As the mornings and evenings become chilly, kids head back to school or off to college -- both places where a mass population means a massive increase in bugs and illnesses. Since the AAP recommends kids get their flu shots before Halloween, flu vaccination season is well underway. Is your practice ready to greet the rise in patient flow? Here are seven tips for every part of your practice to be ready for every last schoolyard sniffle.
The front desk is the first place your patients see when they enter your office, and out of the entire staff, the front desk has the first chance to make interactions with patients and families both productive and a positive experience. When a front desk is run well, patients are happy and the entire practice reaps the rewards.
PCC’s Lynne Gratton recommends these tips for a front desk that’s ready to face the busiest of sick seasons:
- Route calls using your practice’s phone system instead of using staff to route calls. This enables front desk staff to give their full attention both to patients arriving in the office and those calling on the phone.
- Daily team huddles allow for smoother communication between departments.
- Great customer service is a skill -- train your front desk staff to remain positive, handle issues calmly, and exchange information efficiently. Keep the training fresh by rewarding their efforts.
- Verify demographics at check-in for every visit. This helps prevent rejected claims later and ensures you have the correct information for each caregiver a child may have.
Finally, make sure your staff is being held accountable for their performance by making notes of why they did not collect payment, how much was collected (verified by a third party), and how they handled issues. Hiring? The AAP has a job description template for hiring for front desk roles.
Collecting copays is just as important as collecting insurance payments. To ensure proper patient collections, make sure your office culture has clear policies that balance the rules with compassion.
- Set proper expectations for collecting payments for both staff and patients. Verbiage such as “How will you be paying your copay today?” or “How much of your $100 deductible will you be covering today?” sets the expectation for patients to pay promptly while allowing staff to negotiate hurdles.
- Collect payments at check-in and always verify demographics.
- If your practice allows a payment plan, be sure to track payments and communicate with patients if payments are late.
- Flexibility and compassion are important in patient care as well as customer service. Offer varied payment methods and resources to patients where applicable.
- Follow up is key! Follow up with patients and identify what they’re paying for. (E.g., “This $15 is your copay from your July visit, and this $50 deductible is from your procedure in September.”
- Asking for money is uncomfortable for some people. Train front desk staff to ask for copays and payments with consistency, discretion, and tact.
- If the patient wants to discuss a bill, determine a process where they can speak with the office manager, biller, or other staff in private.
Forethought, tact, and compassion are at the core of your customer service and revenue collection. Perseverance is also a valuable asset. Be sure to code and bill properly to ensure that procedures are billed out to insurers and patients correctly.
Vaccines and Flu Season
Flu viruses permeate all year, but patients usually fall ill in the fall and winter, with outbreaks sometimes lasting until May, according to the CDC. Vaccines are also a year-long commitment for pediatric offices, but an autumn tune-up may be the best way to ensure your processes are running as they should be.
- Keep up to date with AAP and CDC announcements. The AAP announced that 2019 shipments of Sanofli flu vaccines would be delayed 3 to 4 weeks due to delays in flu strain selection by the World Health Organization.
- Are your vaccine and flu documenting processes moving quickly and efficiently? Revisit documenting procedures and encourage high performance with contests or rewards. If you’re thinking of switching from manual to scanned data entry, visit our previous post on vaccine scanners.
- Prepare for parents with concerns about vaccinating their children: whether you decide to accept non-vaccinated children in your practice or not, have a clear, firm vaccination policy in place. Have resources in place for doubtful parents to make educated decisions for their child.
Finally, is your staff vaccinated? Have a staff flu shot day or provide your team with resources to get their shot in the office, at a clinic, or from their PCP.
Billing and A/R
For practices who bill in-house, regular review of billing processes and A/R numbers (e.g. claims denied, days in A/R) can help your billing team achieve their best. Coordinate your billing team with your front desk team to be sure that positive relationships grow and communication is clear.
Practices who don’t bill in-house can still tune up by checking their A/R and billing records. Is your service providing everything desirable? Ensure the records and bills you send them are as clean as possible. This may involve researching your state’s and payor’s billing rules.
Marketing and Brand
Your brand is how families see you, online and off. Here are some tips for keeping up a brand that shines all year:
- Refresh your social media presence with useful tips from physicians, staff, or patients on keeping healthy. Engage with commenters and join a Facebook pediatric community such as We Are Pediatricians.
- Make sure your practice’s website has up to date photos, dates, and phone numbers. Consider switching platforms to make the site more professional and appeal to everyone from millennial moms to Boomer granddads.
- Take stock of your practice’s waiting room (or, according to PCC’s Lynne Gratton, the receiving room) and consider updating -- for a higher budget, furniture, paint, layout, and design, or for cost-effective decorating, posters, pamphlets, toys, magazines, and books.
- Survey patients to see if they would change anything about your practice -- would they like after hour appointments? Flu clinics? Instant messaging or a quick reply to their email? Gather the results and make changes where appropriate.
Beyond general wellness and the team’s own flu shots and boosters being up to date, fall is a great time to come together as a practice and emphasize culture and policy, as well as have some fun before the holidays.
- Does your practice have an HR person? Invite them to present to the team on issues they feel your practice could do better. If you do not have dedicated HR personnel, you may choose to invite your on-call HR person on site to observe and give their impressions to improve culture, performance, and communication.
- If you don’t do so already, begin to practice daily (weekly if you must) team huddles to establish goals, expectations, and hand out praises.
- Establish goals for the coming season and get input from your team: do you want to increase the percentage of patients vaccinated for flu? Educate families on seasonal affective disorder? Improve workflows? Set goals together.
- Team building can be fun! Give rewards for getting vaccinated for flu, schedule a get together on a day the office is closed, or give out awards such as “Funniest Halloween Costume.”
When the season gets busy, it can be easy to forget that your practice is part of a community that’s becoming busy too. Being an active part of the community builds trust and relationships, and doesn’t have to add much to your busy schedule.
- Sign up for a 5K or Fun Run in your town and encourage staff and patients to attend. You can even host one, with donations going to a charity of your choice.
- Sponsor a school or public theater production.
- Ask an expert in sports medicine (either a licensed provider or the local coach!) to share their thoughts on a safe football, field hockey, soccer, and lacrosse season with your practice in person or over Skype.
- Pediatric practices are required to conform to the Americans with Disabilities Act within their premises, however all patients need safe transit to get there, especially under threat of snow. Get in touch with local community board or Town Halls to suggest safe ways for families to get to your practice.
- Advocate -- pediatric professionals are crucial voices to speak on behalf of children. Whether you care to get involved with a local concern such as a skatepark or PTA, or with a national issue like mental healthcare, you can be an important part of positive change for your community.
Is your practice ready for the upcoming season? To learn about more ways to tune up your practice for success all year long, check out PCC’s Chip Hart for more insights in his webinar, “Build a Better Business by Walking Out Your Door”.