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Telephone calls are a vital means of communication for a medical office. For this reason, many physicians have their phones answered 24 hours a day, seven days a week, by using a phone answering service outside of office hours. Efficient and effective phone call procedures will serve the needs of the patients and staff in a professional manner.
Handling Incoming Calls
Know what information is needed from patients. When answering the phone, focus your attention on the caller. Speak clearly and slowly. Record notes as you converse. Have the caller state his name. Address the caller by name during the conversation. Many calls will be patients needing to make appointments, but some will require medical advice from a nurse or doctor. If a callback is needed, record the person’s name and phone number. Ask him to spell his name. If his records will be accessed in order to respond to his request, ask for identifying information such as date of birth. This insures that the correct records will be consulted as the patient name and birth date must both match. Make clear, brief notes as to the nature of the call. Note the time, date and your initials. Give the patient an indication as to when he can expect a return call. Smile as you speak. Smiling effects how you sound. Before completing the call, ask if you have addressed all of the caller’s questions.
Handling Requests for Prescription Refills
When a patient requests a prescription refill, you will need the following information: patient name and phone number, name of medication, length of time patient has been taking it, symptoms, pharmacy name and pharmacy phone number. Inform the patient if you will be calling back to confirm that the refill has been ordered.
Handling Patient Requests to Speak With Doctor
Your doctor will determine what constitutes an emergency requiring his immediate presence on the phone. Generally, doctors do not answer phone calls except from other physicians and members of their family. All other calls except emergency calls are returned at their convenience during the course of the day or at the end of the day. Assure the patient that the doctor will call back, and provide an approximate time of the day if that is possible.
Other Office Phone Essentials
Do not drink, eat or chew gum while answering the phone. Answer the phone by the third ring. Do not use slang or unprofessional words and phrases. Always ask before putting a caller on hold. Check back with the caller within 30 seconds. If necessary, ask if you can call the patient back in a few minutes. Avoid putting several calls on hold at once. Always remember you are in a professional setting.
A large pediatric practice routinely answered the phone by stating its business name and saying,“Please hold,” before the caller could utter a word. This unprofessional manner was provoking. It ceased when one of the doctors in the practice phoned in and received the same treatment as the patients’ parents. He immediately revised their phone answering protocol.
Nancy Kerstetter’s first professional writing experience began at the Fort Worth Star-Telegram while pursuing her journalism degree at Texas Christian University in the 1970s. She’s worked in public relations and as an editor of a youth camp trade magazine. Currently she writes for small businesses in and around Dallas. Kerstetter travels extensively on business and pleasure in the United States and internationally.
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