Rethinking the Front Desk Experience for Patients

Author: Ravi Kalidindi
A greeter at a doctor’s office smiles while holding a tablet to help patients check in upon arrival.

Medical facilities often rely on certain “old faithful” workflows simply because they’re how things have always been. At some time or other, they were new and exciting, but they’ve since hardened into unremarkable routines.

What if we took another look at these routines, especially those that affect the patient experience? How many opportunities for innovation and improvement could we find?

The Front Desk Experience

Not many people get excited about the prospect of going to the doctor. Whether it’s for a routine checkup, a recommended screening, or a more serious illness, it’s just not anyone’s idea of a good time. Much of the discontent, however, rests not with the appointment itself, but with what happens before the appointment.

Even when patients love their doctor, they don’t love rearranging their schedules to sit in a busy lobby and fill out paperwork while they wait an unknown amount of time to be called back. This element of the patient experience has been around for so long, and is so ingrained, that it’s practically a proverb in our societal consciousness.

While new tools can reduce wait times and minimize in-office paperwork, some aspects of visiting the doctor — like taking time off work, medical anxiety, and feelings of vulnerability — will always be uncomfortable.

First impressions profoundly influence patient perception and satisfaction. From the lobby aesthetic to how your staff greets people, everything patients see, hear, and feel shapes their sentiment toward your organization.

It may seem small, but first impressions impact your patients’ overall experience with your facility.

A good first impression makes patients feel valued and thought of. Missteps at the front desk can affect a patient’s reviews and referrals, their trust in your organization, and even their willingness to listen to their provider.

Though it may not seem like a crucial component of a medical practice, an innovative front desk experience sets patients — and your practice — up for success.

What’s Wrong With Traditional Front Desk Design?

The truth is, though the traditional lobby experience works — in that it gets patients to providers. It doesn’t necessarily do so well.

Normally, the patient lobby experience looks something like this:

  • Patients walk in and intuit that they need to line up at the front desk. In busy periods, this could include quite a few people at once.
  • The front desk staff quickly checks each person in while gathering necessary information, entering data, and answering phones.
  • The staff leans more toward speed than warmth, trying to get through tasks and patients as quickly as possible.
  • Once checked in, a patient hears something like, “Okay, I’ve noted your arrival. Please sit down, and I’ll call you when I’m ready for you.”

At best, this is a neutral experience for the patient — and that’s if everything goes perfectly. More often, this workflow ranks somewhere below neutral and negatively impacts patient impressions of your organization.

With this as the status quo, making even small strides in this area will set you apart from the vast majority of healthcare facilities and give patients a reason to share their positive experiences with others.

Identify the Issues

Most front desks are staffed by multiple people juggling multiple responsibilities — checking in patients, collecting payments, answering phones, gathering information, entering data, and more. Such split attention doesn’t lend itself to excellent customer service or even efficient task completion.

Moreover, busy periods demand additional staff to handle increased patient intake alongside the typical workload. But when busy periods end, those employees don’t just go home — and you end up paying for extra staff during off-peak times as well.

Even with adequate staff, multitasking simply doesn’t lend itself to providing a top-tier experience. Frazzled staff members may exhibit less-than-warm attitudes toward waiting patients, and first impressions suffer.

The status quo front desk design may seem innocuous, but it misses a prime opportunity to make a favorable impression on patients as soon as they walk through the door.

Infographic: Rethinking the Front Desk Experience for Patients

Two Opportunities to Innovate

Innovation involves iteration, so when looking for new solutions, don’t be afraid to experiment. You can always revert or make further changes as needed.

In that spirit, consider these two inventive approaches we’ve implemented for improving the front desk experience:

1. Electronic Notification of Arrival

One way to reduce over-hiring and streamline the lobby experience is to allow patients to notify you of their arrival from the comfort of your lobby chairs.

When patients enter, a sign might instruct them, “Please be seated and enter your seat number to alert us that you have arrived.” If you already use Simple Interact’s checklist of pending items, patients will see similar instructions listed as their next step.

This automatically notifies staff of patient arrivals without bottlenecking operations.

From here, you could proceed in a couple of ways:

  • Front desk staff use 2-way SMS chat to call patients up in an orderly fashion to complete their check-in.
  • Dedicated greeters promptly approach patients and personally check them in at their seats.

Either setup eliminates the need for long lines, treats patients with consideration, and improves front desk efficiency.

2. Dedicated Greeters

Traditional front desk hiring may not always prioritize characteristics like friendliness or customer service experience. As a result, front office staff often aren’t equipped to make a favorable impression.

One way to innovate here is to designate a specific “greeter” position in your lobby. Then, seek out and hire individuals with personality traits that foster great patient engagement.

Instead of patients clustering around an impersonal front desk, greeters approach patients upon notification of arrival and get them checked in. Greeters can still complete any outstanding check-in tasks, such as gathering outstanding information or copays, but in a more high-touch, friendly manner.

The warm interaction and personalized attention can go a long way toward making patients feel cared for and valued in your waiting room.

On top of that, dedicated greeters reduce the need for additional front desk staff during busy periods. The greeters are free to focus on what they do best, and the rest of the staff can focus on completing their tasks without interruption.

Quote: Rethinking the Front Desk Experience for Patients

First Impressions Matter

First impressions stick, and they affect a patient’s view of your facility for far longer than the duration of the appointment.

Ask yourself whether your front desk setup leaves patients feeling cared for or disgruntled. Could small but powerful innovations help?

Have you tried these or other innovations for your front desk design? Is there one you think might work, but you aren’t sure how to get started? We’d love to hear from you!

Have questions?

We would love to share our expertise in front office automation.

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