How your practice's phone is answered is critical to its success or failure. Whether the phone is being answered by you, the doctor, or another employee in the office, answer the phone with a smile on your face and a pleasant tone of voice, as if the person calling is a long-lost friend.
Consider that this person could be calling a different office for care, so always be grateful that the call is made to you, not another practitioner.
The first step is to establish you want your calls answered. Some practices will say, "Doctor's office. This is (the person's name), how can I help you?" Some offices will use the practice's name: "Thank you for calling ABC Health Center. This is (the person's name). How can I help you?"
The next step is to determine the nature or purpose of the call. Most calls can be categorized into three groups: sales calls; patient question/appointment calls (which are not necessarily urgent and can be called back later); and urgent patient calls (which you should always take right away). The calls can be determined by the questions the caller asks, or by the questions you or your receptionist ask. For example:
You: Thank you for calling ABC Health Center. My name is Kevin. How can I help you?
Caller: I would like to speak with the doctor.
You: The doctor is with patients right now. Is this urgent? I can interrupt him (or her).
At this point, the caller has several choices. The caller may tell you the nature of the call, which will help determine if it is urgent. The caller may also say directly that it is an urgent call, which helps you determine what to do next.
If the Caller Says it Is Urgent
Caller: Yes, it's urgent.
You: Let me get the doctor. What is the nature of the problem so I can tell him (or her)?
Now you can get more details from the patient. Here are some examples from different callers:
Caller One: I wanted to change my appointment from 3:00 to 4:00.
This situation can be handled by the person taking the call. The staff person can make the change in the appointment book without interrupting the doctor.
Caller Two: I have a great stock that has reached its low, and I wanted to know if the doctor wants to buy.
This is a sales call. Unless the doctor alerted you to expect this call, take a message and let the doctor know about it when he or she is free.
Caller Three: I just twisted my back and can't get up. I'm calling you from the floor of my office.
This is urgent, and the doctor should be interrupted.
If the Call Is Not Urgent
Ask questions to determine whether a call is urgent. Some patients do not consider certain situations to be urgent, when in reality, they are. Once the patient shares this information with you, decide whether the doctor should be interrupted, or if it can wait for a between-patient callback.
When taking the message, print the date and time; the person's name; the person's phone number (with area code); the company; and the nature of the call, on a message pad. Read back the name and phone number to avoid any errors. I strongly recommend using message pads that have a carbonless copy. The weakest ink is better than the strongest memory when it comes to connecting a topic of discussion with a name and number. The carbonless copy has saved me numerous times when I lost the original message and had to locate the caller's phone number.
Done correctly, answering the phone is a doctor's office's main (and in some cases, best) sales tool. And the message pads make for a permanent log that helps you track the progress of your practice.
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