For a Medical PA, no day is exactly the same. Although we do have the standard setup of checking emails, answering phone calls, booking appointments etc, we have to be prepared for any eventuality that is thrown at us, whether that is a consultant going sick and having to reschedule clinics and surgeries at last minute, an urgent scan appointment, organising last minute surgeries/ procedures and trying to find a anaesthetist at short notice can be tricky.
We also help cover other Medical PA’s if they are suddenly off sick or on annual leave.
Throughout our day we also have inbound phone calls from patients, hospitals and consultants, which can alter/determine the order of our day depending on the query that comes in at the time. We find ourselves swapping and changing between consultants depending on the queries that come in.
9am to 09:30am– I log in all of the practice management systems, log into my phone and open my emails up. I would start off by working my way through each of my consultants inbox’s and have a read through what emails have come through. I can then prioritise which consultant’s emails need to be actioned first off of urgency and work my way through from there.
09:30am to 12:30 – I would use this time actioning all emails from all my consultants and patient enquiries, booking appointments, booking surgeries, completing booking forms, sending appointment letters. I try to focus on one mailbox at a time and get them up to date before moving onto the next mailbox.
12:30 – 13:30 – Lunch – I try and go for a short walk to get some fresh air and stretch my leg and of course food! 😊
13:00 – 13:30 – I would catch up on any emails/ phone messages from the team that have come in from lunch and action accordingly.
13:30 – 14:30 – actioning emails/calls while other PA’s are on lunch answering phone calls.
14:30 to 15:30 – Typing – I would focus on typing up any consultant letters from Speechlive and get them uploaded onto headed paper and practice management systems. I would also send out any letters that have been approved by the consultant.
15:30 to 16:30 – double checking hospital diaries and making sure they match against our practice management systems to ensure the consultant clinic lists are up to date. I would then scan and upload any correspondence that has come in on email and ensure they are correctly filed onto the patient records. I will ensure that each patient who is booked into the next clinic has all their relevant paperwork assigned to their patient record. I will then send the consultant an up to date clinic list for the next day along with any necessary correspondence required.
16:30 – 17:00 – I will input my daily hours onto Workflow and ensure that all my emails are up to date before signing off for the day.
“She was a new patient. We need to answer every call”.
“I just received a complaint from a GP who couldn’t get through to refer a patient”
How do you answer everypatient call? Is it even possible? How many calls are being answered at your practice today? 50%? 90%? Can you measure this?How do you ensure you offer an exceptionalqualityofservice when it comes to answering patients calls?
At Designated Medical, our goal is to help our consultants manage and grow their private practices, providing the support needed to enable them to succeed whilst also reducing the stress and pressure of managing a private practice. As part of this commitment, we regularly share our expertise and knowledge, aiming to offer helpful guidance on best practice.
In this article we share our expertise regarding the important challenge of reliably answering patient calls.
Our team of Medical PAs at Designated Medical aim to answer a minimum of 90% of incoming calls every day and they often achieve 100%. They do this through teamwork.
The solution we have adopted is to encourage our Medical PAs to work as a team and support one another. When a patient calls their consultants number, the Designated Medical PA for this consultant will answer the call. But if that Medical PA is already on a call, at lunch or otherwise engaged, the call will be answered by another member of our team who is also familiar with the consultant’s practice and able to handle the call professionally, including booking an appointment and answering most queries.
A culture of call answering.
When your practice phone rings, there is a good chance that the call is a new patient looking to book their first appointment with you and missing it is a missed opportunity. If a new patient gets through to your voicemail, they will probably call the second clinic or doctor on their list and that is why it is so important to create a “call answeringculture” within your practice, aiming toanswer every patient call.
Too often,we hear comments such as “the phone rings constantly stopping me getting on with my work”butanswering patient calls is the highest priority and not answering calls will have a negative effect on the growth of your practice.
“If you can’t measure it, you can’t improve it.” Peter Drucker.
This is one of the most significant quotes in business, made by Peter Drucker, a very well-known modern business management guru. He has written 39 books on the subject and is credited with two of the most important business quotes of all of time, of which this is one.
To improveanythingyou need to understand how well you are performingcurrently so that you can improve and know that you are improving.
You need to measure how many calls you are receiving each day/ week/ month and most importantly how many of those calls are being answered.Ideally you wouldregularly monitor the percentage of calls being answered. A sensible percentage to aim for as a starting point is 80% of calls to be answered but 90% would be better. To answer 100% of calls is not impossible but would require significant effort.
If youanalyse calling patterns foryour clinic,you will see that calls, annoyingly, do not arrive in a routine fashion. There will bebusyperiods on certain days of the week and at certain times of day. Most people find that Monday mornings are exceptionally busy, but Fridays are quieter. The busiesttimes of day tends to be 9am to 10am, followed by a flurry at lunchtime and at the end of the day.Ensuring you have enough resource to answerallthe calls at these busy times,is challenging.
Answering a minimum of 90% of calls is great, but you also need to ensure that the few calls that are answered by voicemail are returned promptly and this can be achieved during those quieter periods but must be done within a truly short period of time.
Technology provides numerous solutions to help youimprove call answering. A good telephone systemenables you to set up a “huntgroup” so that incoming calls are delivered to a group of people automatically and this is the feature that we use at Designated Medical. Thisensures that callsare answered as quickly as possible ideally by the Designated Medical PA, but when not possible,by another member of the team.
There are other pieces of technology that you may love or hate, for example, the option to press 1 for appointments, 2 for invoicing, 3 for address detailswhich is called an automated attendant.
Own your number!
This is a slight aside, but we want to take this opportunity to advise you that it is vital for every consultant/ practice/ clinic to “own” their own telephone number. You will spend significant time and money promoting your telephone number on websites, business cards, hospital websites and insurance company websites and patients will store your number on their mobile phone. Changing your telephone number part way through your career will have negative consequences and we have seen this happen too often. With modern technology, it should be possible to “port” a telephone number from one system to another, but this is not always the case.
The same appliesto consultants sharing a telephone number, perhaps because they share a medical secretary. What happens if someone leaves the partnership? Who retains the number? You can’t split in in half!
Please make sure you “own” your own number from day one. It is equally important to “own” your own email address.
Message taking services.
There are numerous call answering bureaus such as Money Penny, specialisinginanswering calls in a reliable manner and their % answered will be very impressive, for example “we answer 95% of calls in 4 rings or less”. These services are generally large call centres, and your calls will be answered with a pre-determined script. A message will be taken and sent to your clinic by email or text message.
There isaplaceforthese services in the privatemedical world but ideally most callsshould be answered by someone who can help the patient by booking an appointment or assisting with theirquestions as opposed to simply taking a message.These services can be utilised as an overflow service to avoid patients receiving voicemail and can also be used to extend your “opening hours” or even provide a 24-hour service.
Auditing your calls
We would also adviseperforming regularcallaudits. This is not at all high techand involves your Medial PA keeping a record of the nature of each call received. A simple checklist on a notepad kept by the phone will suffice.
Thecallsyou desperately do not want to miss are the calls from new patientslooking to book an appointment.
On a typical day, say you receive 35 calls, and your audit results tell you that 15 of these are patients calling to confirm the practice address, you can take action to reduce the number of these calls and improving your chances of answering the calls from new patients looking to book an appointment. Simply sending patients an appointment reminder ahead of their appointment, including the practiceaddress and how to find you will work. If you ask your patients to confirm their appointment, I strongly recommend asking them to reply by email as opposed to calling to confirm!
If your audit results tell you that 10 out of the 35 calls each day are from patients chasing their results, then you need to look at why this is happening. Are the results being sent out in a timely manner? Or perhaps patients are being advised that results will be received quickly, setting expectations that are too high?
ManyPractice Management Systems (PMS)now offer online bookingand if your PMS does, werecommend implementing this on your website. We know that patients, especially the younger demographic, are keen to book online, andwe encourage all clinics and consultants to embrace this new technology as it offers patients something they want, and it reduces call volumes. What’s not to love!
Our Top Tips
Develop a “Call answering culture” – answering patient calls must be viewed as high/ top priority.
Measureit to improve it – regularly review call answering performance.
Call audit – why do patients call? Reduce the number of calls where appropriate.
Technology solutions – Investigate ways your telephone system can help you to improve.
Own your telephone number – ensure you have a number (and email address) for life.
Voicemail – Ensure messages are returned promptly.
Appointment reminders –include address details. Ask patients to email to confirm rather than call.
Online booking – set up on your website.
Call answering bureaus/ call centres – use as a backup option and to increase your “opening” times.
One of the most important hires you will ever make is your Medical PA, but in a world where your patient is your highest priority and things generally move at lightning speed, it’s truly difficult to find the time to cultivate your relationship with your secretary who, ideally, would be viewed as your business partner.
Many doctors today work from numerous locations and are bombarded with information and technology; however, many overlook their most valuable asset, namely their private medical secretary services.
Your Medical PA may well be in contact with your patients more regularly than you are. They are an ambassador for your practice and represent you always. Your patient’s opinion of your practice will depend greatly on your care but also on the service that your team provide.
The role of a modern Medical PA is a specialist one but primarily it is about customer service. Your patients will need support to book appointments, arrange prescriptions and follow on treatment. They also need assistance in dealing with insurance companies and other billing matters.
For any doctor looking to grow their practice, the capabilities of their private medical secretary services play a crucial role. The initial patient call or email will be handled by your Medical PA. They will provide information on your behalf and may well play a role in overcoming objections such as your diary availability and the cost of treatment. The modern Medical PA has a key role to play in developing your practice and will support you in doing so. It is important to recognise that there is an element of business development involved and that is a complex area where you will need to work very closely together.
If you accept all this to be true, your next question will naturally be, how do I maximise the relationship and build this important partnership.?
Mutually beneficial relationships, be they personal or professional have communication and open dialogue at their very heart. Taking the time to have meaningful and purposeful interactions is key. This doesn’t necessarily mean you must discuss personal issues but more that you need to make your dialogue beneficial “What do you need from me to [insert your task]?” is a great way to start the flow of information. Listen to your Medical PA’s requests and respond accordingly.
Never presume that your Medical PA automatically knows how you like things to be done, so be sure to take the guesswork out of it; if you don’t like being bombarded with emails, ask for one which rounds up outstanding points/tasks. If you don’t like emails at all be sure to schedule regular time with your Medical PA for a meeting or call to run through your tasks, and avoid changing or moving this time. Provide clear feedback, so that your Medical PA knows how to improve in all respects including how they communicate with you.
Asking your Medical PA how they like to do things will also help you get a broader understanding of how your working practices affect them. Likes and dislikes are what fundamentally help us to connect with each other.
Most Medical PA’s are in this field because they care about patients, are highly skilled organisers and can tackle any task or requests in the most efficient way. It’s quite a leap of faith to trust someone to have such responsibility for your practice but empowering your Medical PA to make key decisions, within agreed boundaries will enable them to be most effective.
Being clear in your priorities will enable your Medical PA to deliver the results you need. Share your objectives with your Medical PA so that you can both work towards achieving them. If you want to increase the number of private clinics you hold each week, ensure your Medical PA knows this. If you promise your patients to provide their results within a certain time, ensure you both agree this is realistic and that your Medical PA shares a commitment to achieve this.
There will be mistakes. It is crucial to handle these with care and respect. Your Medical PA may make a mistake from time to time, for example forgetting to follow up on something. But so will you! How you handle this will set the scene for how you both evolve and learn to ensure continuous improvement. None of us are perfect and we all make mistakes so be accountable for yours which will show your Medical PA that he/she can be open and honest too. Creating an environment of mutual respect will be unendingly beneficial overall. A good Medical PA will offer a solution to any problem and will work with you to ensure a positive resolution.
There will be problems that are outside the control of your Medical PA; for example, a colleague cancels a theatre list, for good reason of course, but this leaves you stranded at short notice. It is your Medical PA who breaks the news to you. Be careful not to shoot the messenger and alienate the one person who can help you find a way out of the chaos. If you make this mistake in the heat of the moment be sure to apologise. This can lead to your Medical PA withholding information to avoid getting shot next time!
The biggest cause of disagreement is often asking your Medical PA to perform tasks that they perceive to be outside their job description. This may vary depending on the background of your Medical PA and the culture they are used to working in but one obvious example is personal tasks. If you expect your secretary to do personal tasks for you then please make sure this is clear from day one. It would help to explain that support with these mundane tasks enables you to be a more effective doctor and is therefore invaluable. Your Medical PA may feel that there is not time to take on these responsibilities and in that case, consider engaging the support of a flexible private PA to assist you.
And finally, show appreciation. Your private medical secretary services will be both highly qualified and committed to the role and does not expect you to show sincere thanks for every task performed, but when your Medical PA goes above and beyond for you, your appreciation will go a long way. I am not suggesting grand gestures of flowers and champagne, although this may be appropriate in some circumstances, but taking the time to say “thank you” for a specific piece of work done well is very powerful.
Working as a partnership will ensure your patients receive the best experience possible from your practice, will generate loyalty from your Medical PA and will ensure you have an enjoyable day to day experience on your private practice.
Top 10 Tips
Communication is key and it’s a two-way process
Listen carefully to feedback regarding your patients to help you develop your practice. Your Medical PA talks to your patients more often than you do.
Be responsive. Remember that your Medical PA is making requests of you to enable him/her to respond to your patients.
Share your objectives and agree how you can achieve them together
Discuss and agree how to work together. Don’t assume it’s obvious
Trust your private medical secretary services to make decisions on your behalf within agreed boundaries of course
Be accountable for your mistakes and create a culture of trust enabling your secretary to be open and honest
Don’t shoot the messenger. If you do make this mistake, be sure to apologise
Discuss and agree boundaries and jointly develop solutions
Appreciation – say thank you when it is appropriate
Your Medical PA will have an enormous impact on your private practice. The Medical PA role is considered an admin role but I strongly argue that is much more than that and would encourage you to consider your Medical PA as the owner of customer service where the customer is your patient.
The Medical PA role will work alongside you, caring for your patients and ensuring they feel safe and receive good quality care. Many people in the medical industry now talk about the “patient experience” and the service your Medical PA delivers is a significant and important part of your patients experience that impacts on your reputation as a doctor. Your medical PA acts as an ambassador for your practice.
It is imperative that your Medical PA is fully engaged in your vision of your practice, which is your definition of where you want your practice to be. Your Medical PA should also understand your goals and objectives and understand how they contribute to achieving these.
Coming back to patient experience, we can consider your patients journey and break this down into three parts and consider the Medial PA role in each part of the journey:
Before Treatment – your Medical PA will play a key role in all three parts of your patients’ journey. In stage 1 your Medical PA will handle your patient’s initial enquiry, responding to questions about your practice and starting to build a relationship with a new patient who is often anxious and needs reassurance. This relationship building is key and can determine whether your patient decides to book or not.
For every interaction you have with a patient, either during a consultation or planned surgery, your medical secretary may have more than 6 interactions by phone and by email. When a patient has decided to book an appointment to see you, they have their first human interaction with your practice, and they will most likely email or call your practice to make their initial enquiry. It is at this point of the first interaction that your Medical PA will start to build their relationship with your patient, and this is incredibly important.
Many Hey Doc users are now offering patients the opportunity to book online and for many this is incredibly positive. If your patient books online, their first human interaction will come at the next stage which is the follow-up and confirmation. So, whilst online booking eliminates the first human interaction the way your Medical PA follows up is still incredibly important.
Once your patient has booked their initial appointment, your Medical PA will follow up with booking details including the provision of pricing information to ensure your practice meets its regulatory obligations.
Communication is key throughout the patient journey, but in this initial stage, there is an opportunity for your Medical PA to provide valuable information such as patient information leaflets.
Over recent months the use of video conferencing has grown exponentially, and whilst face to face consultations will always be preferential you may decide to include video as part of your patient care. For example, a new patient who is travelling a long distance to meet you may be reassured by an initial video consultation that is both convenient for them, and provides a great opportunity for you to ensure your patient feels comfortable with you and commits to a face to face consultation. It may also be possible to “meet” patients more quickly by video than in a face to face scenario and therefore deliver a greater patient experience especially for those who need urgent reassurance. Your Medical PA will arrange video calls on your behalf, ensuring both you and your patient have the correct log-in details to ensure the video call goes smoothly.
Your Medical PA will contact your patient prior to their appointment to confirm the date, time and location.
When your patient does come to see you face to face, the physical environment in which you meet will also impact the patient experience. To enhance this, it is important that your PA reconfirms the appointment the day before and ensures the patient has accurate details regarding your location, how to find you and other considerations such as parking. The aim of this communication is to ensure your patient is fully briefed, has clear expectations of what to expect and importantly from your perspective, is very likely to arrive on time.
During treatment: Following your initial consultation, you will have a list of follow up actions, which we refer to as “outcomes” and follow up communications to deliver. It is your Medical PAs role to ensure all the outcomes and communications are handled on your behalf in an accurate, secure and timely manner. This requires enormous attention to detail and the creation of robust processes and systems to ensure mistakes are eliminated. For example, for every test your patient has done, your Medical PA needs to ensure that results are received and communicated to you so you can dictate a letter. The dictation needs to be transcribed and sent in a secure manner to the patient and/ or GP. One missing result letter can be disastrous.
Your Medical PA will handle the management of the outcomes, ensuring your patient is booked for the various tests that you have requested, follow up appointments or surgery, liaising with other clinics and hospitals as needed. Prescriptions must be completed and referrals to other health care professionals managed.
Whatever your treatment plan involves, each step of the process needs to be managed in a way that ensures your patient feels well informed, in control and well cared for. Good communication is key.
Your patients will also need to be billed for the treatment they receive. I know that many Medical PAs also manage billing and credit control (I used to do it myself), but my experience is that doctors are better served by using a professional billing company to fulfill this role for two reasons. Firstly, billing is a complex process requiring excellent knowledge of insurance company codes. It also requires a different skill set to that of a Medical PA. Managing credit control is a skill and chasing patients and insurance companies for overdue invoices and shortfalls is both challenging and time-consuming. In my opinion, the Medical PA role is to provide your patients with a service such that they feel safe and secure in your care. It is very difficult for your Medical PA to maintain that relationship when they need to have discussions with patients about overdue invoices, insurance company shortfalls etc. These discussions are best handled by your billing company.
Depending on the location of your practice you may also need to order your own medical supplies and your Medical PA will handle this. All your suppliers will need to be paid and again your Medical PA can handle this although you may be wise to engage a professional bookkeeper. Good bookkeeping ensures you have a robust handle on your finances throughout the year. Your bookkeeper will be able to provide you with monthly management accounts so you can assess the performance of your practice. Heydoc integrates with Xero which is a brilliant finance management system and well worth considering. Managing your bookkeeping well throughout the year will also ensure that the production of your accounts at year-end is relatively easy and quick and should also save you money on your annual bill from your accountant.
After treatment: In most cases, patients will attend a follow-up appointment with you which is normally face to face. Your Medical PA will ensure that all follow-up appointments are booked in a timely manner. After the follow-up appointment, your patient may be discharged from your care or you may require a longer-term follow-up, for example, an annual check-up. Your Medical PA will set a “recall” task for your patient which will notify your Medical PA, at the right time, to contact your patient and arrange that check-up. This may also be the time when your Medical PA encourages your patient to leave a review on the platform of your choice, e.g. Google Reviews, Doctify, I want great care etc.
I encourage all doctors to view all patients as long-term patients as they may need further treatment in the future, or they may have friends and family who have a need for your services. For these reasons, I would encourage you to consider your patient experience to be long term and to look for opportunities for continued care.
You may choose to send a regular newsletter to keep your patients informed on the services you provide and potentially new treatments that are available. You might also include articles regarding preventative health. In your patients mind you are already a trusted expert and so your continued communication is likely to be welcomed. Your Medical PA can assist with this but may need help from a marketing specialist too.
In summary, I recommend choosing your Medical PA with care, recognising that your Medical PA will represent your practice and have a significant impact on your reputation as a doctor.
There are of course functional skills that your Medical PA needs to show competency in, for example, audio typing, but the most significant impact your Medical PA will have is on the many on which your patients are looked after and cared for. The skills to deliver this are developed through training but are also dependent on attitude and being aligned with your vision for your practice.
You know that patients research their doctor online before committing to make an initial appointment, as well as conducting additional checks on websites such as Doctify and Google reviews.
Patients are hugely impacted by your “online reputation”. Your online reputation needs to be well managed, ensuring that when your current or potential patients Google your name, all the content they read is positive and informative, with a clear visual representation that creates a standout impression, validating their decision to book to see you and instilling confidence in the potential relationship.
Why is a visual identity important in the form of a logo and unique colour palette?
Because it grabs attention, makes a strong first impression, and is the foundation of your brand identity. A professional logo and colour palette is memorable, communicates personality and will separate you from your competition. And ultimately it is expected by your audience.
A logo can often be the first impression of your practice to your patients – for example via your website. But your logo needs support to be able to deliver your message and to give you a clear standout from your competitors.
Colours, tones and fonts are all determined by the message you are trying to tell, and your logo sets the stage for this story. These elements along with your logo will translate onto all your branding materials including letterheads, business cards and your website.
Dare to be different with your logo, because your logo tells patients why your business is unique. In other words, your logo is the forum to both convey your values and show patients why you are not like your competitors – you are better. And, finally, your logo is the first thing that your audience will look for when they see any communications from your practice. It should be front and centre of all your communications, providing consistency and it provides an opportunity to make sure your practice stays in the minds of your audience.
Enhancing your reputation, growing your practice
Contact Michelle Wheeler our Marketing Director to find out how we can help.
In the April issue of the Independent Practitioner Today Jane Braithwaite and Karen Heaton discuss GDPR and reveal medical practices did not properly understand whether they were required to ask patients for their consent for certain processing activities or how to do so.
Consent and GDPR
In the medical sense, ‘consent’ is very clear. But in the latest EU General Data Protections Regulations (GDPR), the question of consent has been one of the most confusing and frustrating issues to come to terms with.
How many emails did you receive in the run up to the GDPR deadline about ‘opt ins’ for marketing or just ‘opt ins’ in general?
Our experience is that medical practices and businesses in general really did not properly understand whether or not they were required to ask patients or clients for their consent for certain processing activities or how to do so.
On a personal level, it was a very useful opportunity to clear out unwanted junk email and compel organisations to take unsubscribe requests seriously. This had clearly not been the case in the past.
But were all these emails about consent necessary?
Well, that depends on a number of factors:
The lawful basis you have for processing an individual’s data;
How you received an individual’s data;
What you have told individuals – patients, clients or employees – about how your practice handles their personal data.
For medical practices who act as data controllers, there is the potential for nontrivial reputational damage and large fines from Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) investigations regard ing poor consent practises.
So, to answer this question, let’s look at:
a) Your lawful basis for using that data; b) The data you process and how it is processed.