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A Costly Mistake: Is Your Staff Giving Medical Advice on the Phone?

By Stewart Gandolf, Chief Executive Officer

Female nurse looking at laptop while talking on the telephoneMedical practices, groups and provider organizations often invite me to be a “mystery shopper.” That’s where the principals of the business ask Healthcare Success to call the practice posing as a prospective patient. The technique is most effective when a healthcare marketing agency provides an independent—and unbiased—third-party assessment of the quality of service.

Recently, we discovered a well-intended staff member was trying to be too helpful with callers to the practice. In this case, the phone person offered treatment direction. As a result, the prospective patient didn't feel the need to make an appointment.

Too Much Information (TMI) can be harmful…

We can’t reveal the location or specifics in this case example. But our healthcare marketing agency mystery shopper calls were to a specialty practice. We uncovered the overly helpful employee who was giving too much detail—and medical advice—over the telephone. The damaging downside of this was:

  • Too much medical information over the phone was keeping prospective patients out of the office. In effect, being well-meaning on the phone was a barrier, and not a pathway, to new business.
  • Over-the-phone medical advice might put the practice at risk. It’s good to be warm and friendly, but talk with your legal counsel. Nobody wants to misdirect a patient or violate rules and regulations.

In this situation, the staff person had lost sight of their main objective: Book an early and convenient office appointment where the new patient would be seen and treated by a medical professional.

The three steps for new patient phone calls…

Individuals who call the practice about health care services want reassurance. And an office appointment is the doorway to the treatment or services that answer their need. In the training that Healthcare Success provides, there are three key steps that bridge the first phone call and the first in-office appointment.

Track the source: What prompted the person to call? Was it due to a patient or professional referral? Was it the result of an advertisement or an online marketing message? Knowing the source helps the practice respond to the patient’s needs or interests. In the long term, tabulating the effective sources helps guide future marketing and advertising decisions.

Convert call to an appointment: The best environment for helping a patient is in the office. The caller needs assurance that the practice or practitioner can help and that an appointment is the best next step. The appointment should be convenient and soon.

Provide additional decision support: Offer additional information to reinforce the patient’s appointment decision. This might be a welcome packet with an inviting cover letter, for example. Or it could be online, via the practice website, blog or Facebook page.

The cost of getting it wrong…

Our mystery shopping efforts revealed that giving medical advice over the phone was losing patients at this specialty practice. Consider how that would hurt your new business plan. Imagine, for example, that the value of a single, typical case was $5,000. And assume that only one case per week was lost.

At a minimum, our healthcare marketing agency “secret shopper” uncovered about a quarter-million dollars in lost revenue each year. Maybe Healthcare Success can do the same for you. Call me today at 800-656-0907. We can discuss how a custom, on-site staff training program can maximize your marketing Return-on-Investment.

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