The telephone is one of the most important pieces of communication equipment and is often the first interaction a patient will have with a physician’s office. When patients call the physician’s office, they expect a certain etiquette and for the medical office administrative assistant’s undivided attention.
Since the medical office administrative assistant doesn’t know who is on the other end of the call, he/she must keep an appropriate telephone voice using proper etiquette techniques including diction, pitch, tone, enunciation, volume, speed, and pronunciation. The administrative assistant must also be a good listener and answer the phone in a professional manner.
Proper telephone etiquette is about making a good impression when speaking on the phone. Medical office administrative assistants will want to be courteous and helpful. They should give the caller their undivided attention and never try to do another task at the same time as talking on the telephone.
Some patients will not want to remain on hold, so the medical office administrative assistant should ask if they want to receive a call back. This return call should be placed in a reasonable amount of time. Proper telephone etiquette recommends that the medical office administrative assistant should use the patient’s name, which will give the patient a positive feeling about the physician’s office.
When medical office administrative assistants deal with someone who is nervous or upset, they should communicate with empathy to show the caller they understand the patient’s feelings. When concluding the call, the medical office administrative assistant should take a few seconds to summarize the important points of the call and thank the caller. Proper etiquette suggests that medical office administration assistants always allow the caller to hang up first.
Triage techniques (prioritizing the urgency of medical problems) will be used by the medical office administrative assistant so that emergencies are handled correctly. Being HIPAA compliant (keeping confidentiality) is also important when talking with patients or a physician on the phone. Many physicians’ offices will have multiple lines, and the medical office administrative assistant will need strong multitasking techniques to transfer calls, leave voicemails, and put calls on hold.
Effective Listening Etiquette Techniques
Effective listening techniques by medical office administrative assistants will allow them to understand whether a call is an emergency. They should permit patients or physicians to complete their thoughts rather than anticipating what they are going to say. They should also repeat back the caller’s request or thoughts so the caller knows that the medical office administrative assistant listened.
Telephone Voice Etiquette Techniques
Patients should be greeted by a pleasant voice when they call a physician’s office. The medical office administrative assistant should use proper etiquette through pronunciation of words, keep the pitch pleasant, speak with a positive and respectful tone, sound intelligible, not be too loud or soft, and speak at such a speed that the caller can understand the full message.
- Diction – Diction relates to the proper pronunciation of words that allows others to understand clearly.
- Pitch – Pitch refers to the sound of the medical office administrative assistant’s voice. It may be low and deep or high and squeaky. It is always important to create a pleasing tone for the patient to be comfortable.
- Tone – The medical office administrative assistant should always speak with a positive and respectful tone.
- Enunciation – The medical office administrative assistant should speak clearly and precisely.
- Loudness – A voice that is too loud or hard to hear can make a negative impression on the patient.
- Speed – If the medical office administrative assistant speaks too fast, the patient may miss a portion of the message.
- Pronunciation – By pronouncing a name properly, the medical office administrative assistant can demonstrate respect for the patient.
Answering the Telephone Professionally
Answering the telephone in a professional manner involves answering within two to three rings, so the caller is not left waiting. If taking multiple calls, give the first caller priority unless the second caller has an emergency. Always ask permission to place a caller on hold before doing so.
Proper etiquette suggests that medical office administrative assistants should identify the facility and then their own name when answering a call. Next, the medical office administrative assistant should identify the caller’s name in order to refer back to it if needed.
Ask the caller’s permission to be placed on hold before transferring the call to a colleague or physician. The medical office administrative assistant should also let callers know if the person they are looking for is unavailable and, if so, that the call will be transferred to voicemail.
If taking a message, it should include the name of the caller, who the message is for, the telephone number of the caller, the time and date of the call, and any message that needs to be conveyed.
Once the call has ended, the medical office administrative assistant should thank the caller and close the conversation. The phone line should be left clear for other calls or emergencies that arise.
Automated Voice Response Units
Many companies are turning to automated voice response units for all incoming calls. The recorded voice allows the caller to pick from different options for routing a call. The use of automated voice response units offers greater flexibility for the medical office administrative assistant, however many callers can get lost in the system.
If an automated voice response unit is used, the first option should always be a way to contact someone in an emergency. An option to dial zero should be given so the caller can be connected to an operator, especially important for an elderly patient.
Although automated voice response units may increase productivity, having someone to answer the phone provides a personal touch and shows that the physician’s office cares about the patients.
Voicemail, Answering Machines, and Answering Services Etiquette
In conjunction with automated voice response units, the physician’s office may use voicemail or an answering machine if the office is closed or the medical office administrative assistant is away from the desk. The caller can leave a message and have the medical office administrative assistant call back when available.
An additional offering that a physician’s office may use is an answering service. This allows a live person to answer the phone after hours, especially if the patient is having an emergency.
Types of Incoming Calls
The medical office administrative assistant will encounter a wide variety of questions and requests when answering the telephone. Most incoming calls are from patients, but the physician’s office will also get calls from other physicians, insurance claims agents, medical sales representatives, and laboratory personnel.
Calls from patients may have to do with appointment scheduling, billing inquires, requests for medical or laboratory reports, questions about medications, prescription renewals, progress reports on treatment success, requests for advice, or complaints.
Although friends and family members will call from time to time, telephone etiquette states that the use of the physician’s office telephone is never appropriate for personal calls.
Emergency Call Triage Techniques
When receiving an emergency call from a patient, the medical office administrative assistant should ask about the patient’s symptoms and condition.
When an emergency, the patient should contact 911 immediately. These include unconsciousness; inability to breath; severe bleeding; pain in the abdomen that will not go away; severe vomiting; bloody stools; poisoning; head, neck, and back injuries; choking; drowning; electrical shock; snake bite; allergic reaction; injuries from a severe motor vehicle collision; a chemical or foreign object in the eye; severe burns; deep animal bites; heart attack; stroke; broken bones; shock; heatstroke; and hypothermia.
HIPAA Patient Privacy
According to the Health Information Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (HIPAA), a medical office administrative assistant is not to discuss a patient’s personal health information with anyone other than the patient. HIPAA requires appropriate safeguards to protect the privacy of “protected health information.”
The medical office administrative assistant should comply with patients’ requests for their own information.
Proper phone etiquette discourages putting patients and medical professionals on speakerphone. If the medical office administrative assistant is going to talk with the patient or authorized provider, all information should be kept confidential.
Occasionally, a patient’s family member or friend will call. The medical office administrative assistant should keep the patient’s information confidential and obtain authorization from the patient before disclosing any information to family and friends.
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