Innovation also means finding ways to adapt.
Editor’s Caveat: This is the 3rd in a series that reveals cost cutting measures in tiny, independent practices under duress. In my case, our 1.5-person, part-time practice is in a locale hit hard by rapid changes in hearing healthcare. We think about reducing marginal costs all the time and the more we think, the more our thoughts move out of the box. The resulting ideas may give you a chuckle, but all are serious and either already implemented or in process.
Eliminate Your Front Desk
OK, maybe keep the desk to put stuff on, but eliminate or move the person that occupies that space. Receptionists are at the bottom of the pay scale. As a result, they come and go faster than professional staff in most offices.
It takes a lot of time and effort to train a receptionist to handle the intricacies of a well-run dispensing Audiology practice. They have to know what to say on the phone, know how to schedule, understand insurance coverages, office-specific software, hearing aid features…. the list is long and daunting. They also have to be friendly, calm, and able to multitask most of the time, and maintain competency and goodwill in the midst of constant interruptions.
Do such people exist? Maybe, but they are Rare and Highly Desirable and work for George Soros, Mitt Romney, George Clooney… you get the drift. Economics 101 says that such Scarce Resources go to the highest bidder and that is not us!
The alternatives are strange. A few steps of logical thinking are required to work through the options:
- Find someone with more skills OR increase their skill set with on-the-job training (bookkeeping, hearing aid dispensing or both).
- Either way, increase their wage AND move them to the back so they can be effective.
- OR, skip the skills, identify the position as non-essential, and replace the front desk with automation and technology.
In other words, redefine your human resources. Bookkeeping is a back-office skill for good reason — receptionists who are entering invoices and reconciling accounts often get a little surly when they’re interrupted by a patient, not to mention making mistakes on transactions, which can be quite costly. It’s an occupational hazard. Receptionists who are licensed hearing aid dispensers are unlikely to stay content sitting out front handling phones and batteries. They’ll become your competition if you don’t raise their wages and find another receptionist. It’s a circular problem.
Low Cost Automation and Technology Solution
For under $50, you can install a button for patients to push. Systems are wireless, sending the signal to two receivers — one is a pleasant chime that is loud enough to hear in your office and in the hallway; the other is a flashing bright light to alert you if you’re in the audiometry booth area.
The key is to respond immediately when they come in so they know that you know they’re there. The other very important key is to train them to push the button. We do this with every new patient — explaining the system at their initial intake and going through it again when we escort them out after that first appointment. It’s like being initiated into an exclusive club with a secret handshake.
A good button is critical to success. People hate to sign in but–we were surprised to find– they LOVE to push buttons, especially if button pushing is instantaneously rewarded with a flashing red light and an Audiologist summoned as though from a magic lamp. Talk about feeling empowered.
What if the Audiologist is on the phone or with another patient, which is usually the case? No problem:
- Patient arrives, several minutes before her appointment. She pushes the button and the red light flashes.
- Chime sounds in consult room where Audiologist is working with current patient or on the cell phone. “Excuse me for a second. I’m going to let that patient know that we know she’s here and we’ll be with her in 5 minutes. “
- Audiologist runs to waiting room, where she either speaks or signs: “Hi! Wow, thanks for coming early. We’ll be with you in 5 minutes.” or… “Hi, I’m running 10 minutes behind, I’ll be with you at 9:40. Is that OK?” That’s usually OK, unless you’re ALWAYS 10 minutes late in which case patients become… impatient (see below). You can’t do that with this system.
- Audiologist runs back to consult room, finishes the appointment, escorts patient to the front door, picks up the waiting patient and repeats the process.
What If Things Don’t Go According to Schedule?
What if the Audiologist is running late? That shouldn’t happen regularly, but it’s bound to happen once in a while. Waiting is a serious problem. The key is to meet and greet immediately and NEVER let patients feel the pain of waiting, even if they have to. Psychology studies are done on this and have the following observations and advice:
- On average, people overestimate their wait time by 38% .
- For most patients, 25 minutes is the outside limit for waiting in a doctor’s office.
- Uncertainty magnifies the stress of waiting.
- The waiting experience gets a higher rating when people are given feedback on expected wait times and explanations for delays.
- Occupied time feels shorter than unoccupied time.
- Final moments count most: positive effects near the end of the wait can discount negative feelings during most of the wait.
Economic Advantages: Improved Satisfaction, Reduced Costs, Increased Efficiency
What if the Audiologist Doesn’t Hear the Chime?
That is a serious problem when it happens. No system, including a live receptionist, is fool-proof. Check the equipment regularly and when in doubt, wear hearing aids and stick your head into the waiting room.