Front desk staff play one of the most important roles in urgent care. As the first point of contact for patients, they set the tone for the entire visit. Their pace helps dictate the length of time patients spend in the clinic. And how they manage patient information directly impacts how smoothly claims are accepted.
COVID-19 created chaos for urgent care, forcing many clinics to hire quickly and throw new staff into their roles with limited training. Now that visit volume is normalizing, clinics are ready to get back to basics and tighten up systems at the front desk. Here is advice from our front desk experts on how to be as efficient as possible.
We cannot overstate this: one of the easiest, fastest, most impactful ways to improve your front desk operations is to utilize preregistration. This is a patient engagement tool that allows patients to digitally input registration information before they arrive at the clinic. They submit things like insurance details, demographics, preferred pharmacy, and primary care physician.
In Experity’s 2022 Urgent Care Industry Survey, 50 percent of respondents said automating processes like front desk registration have had the biggest impact on their front desk operations over the last year.
Preregistration accomplishes two important feats: saves time and improves accuracy that helps you get paid faster.
In the webinar Improve Your Front Desk Efficiency With the Right People and Tools, Experity’s Enterprise Client Success Partner, Kim Garnette, presented tips along with Office Manager for Advanced Urgent Care & Aesthetics, Caitlin Tilden, and COO of iCare Urgent Care Centers, Kami Scruggs. They spoke at length about the benefits of preregistration.
Tilden noted that preregistration captured most of the information that had been missed or incorrectly entered prior to using the tool. She explained that when that information is wrong, it creates a trickle-down effect resulting in incorrect and denied claims.
She also pointed out that the time saved with preregistration doesn’t just free up staff — patients who come in with kids, who need stitches for example, are able to get to the exam room for treatment faster.
Preregistration is so efficient that iCare clinics have all their patients fill out the online form, even walk-ins. In the rare case that a patient is unable to input digital information, staff provides a paper form and assists when necessary. For those online submissions, though, no one is spelling their name wrong or making other minor mistakes that can easily happen from staff who is in a hurry.
BONUS RESOURCE: Download a front desk checklist that covers electronic and manual patient check-in so that you can recoup more by avoiding mistakes.
Even patients who preregister will still need to complete the registration process once they’re at the clinic. This is your staff’s opportunity to double-check the accuracy of critical information and capture details that weren’t collected online. This will not only help your claim accuracy, but also enable better preparation for the visit so throughput is faster.
For example, asking the reason for their visit allows staff to prep the exam room with necessary supplies. If a patient comes in with a laceration, staff can make sure there’s a laceration tray ready. You will also know to treat that patient before someone who came in for a pre-travel COVID-19 test.
Another benefit of asking why they came in is that you can redirect patients who have come in for something that is outside the scope of the clinic.
Most importantly, you should have a registration checklist as part of a documented standard operating procedure (SOP.) Some things to include on your checklist are:
In your complete SOP, make sure you detail what staff should do if someone does come in for something outside of your scope. Also include what to do with insurance eligibility verification along with the other items outlined in our blog on optimizing your billing process.
The aforementioned webinar also covers some great tips related to insurance verification, including some considerations for hiring a billing auditor.
With critical information covered, lets shift focus to the other important part of your front desk staff’s role: the patient experience. We’ll talk about staff personality in our section on hiring and training, so this section will be about the other touches that make patients want to come back to your clinic. Here are a few impactful tips we have collected from our customers and other urgent care experts.
We talk about the psychology of waiting in a lot of our resources. It’s very important because it’s a large part of the patient’s early experience with you — and it really shapes the patient’s perception of the visit as a whole. But even if there is an hourlong wait that you can’t do anything about, that wait will be far more tolerable if the patient knows it will be an hour. A couple of ways to automate that communication are through a mobile waiting room (through patient engagement software,) and by mounting a monitor in the lobby that streams a compliant list of callback order. Both will help the patient see how quickly the line is moving as well as level-set expectations. You can also text the patient to let them know when to head into the clinic, either through a patient engagement solution or as part of your SOP.
Find a way to view your lobby through the eyes of the patient. If you’re struggling with this, think about the kind of questions you’re asking in the post-visit survey so you can learn more from patients. You could also hire a secret shopper. A few things that make a big difference to patients include:
This is part of your atmosphere, too, but monitors or televisions are very useful for the patient experience. Tilden explained that at Advanced Urgent Care & Aesthetics, their TVs play a series of preselected, serene YouTube playlists in-between slides that feature services offered at the clinic. They also have televisions in the exam rooms, which is always appreciated by patients who have children with them. They can choose to run a kid’s program to help little ones tolerate the wait.
You could have a front desk person who is absolute perfection with data and efficiency, but if that person comes across as rude or unpleasant to your patients, they will destroy your reputation. Sometimes that person can be coached, but not always. Ideally, you’re hiring the kind of people who have soft skills mastered and clinical experience under their belts. But they’re tough to find.
Since you can’t wait for that perfect candidate to magically appear, you need to think about what personalities fit your brand, as well as transferable skills/experience, and willingness to learn. Also consider what you can teach the right person. As Scruggs puts it, “Hire for will, not skill.” If someone has the desire and motivation to show up, do a good job, and further their career, a good training program can fill in the rest. Some other attributes Tilden looks for in candidates are:
You can learn more about finding the right people for the front desk in our blog 5 Essential Qualities of Front Office Staff.
Once you’ve staffed your front desk with the right people, make sure that you’re giving them a fitting title. “Receptionist” is someone who answers phones. Front desk staff at Advanced Urgent Care & Aesthetics are called Patient Coordinators. Assigning a title they can be proud of is a small detail that can mean a lot.
A strong orientation program will not only help new hires get up to speed quickly, but it will also create consistency and align expectations. Comprehensive training might include thorough checklists, clear SOPs (make instructions so easy that anyone who walks in off the street could execute the task correctly,) training videos (including those provided by your operating system partner,) and the opportunity to provide feedback.
Feedback is a key part of training that not every manager thinks about. But your ability to strengthen your training program becomes much greater when you ask your employees what would have been helpful to change or include.
Tilden also suggests incremental competency checks. Not everything in the training manual will happen every day. Checking in at 30, 60, and 90 days allows you to flush out their strengths and identify what to focus on before the next review. Then you know attention was put on the appropriate things so at the 90-day review, you can truly assess how good a fit this person is.
We have been able to become more efficient. Our charting is faster. Our follow-up with patients is faster. Experity gets urgent care. It has increased our productivity, efficiency and increased our bottom line. It was a great switch.
Training guides, SOPs, and checklists aren’t the only resources your staff has at their disposal. Patient engagement tools and those within your EMR/PM help you automate tasks, track data, and get the feedback you need to succeed. Some powerful tools that can improve efficiency for your front desk staff are:
All of these capabilities are available through Experity’s urgent care software suite. We’ve built our solution specifically for urgent care, so you can be confident these tools truly maximize your efficiency. But we do more than deliver software. We partner with you to make sure your distinct needs are met, whether that’s overcoming a training obstacle or analyzing your billing process to identify bottlenecks. We also support you as individuals through our A List program.
Get to know us through the two-minute video on our solution page, and explore our resources. If you like what you see, we would love to talk to you.