6 Mistakes Your Front Desk Is Making With Patients

Written By Christine Moore on February 9, 2022
  • Front desk of doctor's office with patients in waiting room
    Patients’ top issue in negative reviews? Poor office staff interactions.
    Year after year, patients on Healthgrades most often highlight office and front desk staff as the primary factor in their doctor reviews—both positive and negative. In our 2020 analysis of more than 8 million patient reviews, the most frequently used phrases in negative comments related to office staff interaction. Is your quality of clinical care being overshadowed by poor front desk interactions? Here are some common mistakes made by medical office staff--and tips on how to improve them.
  • Woman paying at checkout counter of doctor's office
    1. Not greeting patients when they arrive.
    If a patient’s first interaction with your practice is rushed, cold or impersonal, it will set the tone for the rest of the appointment. Greeting customers with a brusk “Name?” or “Please sign in”—especially if said without eye contact—sends a message that patients are an inconvenience. Instead, train front desk employees to welcome arriving patients with a warm smile and a friendly greeting before starting the sign-in process.
  • Young Indian American woman talking on headset phone at office desk
    2. Not answering phone calls professionally.
    This includes answering the phone promptly, which can be challenging when patients are waiting in person. When staff members do answer a call, they should convey the same friendliness and professionalism they would to someone in the office. This includes clearly stating the name of the practice when answering, asking the patient’s name, and using “active listening” to ensure the patient’s issue is understood. If your staff has challenges in properly handling phone calls, look for ways to improve the process, such as better automated answering systems or a more streamlined workflow that allows staff members to give phone calls their full attention.
  • Middle age mixed-race woman talking on phone with documents and papers
    3. Speaking rudely to patients.
    Whether in person or on the phone, the tone of a staff member’s words can have a far more lasting impression than the words themselves. Giving patients curt instructions, cursory answers, or stone-faced expressions leaves a negative impression that can turn off patients from the practice overall--even if they’re happy with your medical care. Send a message that even in your team’s busiest moments, there’s always time for customer service and that you expect a friendly, professional tone at all times.
  • Women in waiting room of radiology department for x-ray or ultrasound
    4. Not maintaining a clean desk or waiting room.
    A clean medical office is critical to keeping both patients and providers healthy. But if the front desk and waiting room are cluttered and disorganized, patients might assume the rest of your practice is, too. In some cases, patients may spend more time in the waiting room than they do with you. Ensure your front desk staff has the time and resources to keep their workspace tidy and freshen the waiting room over the course of the day.
  • Two female medical staff members or nurses smiling and talking at desk
    5. Talking negatively about other patients or staff members.
    Patients can hear more than staff members may think, including office gossip, frustrations about difficult patients—or even complaints about you. This sets a tone of negativity for the practice and makes patients wonder if they might be the next target of office badmouthing. Emphasize that conversations within earshot of patients should be kept positive and professional, and that any personal discussions should happen in the break room or, even better, outside the office.
  • Young Asian American female medical staff member review files in file cabinet
    6. Not protecting patient privacy.
    In some cases, loose lips can have real consequences, particularly if they violate HIPAA laws. Simple front desk mistakes like calling patients by their full names or confirming address information out loud invade a patient’s privacy. Other HIPAA violations include having patient records open on a visible computer screen, leaving printed prescriptions on a desk in plain view, or writing passwords on sticky notes that are easily seen (or photographed). Even accidental lapses in patient privacy can result in significant fines or costly lawsuits, so make sure your staff is properly trained (and refreshed) in HIPAA compliance practices. 
6 Mistakes Your Office Staff Is Making With Patients
  1. 8 Responsibilities of the Front Desk in a Medical Office. Verywell Health. https://www.verywellhealth.com/front-desk-responsibilities-2317130
  2. Five Etiquette Tips for Physicians and Medical Staff. Physicians Practice. https://www.physicianspractice.com/five-etiquette-tips-physicians-and-medical-staff
  3. 7 Blunders of Front Desk Staff. Review of Optometry. https://www.reviewofoptometry.com/article/7-blunders-of-front-desk-staff-44416
  4. Healthcare Reception Desks: Breeding Ground For HIPAA Compromise. Security Metrics. https://www.securitymetrics.com/blog/healthcare-reception-desks-breeding-ground-hipaa-compromise
  5. Is Your Office Staff Accidentally Oversharing Patient Information? IntakeQ. https://blog.intakeq.com/is-your-office-staff-accidentally-oversharing-patient-information/
  6. Patients' No. 1 complaint? Front-desk staff. Becker’s Hospital Review. https://www.beckershospitalreview.com/hospital-management-administration/patients-no-1-complaint-front-desk-staff.html
  7. Patient sentiment report. Healthgrades. https://www.healthgrades.com/content/patient-sentiment-report
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