When was the last time you called your own front desk? What if you called right now and the person who picked up said, “Yo! What can I do for you?” This is a response that neurologist Brad Klein, MD, MBA, says he actually heard once while reaching out to another practice. The way your front staff answers the phone matters, he says.

The people at your front desk are your proxy and the first impression they make reflects on you. If that experience is negative, a potential patient may not even bother to make an appointment. If they do, that bad encounter can set a tone that you then have to overcome during your visit with them. That’s not good for you, and it’s not good for your patient.

“When a patient calls with the fear of having a brain tumor, for instance, [you] need to have somebody answering that phone in a professional, courteous manner. So, ‘Hello this is Abington Neurological Associates. My name is Brad Klein. How may I help you?’ would be a simple way of starting the conversation out that can make a difference.”

Nurse Answering Telephone While Working On Computer At Reception

All interactions between your patients and staff—but especially these first ones—can impact your practice both clinically and financially.

Whoever takes that first call to make a first appointment begins the registration process, which Klein says is extremely important. “In fact, this is one of the most important parts of the whole revenue cycle management.” It’s where the vetting process first starts. Vetting is a term Klein uses for establishing insurance or other payment compatibility between the patient and the practice.

“The second time vetting should occur, is when the reminder phone call takes place,” says Klein. That’s when you should ask if their insurance or method of payment has changed. Your staff should also verify whether an insurance carrier requires a referral from a primary care provider in order to pay for the visit.

If this vetting doesn’t occur, the day of the visit can go horribly wrong.

What if, Klein gives an example, a patient books an appointment that will take an hour of your time and when they arrive, “someone says, ‘Oops you can’t be seen because you don’t have the right insurance?’ Is the patient going to pay out of pocket for that visit?” Misunderstandings like this will result in a financial loss of that hour’s worth of time, are likely to be distressing to the patient, and may even be disruptive to the whole office and other patients around.

Luckily, the first time a patient comes into the office your staff does have a second chance to make a first impression. A staff trained to handle conflict can remedy any miscommunication that has occured before then. Further, the design and management of a patient’s waiting room experience can say a lot about your practice, and a courteous and professional staff can make a big difference here.

Receptionist handing papers to patient

This first visit is also a time for your staff to address financial issues like deductibles and copayments. According to Klein, “The collection of copays should always be performed at the time of a visit. It is the point at which the patient’s motivation to pay is greatest and the cost of collection is the lowest. New staff must be monitored because inexperience at the front desk can result in a decrease in copay collection and increase in bad debt.”

It’s not always easy discussing money with patients and their families but a staff that is well trained, professional and courteous can make all the difference. To successfully run a private practice, Klein says hiring good people should be priority number one.

In today’s insurance climate, you don’t have the luxury of only thinking about the clinical side of things in private practice. You must also consider your net income and that starts with those first interactions between patient and staff.