Hearing care practices operating in the current public health emergency environment of the COVID-19 pandemic and seeing patients in post-shutdown scenarios, continue to navigate a myriad of challenges experienced in all of healthcare. Regulatory changes, insurance requirements, and increased competition add to the challenges of delivering high quality, patient care.
To outline some best practices, we chatted with Sandra Sowinski, Senior Sales Account Manager at Sycle, and long-time audiology clinic veteran.
Hearing care practices can include one or more providers such as Audiologists and/or a hearing instrument specialist or dispenser and a front office support staff. The support staff can be one person juggling multiple responsibilities or it can include receptionists, billers and coders, schedulers, insurance specialists, and patient care coordinators. A practice may be strictly brick and mortar, a mobile operation, or a combination of both. Regardless of the size of the staff, patient population, or the number or location of offices, the one common denominator all successfully streamlined hearing care practices share is a commitment to patient-centered care.
According to Sowinski, who has years of hearing care clinic experience in a variety of roles, “offices need to be organized from top to bottom with efficient workflows and scripts to make sure everything is getting done but a successful, streamlined practice always comes down to good patient care.”
For a hearing care practice to optimize their potential, every front office needs to effectively communicate with their patients, and one another. Without effective communication, the proverbial left hand does not know what the right hand is doing, which can lead to siloed information in larger offices, and a breakdown of understanding in smaller practices.
With an increase in requirements and regulations for practices to abide by, and a patient demographic inundated with escalating sources of information from the digital age experience, communication and comprehension are the keys to a streamlined operation.
First Impressions Matter
It is no surprise that the front office staff represents the voice and the face of the office. First impressions and every touchpoint matter whether it be a conversation with a potential new patient over the phone or greeting a returning patient. Tonalities can be easy to depict over the phone and without a face-to-face connection with body language or a friendly smile, what may simply be a rushed employee, can be interpreted as a hearing care practice that does not deliver patient-centered care. A new patient may schedule the appointment over the phone but choose not to show because a rushed or harried employee left them with a bad first impression. A patient who walks into an office for the first time may be feeling nervous and when met with a kind, welcoming staff member, those apprehensions can be relieved. Mitigating patient uncertainties with effective communication styles is part of a successfully, streamlined office.
With effective communication at the core, a front office staff who can rely on workflows that are effective and specific to their needs will not only be more efficient, they will also be more effective. Workflows may have to be changed or altered on certain days and the ability to have flexibility when faced with a short staff or a patient emergency while maintaining a continuity of communication will still be attainable, even on busy or difficult days.
Continuity of Care
In addition to practice-specific workflows, streamlined best practices can also include technology, scheduling software, or a quiet or secluded space to place follow up and reminder calls to patients. Patient care coordinators and front office staff can benefit from pre-written scripts to help guide patient conversations and reminders of warranties and new or updated hearing aids. The office setting and environment also play an important role in a streamlined practice. A comfortable waiting area with magazines, water, or even a dish of seasonal candies, can become part of the continuity of care a patient receives.
An efficiently run front office staff can optimize time with patients and generally results in lower patient attrition due to the fact that happy patients become loyal patients. An additional benefit of patient-centered, streamlined care is patients feel cared for and are therefore more often more willing to upgrade their hearing aid or buy a new model because they trust their providers and feel a connection.
A successful hearing care practice, as Sowinski stated, will always come down to delivering good patient care. A streamlined front office nearly always includes employees who are appreciated and valued for the work they do, and the patient care they deliver. Employees who are paid well and treated with respect will not only feel more connected to their job and employer, but also to the patients they serve. Incentives, fun competitions, the occasional lunch or celebrating an Employee Appreciation Day can improve employee morale and result in staff who come together naturally when a co-worker is out sick or on vacation.
When provided with the training, tools, and resources to effectively perform their jobs, employees will operate with efficiency, optimize opportunities, and deliver patient-centered care. As the voice and face of the practice, the front office is the primary connection to the patient and therefore directly connected to the practice’s revenue stream.
Five Outcomes of Effective Communication in a Streamlined Office
- Demonstrates understanding with staff and patients.
- Helps to prevent conflict or confusion.
- Improves patient engagement and employee morale.
- Identifies solutions to problems.
- Builds trust.
“Consistency plays a huge role,” added Sowinski. “When your office is organized and streamlined, it’s easier to maintain a connection to your patients. When patients are getting the most out of their experience, they’ll refer patients to you.” Practice-specific workflows and scripts, effective communication, and employees who are valued and feel connected, all play a role in an organized, streamlined front office who will deliver high quality, patient-centered care.