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Is Your Professional Office Anything But Professional? Bill Knell

It's the nightmare that everyone who has ever been to a medical, dental or veterinary office fears more then having a tooth pulled or watching a doctor snap on some plastic gloves. It's the unprofessional, professional office. Those of us who have had the misfortune to be caught in that seemingly unending circle of waiting and filling out forms can attest to the sheer torture of such an experience. However, it doesn't have to be that way and there are some simple steps that every professional office can take to lesson the pain.

In an effort to limit the liability factor faced by every Medical Doctor or Dentist, referrals have become a way of life for them and endless nightmare for most patients. The situation for patients is exasperated by the need to fill out a deep pile of forms for every visit to every office. Some doctors and dentists try to ease the hassle by sending along patient information. Others try and have their receptionists procure as much information over the phone as practical. These are good first steps, but there are more practical ways to accomplish the same thing.

While not everyone has computer access or wants it, most people do. This opens up a simple way to save valuable office and personnel time. I have noticed a growing number of professional medical, dental and veterinary websites that offer online registration for real world services. Imagine the office and personnel time these professionals save, not to mention the pressure taken off their prospective patients. Just the freedom of being able to walk into a medical, dental or veterinary office without facing the prospect of filling out any number of mind-numbing forms is like chicken soup for the brain.

After the flu recently took up residence in our home, there was a need for several of us to visit the doctor. Since all of us were feeling poorly, an urgent medical care facility seemed to be the easiest way to obtain the services we needed. Despite being a good alternative to Hospital Emergency Rooms and Trauma Centers, urgent care centers can still frustrate those trying to use them. My last visit to one involved lots of forms and lots of waiting. Hoping for something better, I went online and started looking for more choices in my area.

After locating a new facility that had just opened near my home, I visited their website. I was immediately impressed by easily accessible contact information and online registration. In less then five minutes I was able to call them, talk to a live person and print up their patient registration form. Once there, I noticed that the place operated like a well-oiled machine. Everyone knew their job and did it well. No excessive waiting to be examined and very fast check out. There is nothing more frustrating then waiting an hour or more to check out and get the prescriptions you need to have filled after waiting hours to be examined.

The facility I visited for medical care was a good model for how things should work in any professional medical, dental or veterinary office. Sadly, it's the exception rather then the rule. While many professional offices do not intentionally inconvenience their patrons, they simply do not use all the tools at their disposal. Most should begin by having fully functional websites with online registration and active email contacts. Imagine the office and personnel time that could be saved if potential patients could register online or ask questions via email. This is especially helpful if a question requires a direct consult with the doctor, dentist or veterinarian. This would free up the office phone for appointments and allow the professional to optimize his time beyond just returning calls to answer questions that could be dealt with by email.

If filing out forms in an office and waiting for treatment are primary pet peeves of most patients, dealing with phone answering systems is next on their list. Automated phone systems were supposed to be a way to build a bridge between the customer and the business, but many have simply become a frustrating wall for both. That's because most of these systems offer too many options and no quick route to live phone help. They try to combine an answering system for employees with a contact number for the public. If potential customers or patients cannot reach a live person 10-20 seconds into the call, they will probably hang up.

Despite spending thousands of dollars on computers loaded with software suited to their situation, most professional offices expect their employees to learn on the job. This places their valued patients, clients and customers in the hands of every new face that happens to come along. Most get frustrated and end up asking for the office manager or someone with whom they are more familiar. Every professional office or business of any kind is only as strong as the people who represent him or her on the phone or behind the reception desk.

Most professional offices of any size need competent office managers who know what needs to be done and gets results. Those results include scheduling enough appointments to keep the office profitable and getting patients in and out quickly. While paperwork, employee training and examination area preparation are unavoidable, they are not problems that patients should have to deal with.

Having more employees is not always the answer. I know a number of professionals who host a never-ending string of unpaid or low pay interns in their offices. Most of them come from local high schools or colleges and are there for the experience. These people get in each other's way, have no commitment to the professional and usually last less then a month before quitting. Meanwhile, the reputation of the professional is constantly being compromised.

Office preparation is a tool that should never be ignored by any professional. It's all too common to see patients waiting in their cars as the first employee to arrive places their key in the office door. Patients are there, but computers, office machines and other essentials are not anywhere near ready to go. It is equally common and unacceptable to see professional offices closed for cleanings, software updates and any number of other things that could and should be dealt with during hours when the office is closed.

The ever-growing number of professionals serving even the smallest of areas testifies to the fact that many people feel no loyalty to their doctor, dentist or veterinarian. While any medical, dental or veterinary professional will always have their fair share of one time, visiting or flaky patients, the lack of professionalism in many of their offices is creating a whole generation of visitors. All they really want is a doctor, dentist or veterinarian who will provide them with professional services in an efficient environment.


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