5 Best Practices of Highly Successful Healthcare Receptionists

The two doctors working at the reception in the hospital

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This week’s Thinking Thursday’s TIPs focuses on the key role of the medical office receptionist.  It can be argued that the role of the receptionist is among the most important on the care team.  Unfortunately, the role of the receptionist is often discounted or even overlooked. This article will show how very important the receptionist is to the entire patient experience.

A happy receptionist with a phone headsetThe medical receptionist sets the tone for the rest of the patient’s office experience.  If your practice desires to improve the patient’s overall experience, a great place to start is where the patient starts – with the receptionist. 

Instead of ‘Receptionist’, a better job title might be, ‘First Impression Specialist’.  There is no job more important than making a great first impression.

You’ll never get a second chance to make a great first impression”.  How true!  The quote has been credited to both Oscar Wilde and to Will Rogers.  Experts say it takes about seven (7) seconds for us to make an initial, first impression. (1)

As patients arrive at your practice, enter the building and then make their way over to your practice’s check-in area, are receptionists at your practice in the habit of looking up from their computer and greeting the patient as they approach, even before the patient completes the last few steps of their journey to the check-in counter?  If so, that simple gesture is the first telltale sign that your receptionists are among the best in the industry. 

On the other hand, if your receptionists are in the habit of waiting until the patient has arrived at the check-in counter, then allows the patient to remain standing for some time before acknowledging the patient, that too is a red flag, indicating an opportunity for improvement.

Equipped with MedicalGPS’ real-time patient feedback system, M3-Patient Experience®, MedicalGPS clients enjoy the benefit of allowing their front-line support staff to stay focused on providing the very best service and care possible, including making a great first impression.

Point of Proof

Based on a sample size of 918,101 surveyed patients, when patients answered the Receptionist Helpful question below, 85.7% of our client’s patients answered ‘Always’. 

In the last 6 months, how often were clerks and receptionists at this provider’s office as helpful as you thought they should be? 

¤ Always
¤ Usually
¤ Sometimes
¤ Never

Business people wearing headset working in office to support remote customer or colleague. Call center, telemarketing, customer support agent provide service in broaden view .Considering today’s consumer-driven, highly demanding healthcare environment, it is quite the achievement that physician practices subscribing to M3-Patient Experience have almost 86% of their patients indicating that they ‘Always’ have a great experience with the receptionist. (2)  The credit goes to the hard work of the practice administrators, physician leaders and most importantly, the undying dedication of our client’s receptionists who have learned to harness the power of M3-Patient Experience.

Using real-time patient feedback from M3-Patient Experience, MedicalGPS senior executives — seasoned in practice management — instruct client managers regarding how to transform patient feedback into actionable information.  The result?  Our clients’ front-line managers learn to create an environment of service excellence and maintain continuous service improvement.    

Since 1995 the principals of MedicalGPS have been supporting physicians, administrators, and other healthcare professionals as they strive to better serve and care for their patients by improving the patient’s experience.  

Working with physician practices of all sizes, across virtually every medical specialty, and after leading hundreds of service improvement initiatives, we can attest to the effectiveness of the following five techniques that makes for a highly successful receptionist.

  1. Customer service operator woman in suit wearing headset over white background studioEye Contact – To create a great first impression it is essential for the medical receptionist to make eye contact with the patient. It’s true for all of us – when we make eye contact with another human being, we communicate confidence and show respect for the other individual.  By looking someone in the eye, the other person is also more likely to listen. Failing to make eye contact makes the receptionist look less believable, less confident and reduces the likelihood the patient is listening. It is important medical staff remain focused on the patient, and not distracted by computers, phones, personal devices, or other employees.  Making eye contact and offering a genuine smile can change the patient’s day for the better.  The favorable experience at check-in ripples through the entire patient experience, including the patient-provider encounter.
  2. Personal Details Matter- Whether it is your favorite restaurant, retail store, or doctor’s office, when staff members remember specifics about you, it makes you feel special.  It could be a simple question about your family, a pet, even a hobby. The personal details matter. A couple of key points:
    • Always address patients by their preferred name.
    • Make a point to find out about the patient, beyond their medical history.
    • Ask patients about their jobs, children, travel, and hobbies.
  3. Use Patient’s Preferred Name– “A person’s name is to him or her the sweetest and most important sound in any language.” – Dale Carnegie.Using the patient’s name is one of the most effective ways to make a positive impression. It is also a sign of courtesy and respect. Always ask the patient what their preferred name or nickname is, and use that name often during the patient encounter.  Weave the use of the patient’s name into the conversation several times, and of course, offer your name during the patient encounter.
  4. Active Listening is Key-Active listening is a way of listening and responding to an individual that improves mutual understanding.  It is not uncommon that when we are speaking to one another we are not always listening attentively. Much of the time we get distracted; we’re half-listening, or simply thinking about something else. Active listening includes the use of non-verbal cues, which indicate that we are understanding and comprehending the patient.  Effective receptionists make eye contact with the patient, smile, nod, show concern, and ask open-ended questions. The use of brief verbal affirmations like, “I see,” “I know,” “Thank you,” or “I understand,” affirm the patient and makes the patient feel more comfortable about sharing information.Avoid the use of medical jargon.  Words do matter to patients. Medical jargon can lead to poor communication and reduced understanding for patients. Speak slowly and eliminate or at least minimize the use of medical jargon and medical acronyms. Keep explanations simple and at a comprehension level that a non-medical person can understand.
  5. Be Aware of Body Language– Body language is a form of nonverbal communication or a language without spoken words. It plays an essential role in communicating with people. Good body language assures the patient that you are not only hearing, but listening to them, and builds confidence and trust. It is of particular importance that front-line medical staff practice positive body language. A few helpful points to remember:
    • Maintain proper and open body posture
    • Smile
    • Always face the patient
    • Ensure consistent eye contact
    • Avoid fiddling with things that may distract yourself or the patient
    • Don’t cross your arms, turn away, or stand with hands-on-hips
    • Avoid nervous behavior or mannerisms
    • Don’t look around or at something else while the patient is speaking

Empowering your receptionists to be the best they can be will improve not only the check-in process but will also stage for a great patient experience throughout the entire office visit.


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  1. https://www.forbes.com/sites/serenitygibbons/2018/06/19/you-have-7-seconds-to-make-a-first-impression-heres-how-to-succeed/?sh=19f49ecd56c2
  2. Data Source:  MedicalGPS/M3-Patient Experience® sample size of 918,101 patients

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