carestruck.com and sign up for our newsletter for more tips and resources. To begin a discussion about how we can help call today – 708-995-1370.