By Lori Waltz
Director of Training
Wanted: Customer Service SUPERSTAR.
It’s the first phrase that should come to mind when you’re crafting a Medical Scheduler job description. The person who answers the phone for new patients can make or break your organization. This is someone with the power to convert every new patient who calls—or to drive many of them away.
That’s why it’s so vital to get the right person answering the phones as a medical scheduler (or “New Patient Advocate”—more on that later). Too many hospitals and practices (of all sizes!) make critical errors when handling new patient inquiries. Don’t make the same mistakes.
Mistake #1: Hiring the wrong person for the job
The person in charge of scheduling new patient appointments is the gateway to your practice. As the very first interaction with your office, this should be the shining star of your organization, at least in terms of personality.
They have the ability to shut down any new caller to your office. They can hang up, offer rude remarks, provide inadequate or misleading information, or fail to follow through with an inquiry altogether. On the other hand, this person has the power to convert any new patient, given the tools to succeed.
Take time to find the right hire for this position. It may be that this person already exists within your organization. If not, it’s worth it to reach out, conduct thorough interviews, and make time for the perfect fit.
Mistake #2: Assigning one person multiple duties
If you’ve got one person answering the phone for new patients, scheduling followup appointments for existing patients, handling billing, and working the front desk—you’ve got a mess on your hands. Usually, there’s at least one person in the office like this—a “floater” who sort of does it all. This may seem like an asset. But would you rather have an employee who’s kind of good at a bunch of things or who excels in one area?
When I consult with practices across the country, I usually find them in need of restructuring. Reorganizing can seem daunting at first. But if you’re not sure which job to put someone in, just ask! If your “floater” says she prefers billing over scheduling, do not put her on scheduling.
Successful practices and groups have each person doing the job they were hired to do (or the job they like doing the most). If someone is calling for a follow-up or post-op, you don’t need your superstar scheduler on the job. If possible, having a separate operator, scheduler, referral coordinator, biller, and front desk staff is in your best interest. (For high volume practices, make sure new patient scheduling is at the top of your phone tree!)
Mistake #3: Keeping the scheduler (and everyone else) at the front desk
If you want your scheduler to succeed, put her in a place where she can focus on the task at hand. There are so many distractions at the front desk. It’s easy to get sucked into other tasks and responsibilities that aren’t part of the medical scheduler job description, spending less time on the phone with potential patients.
Besides, keeping everyone at the front desk puts you at risk of a HIPAA violation. (You cannot mention last names and billing information where patients can hear!) Ideally, all incoming calls would move away from the front desk, allowing each role to focus on either keeping or obtaining patients.
Mistake #4: Neglecting to pay your superstar what she’s worth
Having trouble motivating people to provide the best customer service? From the get-go, be sure to hire someone with phone skills, first and foremost. If you already have someone who excels at building relationships—someone who enjoys the job and can be trained to convert callers—make that person the primary scheduler. And give her a raise.
You may feel that someone who sits at the front desk is entry level. But the person bringing new patients through your doors is worth your weight in gold. If every new patient is converted, it’ll be well worth the salary when you consider the patient’s lifetime value.
So what should a medical scheduler job description include?
It can take time to find the right person to fit the job description. In fact, the title may not be reflective of this person’s responsibilities. Since someone in this role is in charge of helping patients get the care they need, I like to use the term “new patient advocate.”
In an interview, you’re looking for candidates with an expressive behavioral style. This is someone who will smile and talk to anyone. They are more social than detail-oriented, and that’s okay! You don’t need someone who can do it all. Their primary goal is to covert calls to new patients. While you might train this person to do some administrative tasks, their skill lies in advocating for patients and, ultimately, making your business profitable.