Phone Triage: Stop Scheduling Headaches Before the Pain Starts

There is nothing better for managing patient intake than the good old telephone. Asking the right questions and noting the right information when a patient calls for an appointment can save tons of time and trouble.

Get the Details!

Phone intake is all about making sure every patient gets the right time slot and type of appointment:

1. make sure you get the correct spelling of the patient’s name;

2. the patient’s contact information and insurance details

3. symptoms

4. whether they need a referral from another doctor to visit your practice.

If you make an appointment for a patient who doesn’t have the right insurance or can’t see your doctor without a referral she doesn’t have, then disaster will result. You’ll either have to send the patient home angry or provide care that the practice may never get paid for.

Scheduling: Timing Is Everything

What time slot a patient receives may depend on a few factors. For example, an established patient may receive a 10- to 15-minute time slot, while a new patient may need twice that amount.

You may want to schedule new patients only at certain times of day when your practice can take more time with them. But often, a practice can’t handle two new patients simultaneously or back-to-back because each newcomer takes too long.

Instead, you can try having a new patient come at 10:00 and then have an established patient arrive at 10:15. The doctor can see both patients during the second 15-minute block, moving back and forth between the two examination rooms.

Your practice may also want to keep certain procedures for certain times of day, such as first thing in the morning. It may be easiest for the doctor to do a procedure several times in a block rather than having to do it on and off throughout the day.

Finesse Your Phone Triage

Finally, it’s OK to do some phone triage, even if you can’t diagnose the patient. For example, a postsurgical patient who calls in with symptoms that are normal after surgery may simply need to be reassured that these reactions are expected. It would be a waste of time to make an appointment for that person. And some people may simply need to discuss their symptoms over the phone with a nurse instead of coming in and taking up the doctor’s time.

Have questions? I’m here to help.

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