10 Tips For Handling Incoming Calls Professionally In Any Healthcare Environment

A virtual assistant handling incoming callsWhether in a clinical or private medical practice setting, the person handling your incoming calls is often faced with a multitude of issues that your patients need them to deal with. They may take time dealing with individual queries or referring patients to someone else, but either way, this takes time. As a result, patients often have to wait until someone in your practice can deal with their calls. Listening to a generic tune while waiting on hold for long minutes can cause frustration and annoyance. Patients can ultimately be left feeling that you, as their healthcare provider, don't care enough to meet their needs.

However, making a few, easy changes in your phone answering protocol could provide your patients with better service while freeing up your staff members to focus on other matters.

A successful medical practice receives many calls during the day. Patients may need to make or reschedule appointments, get a refill authorization, or want clarification about certain things that came up during their consultation. The person handling incoming calls at your practice may not be in a position to deal with all of these issues, so they may need to refer certain calls to others. Making use of new technologies, however, can help your practice better deal with the situation. Outsourcing may help free up valuable time while ensuring all your practice’s incoming calls are handled speedily and professionally.

A virtual assistant from Cool Blue VA, for example, can make use of technology to gain the needed information from your practice and deal with any patient queries and concerns.

How to Improve Handling Incoming Calls

You can do much to increase the efficiency of incoming call handling within your practice. Making these changes does not take up much time and could allow patients better access to their medical information.

Telephone Traffic Study

If handling incoming calls has become difficult, you could consider doing a telephone traffic study. This is done every day for a week. The person handling incoming calls marks down incoming calls on a time sheet chart with relevant marks in the time slot and an indication of the call reason. If your practice has a peak season, you may want to do a study during that time as well.

This study will help you determine whether you may need more staff to handle incoming calls and whether you may need to ask an additional person to help out during peak times.

The Recorded Greeting

It is a good idea to listen to your recorded greeting. If it is long and rambling, with too many menu options, it could result in frustrated patients. Not only does a long recorded greeting waste a patient’s time, but it ties up your phone line, meaning someone else cannot get through. Try to simplify matters.

Call Channeling

You can also considerably reduce phone traffic by having multiple lines that patients can call directly. This means a vast reduction in calls handled by the front desk receptionist. However, ensure your staff understands these lines are only for incoming calls to reduce patient waiting times. Examples of these lines include:

  • An appointment line – Your front desk receptionist would typically manage this line. Make sure that the call immediately goes to voice mail if your receptionist is away from their desk for any reason. They can call the patient back when they return.
  • A nurse line – It is helpful having a nurse line if your practice has a nurse responsible for callbacks. If your nurse is unable to immediately attend to a call, they could leave a voice recording asking for a patient to leave their details and the times during which they could expect a callback.
  • A billing office line – Many patients want to speak to the person dealing with billing directly. Here, too, a voice message asking for a patient’s details and the promise of a callback adds a professional touch to your practice’s management procedures.
  • A pharmacy line – Many pharmacists need to call a practice with certain queries. A direct pharmacy line reduces the time they have to spend on a telephone. You could also have a callback option for this line for when the person dealing with these types of calls is unavailable.
  • A practice manager line – A practice receives many calls only a practice manager can deal with. Examples include calls from health plan executives and sales representatives. A direct line to the practice manager may reduce the load on other phone lines.


The person handling incoming calls can give either a positive or negative impression of your practice. To ensure they present a professional demeanor at all times, you need to ensure they acquire the proper skills in phone etiquette. This may mean sending them for training or even refresher courses now and then. In a medical setting, you need to ensure the person handling incoming calls does so in a helpful and courteous manner at all times, even when dealing with a high call volume.

On-Hold Calls

Many patients want to talk to their primary healthcare provider or someone specific in the practice. Hectic schedules make it impossible to address their needs immediately. These patients may be placed on hold, waiting to talk to someone who can help them, for a long time. This is a quick way to lose new patients and irritate old ones.

Virtual Assistants are a great way to reduce on-hold and missed calls. This is one of the quickest ways to increase patient satisfaction and get new patients in your door.

Telephone Availability

Many practices only have telephone availability for certain hours during the day. You may not have someone available for handling incoming calls when the person usually responsible goes to lunch. Also, many patients work and prefer to make appointments either before work or during the evening. Having someone answering calls only during certain hours of the day may thus inconvenience patients.

In a typical primary care setting, you would find early morning phone calls or evening calls forwarded to an answering service or answering machine. You could increase your practice’s phone availability, however, by tasking a virtual assistant with the job of answering phone calls an hour before the practice opens and an hour after it closes. This works well with a service like Cool Blue VAs because you do not have to pay overtime. Working 9 to 10 hours a day is okay. You can also ask a virtual assistant to fill in for the usual person handling incoming calls during their lunch break.

Call-Back Option

Letting patients know you have scheduled callback times throughout the day means less time spent handling incoming calls. Your daily schedule could have specific times throughout the day carved out for this. During these times, a healthcare provider could, for example, call patients who called previously and attend to their needs. If time permits, the doctor and nurse responsible for callbacks could determine who handles each patient, depending on the seriousness of the query. Having this schedule in place not only frees up time handling incoming calls but also ensures relevant patient files are at hand when making the callbacks. Plus, it gives patients a reasonable timeframe of when to expect their issue will be dealt with.

Educational Material

It is not always easy for a patient to deal with a diagnosis. While you may explain a situation to them during a consultation, they may not be in the best state of mind to take in the information. This may lead to them making multiple calls to ask questions.

To avoid this, you could provide them with relevant educational material that they can peruse later. They can then formulate more relevant questions if they feel the need to pursue the matter further. Medical virtual assistants are also able to help educate patients at an affordable price. Many Cool Blue VAs have a medical degree in nursing or pharmacy, as well as medical experience. They can easily help educate patients over the phone or in a virtual meeting.

Summary of Visit

You could consider having someone provide your patients with a summary of their consultation. This would provide a summary of your patient’s health, any pertinent information about their conditions, and the course of action suggested. Patients could receive this summary via email. This could result in a decline in patient calls requiring further clarification.

Virtual Assistants

Many practices make use of the services of virtual assistants such as those you can find through Cool Blue VA. These virtual assistants can professionally answer all patient queries with a direct link to your practice’s data. Not only will a virtual assistant save you time and money, but they can also enhance the smooth running of your practice by easily slotting into your practice’s daily routine.

In Closing

Correctly handling incoming calls is one of the key elements to any healthcare practice’s success, no matter whether you find yourself in a clinical or single-doctor situation. Having an experienced person at hand dedicated to the professional handling of incoming calls with 24/7 availability can be a dealbreaker for patients and ultimately the success of any medical facility, no matter its size.

If you would like to know more about how Cool Blue VA can help your practice with the professional handling of incoming calls, contact us at 714-695-8000. A team member will quickly respond and answer any questions you may have.

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