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Disconnecting to Focus on Patient Care

By Norma Spittle, OD, of The Eye Place Optometry in Midlothian, Virginia

Years ago, my colleague Justin Bazan, OD, in Brooklyn, New York, made the decision to turn off the phone lines during the work day. To be honest, I thought it was a crazy idea. But years later, in our very busy practice with eight phone lines, we made the very same choice.

Why did we do it? We’re open long hours—7:30 a.m. to 6:30 p.m.—and even with four people answering phones, we couldn’t get to all of our callers fast enough. Our average wait time was around 15 minutes, as the nature of our calls are long, typically gathering insurance data, phone numbers, etc. As our staff members rushed to get to their next call, data entry was left susceptible to typos and inaccuracies. These long hold times resulted in cranky patients, leading to bad reviews and, as a result, a cranky staff.

We considered our alternatives. We could hire more staff, but that would add the stress of providing training into our already busy days. Adding staff also increased our costs. We could have dropped some phone lines, but our call density would increase. Outsourcing costs add up, as well.

So we decided to turn the phones off on April 11. We put in place a live patient scheduling feature through our website. There have been many benefits:

• Patients enter their own data. It’s faster than having the staff take the information and input it, and there are fewer errors. Also, with live appointment-scheduling online, you immediately experience more traffic to the practice website.

• We don’t pay someone to answer the phones.

• We’re seeing a higher email volume, and we’re super careful about HIPAA rules and regulations.

• We have fewer voicemails, but we return them in under 10 minutes, which patients appreciate much more than spending 15 minutes on hold.

• Appointment utilization has improved. Patients are booking tighter than we were doing, and there are fewer holes on the books.

Our website contact page provides a thorough explanation of how this new initiative is a plan that respects everyone’s time in an effort to be more efficient and provide better care. In most cases, explaining our decision helps people understand.

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