During the first practice of the season, basketball coach John Wooden gave advice to his players that resonates for medical practices seeking positive patient engagement.
Perhaps the greatest college basketball coach of all time is John Wooden. He won 10 national championships, which is more than any other coach in NCAA history. When John Wooden started every season in the fall, his first practice session was a lesson on putting on your socks and tying your shoes.
Why? If a player doesn’t put his socks on properly and there is a wrinkle in the socks, there’s a potential for a blister, and a blister on the feet may result in a deterioration in performance. The players were shown how to double tie their shoelaces to ensure that the shoes do not become untied during practice or during the game. Shoes that become untied means there’s a likelihood for tripping on the shoelaces, and if that happens during a critical part of the game, it can mean losing.
Phone etiquette is the shoes & socks of patient engagement
His take-home message is that it’s not always the foul shooting percentage, the execution of the pick and roll or the slam dunk that wins games; it may just be how a player puts on his shoes and socks!
What are the basics or the equivalent of putting on your socks and shoes for most medical practices? The most basic element of outpatient healthcare is often phone etiquette. The telephone is one of the most critical areas of patient engagement.
It is usually the first time the patient has contact with your practice. All new and returning patients call your office to make appointments. How does your receptionist or appointment manager handle this moment of truth, which is often the patient’s first contact with your practice?
Is he or she abrupt or impolite in her phone etiquette? Does he or she put the patient on hold for several minutes? Any discourtesy can create a negative impression of your practice. If the patient’s perception is negative, that moment of truth for patient engagement may make the person hesitant about visiting your office. The result may be a needlessly anxious patient.
Set positive expectations of your practice
Now picture the opposite scenario. The receptionist answers the phone and enthusiastically identifies himself or herself. The receptionist shows excellent phone etiquette by using the caller’s name, and is pleasant and enthusiastic throughout the conversation.
This creates a positive moment of truth in patient engagement. Now the patient may actually be looking forward to the office visit. In order to have consistency in my practice, I have created a script that is posted beside the receptionist.
- Smile, be enthusiastic.
- “Good <time of day>, this is Dr. <name of practice> office.”
- “This is <name of receptionist> speaking.”
- “May I help you?”
- Use caller’s name before concluding the call.
With constant repetition and positive reinforcement (for example, compliments on proper phone etiquette), the receptionist learns the habit of answering the phone in a pleasing, effective manner.
How do you motivate the receptionist to smile? Place a small $2 mirror near the phone so the receptionist can look in the mirror and receive visual feedback that he\she is, indeed, smiling. I believe the smile can be heard at the other end of line.
My take-home message: Do not leave such an important task as answering the telephone to the receptionist’s memory or assume his or her previous training on phone etiquette was adequate.
Bottom line: You can be the best diagnostician or surgeon with the best skills and training, however, unless your staff understands and executes the basics like answering the phone properly with the appropriate telephone etiquette, your medical\surgical skills may go underutilized. So take the advice of Coach John Wooden and pull up your socks and tie your shoes.