Who Is the most important employee in a medical practice? Debatable question certainly, but more than likely, you think doctor first or a particular doctor within a group practice. And that is a common first response. However, I suggest we consider the question more deeply. After all, in the 500 plus practices I’ve walked in to in a consulting or patient role, the first person I saw every time was not the doctor, but the receptionist.
The receptionist is most often the first impression to a practice. If you think about a medical visit in order of the typical process, the last person you will normally see is the doctor. While the staff is there to support the doctor and it’s his/her role that keeps the practice open and growing, poor first impressions will lead to softer numbers over time.
Also Read: Improving Scheduling in a Medical Practice
Because it is often a less specialized role in a practice than say billing or optical in an optometric practice, it is quite normal that new employees will begin at the front desk. The expectation is that this allows the new employee to “learn” the practice. In analyzing over 100 practices across the US, including staff loading, the most loaded position usually is the front desk. In fact, when there is no clear owner of a particular job, it is more often than not given to the front desk. It isn’t uncommon to walk into a practice only to be greeted by a multi-tasking individual both on the phone and in the computer. I compare this to my corporate experience in Sales Training. Anything that had no clear ownership became a Sales Training “opportunity.” That may be acceptable in a company with hundreds of employees, but not in a small business with so much riding on first impressions.
So reconsider where and on who you place work in the medical practice. While the front desk may not be a highly specialized position, it is the face of your practice. I heard a practice owner last week tell an employee that she wanted her to act as a hostess. Treat patients as though they are guests in her home. I found this to be a great way to describe the requirement for a front desk associate. This person is critical to your success and too often overlooked as a new or a catch-all for overflow work.
Begin by assessing the work load of each person in the practice. Look not only at the time spent working with patients, but also at “periodic work.” Periodic work does not involve patients. For example, phone work, cleaning, and data input. Once you understand where and by whom work is done, you can begin to shift tasks as needed.
If you don’t think it’s all that important, ask yourself why many large group practices are moving toward a dedicated greeter or hostess with no tasks other than to welcome patients and assure they are attended. Not necessarily a tactic I would recommend to many practices, but it does reinforce the importance of the first impression.
About the Author
Charles Smith is a Managing Partner at Practice CoPilot, which provides real time location systems and lean consulting services designed to manage patient flow in medical practices.