Managing an Urgent Care Front Desk and Putting the Patient First

Have you ever seen a disorganized reception area at a clinic? Phones were probably ringing for long periods and patients were likely angry if no one was available to assist them. However, in a more professional setting that's pro-active about care, the waiting area is clean, phones are promptly answered, patient wait-times are low, and staff is responsive. Patients know the service is reliable and receptionists are helpful - and offering that type of assistance and polite help is your assignment. 

Managing an Urgent Care Front Desk and Putting the Patient First

Have you ever seen a disorganized reception area at a clinic? Phones were probably ringing for long periods and patients were likely angry if no one was available to assist them. However, in a more professional setting that's pro-active about care, the waiting area is clean, phones are promptly answered, patient wait-times are low, and staff is responsive. Patients know the service is reliable and receptionists are helpful - and offering that type of assistance and polite help is your assignment. 

View Patients as Consumers and Yourself as Customer Service Support 

The front desk of an urgent care center is a busy area. Because you’re the initial point of contact for patients (or consumers), there's quite a lot to do. While greeting consumers and asking insurance questions, you also have to answer phones, speak to staff and complete other administrative tasks. Additionally, in this role, you should always show great customer service skills and stay organized and resourceful. 

If consumers or customers have a bad experience, they'll typically share it with about 15   other people. Additionally, businesses in the U.S. lose an average of about $62 billion  yearly from poor customer service, (New Voice Media). However, it's your level of professionalism, courtesy and organization (and that winning smile!) that can make for a better consumer experience. With a few helpful tips, you can manage the front desk, improve retention rates and keep the office running efficiently. 

Here are a few helpful tips and examples on how to manage a front desk - and do it confidently. 

Always Be Professional, Positive, and Patient

If you ever called customer service at a business to complain, you might have been angry about a product or service. However, a helpful and understanding agent let you vent your frustrations - and then they offered a solution. That's how you have to treat the front desk in an urgent care setting. You might have angry consumers who occasionally need to vent (usually from long waiting times) and you can provide helpful solutions. 

Staying professional at all times is important. You add value to the clinic and you're the first contact new and existing consumers have when they arrive at the urgent care center. They might be nervous about a health diagnosis or tense from waiting in line. You can reduce any tensions or concerns they have - so every visit is smooth and efficient. 

An Example

Lisa works at an urgent care center and doesn’t like her job. She finds it overwhelming, she’s often late and she gets into confrontations with consumers about long wait times. She feels like they take their frustrations out on her and she doesn’t understand why. She is also having a hard time keeping track of insurance forms and doesn’t like billing so she avoids answering billing questions.

In this scenario, Lisa is not taking a proactive approach or being positive about her work. For you to excel in your position, you have to see yourself in charge of the front desk station. You want your station organized and you always want to maintain a professional atmosphere. 

Here are a few suggestions:

Be On Time

Always start your shift on time and if you arrive a little early, get a briefing from the shift before about any new changes you should know about to successfully run your shift. Check that all supplies are in and the waiting room is ready to greet consumers. Review the day's schedule so you'll know how many new and existing consumers are coming in and have all charts and insurance forms ready. That way if you get a lot of walk-ins, you're already prepared.

Be Polite

Always be courteous with new and existing consumers. Expect that they might get upset or become angry if the wait is long or they aren't feeling well.  You are there to listen and offer support so ask for their name and provide as much assistance as you can. Remember, consumers expect long-waits and delays and they think it might be the same at your clinic - give them a better experience by being polite, organized and helpful.  

Be Knowledgeable 

If you’re unsure about any of the insurance information such is in-network or out-of-network forms or if you have questions about copays, HSA accounts or deductibles, ask. You want to be the "go-to" person who knows all the answers. And, if you need to, keep a notebook nearby with frequently asked questions so you can help every patient and provide the right answers. 

Tip: You can also use your notebook to jot down names as consumers sign-in so you can greet them by name after you've copied their insurance card. For example, if it's very crowded and Mrs. Jones comes in with her 3 children, write down that down and when you greet her again, you can politely say, "Mrs. Jones, they're ready for you." Remembering a person's name and being polite makes them feel valued and appreciated. 

Have the Correct Answers and Be Helpful

Albert Schweitzer once said, "Lead by example through your integrity and character."3  Consumers often get frustrated with long wait times but frustrations can also occur if you're negative or you display negative body language or become angry or short-tempered. In your position offering customer service support, staying calm, polite and professional can reduce tensions and anxieties that patients have (and keep the waiting room area positive). 

Here are a few examples.

New consumers are lining up to check-in and it’s extremely busy. You’re on a call and on hold with another consumer.

Incorrect actions:

  • Ignoring the new consumers that walk in until you’re finished your calls.
  • Putting your calls on hold until you finish with the new consumers.
  • Hanging up on one or both calls so you can check-in the new consumer.

Correct actions:

Acknowledge the new consumers with a polite smile. Let them know you’ll just be a minute. Put your caller on a brief hold and ask the second caller to please not hang up. Then give the new consumers a clipboard and pen so they can fill out their information. Next, take the calls in order of importance. 

For example: 

  • If the caller is a vendor, ask if they can hold, leave a voicemail or call back later when it’s less hectic. 
  • If the caller is a doctor, take his or her call right away and transfer them to the appropriate department.
  • If the call is a straight transfer to another department, say politely, “Yes, right away. Transferring.” Then transfer their call.
  • If the caller is a consumer, ask, “How can I help you?” If the nature of the call is urgent or an emergency, help them right away. If they have a general billing question, let them know you’ll  be about a minute or two. Complete the other calls so you can then help that caller. 

Why these responses work

Extending confidence and displaying organizational skills over the phone helps you efficiently balance a lot of tasks at once. When you're warm and welcoming with the right greetings, it lets callers know you are professional and it conveys a positive message for the clinic. 

A waiting patient asks how long they have to wait. 

Incorrect responses: 

  • You say “I don’t know” and walk away. 
  • You shrug your shoulders and say, “I can’t tell," "I’m not sure,” or "Who knows?”
  • You get defensive and say, “Why are you asking me?”

Correct responses:

  • “Let’s see. You arrived at 7:20 pm and it’s now 7:40 pm. It usually takes about 20-minutes before they call you back. Would you like to give it a few more minutes?” 
  • “It shouldn’t be much longer. Wait times are usually about 20-minutes unless there’s an emergency. Let me check to see if there's a delay for some reason.” 
  • “I can check if you would like. Are you parked at a meter? You know we can validate parking for you.”
  • “Let me find out how much longer you may need to wait. I can see you’ve been here for quite a long time.”
  • “They said you’re next so it shouldn’t be too much longer. I notice that the TV is off. I can turn it on if you would like.”

Why these responses work

Sometimes consumers can become confrontational for no reason or they have a bad experience in one clinic and assume it's like that everywhere. To win consumers over, you should show self-control even when faced with angry consumers. Stay positive and look for a way to turn the conversation around and never use negative body language or a rude tone even if the consumer does. They might be angry because they're losing time away from work or they might have a fear of doctors, so your positivity and kindness can help.

A consumer says they don’t have time to wait. They’re very upset, getting loud, and threatening to leave.

Incorrect responses:

  • “Why are you telling me?”
  • “There’s nothing I can do about it.”
  • “I can’t make them move any faster.”
  • “Okay, fine. I’ll tell the doctor you left.”
  • Says nothing in response.

Correct responses:

  • “Yes, I understand. I do apologize for the wait. You are welcome to leave and see if the ER is faster but I can’t guarantee that the lines won’t be long. Would you like to check there and I’ll call your cellphone number if they call your name?” 
  • “Yes, I’m sorry that the wait is longer than anticipated. There was an emergency earlier and they’re getting caught up. I called the nurses station and they said it should only be another 10-15 minutes.”
  • “Yes, I do apologize for the delay. Would you like to visit the cafeteria to stretch your legs and I’ll page you overhead if they call your son's name?”
  • “Yes, I apologize for the delay. I don’t want to see you leave as you’ve already waited so long. Please give me a minute while I call the nurses station to see how much more time they need.”
  • “Yes, I understand and I apologize for the delay. They said it shouldn’t be more than 10-minutes.”  

Why these responses work

If you take a step back from the anger a consumer displays, you'll see that an argument can lead to a bad image for the clinic. Even if a consumer is in the wrong, arguing with them will only make it worse. Because people respond to body language and tone, always stay positive and never raise your voice. Let consumers know you are there to help.

Several consumers are waiting and the waiting room is over-crowded. The TV isn’t on and magazines and newspapers are in disarray.

Incorrect actions:

  • Doing nothing because you’re already feeling overwhelmed.
  • Taking your phone out to check emails.
  • Calling one of your friends.

Correct actions: 

  • Tidying up the waiting area by organizing the magazines and newspapers.
  • Turning the TV on at a reasonable volume and leaving the remote for consumer access.
  • Refreshing the hand sanitizer, tissues, and business cards. Ensuring there are enough cups at the water dispenser. Checking to see if the bathrooms are clean and if not, paging housekeeping.

Why these responses work

Because first impressions matter, keeping your work station and the waiting area neat and tidy can make it more comforting to consumers. Use any downtime to stock up on supplies and keep all public areas clean and safe for consumers and their family members. 

Final Thoughts

Because you are the initial contact for consumers in the urgent care, always smile and be polite - and never argue or raise your voice. These tips can help reduce nervous tension and help if you're dealing with an angry consumer. While you can't make every consumer happy, you can offer helpful suggestions and stay calm. Review your insurance notes and keep a notebook nearby so you can have all the answers you need. Your level of professionalism and communication can help consumers feel better because they know you're reliable, efficient, and there to help. 

About Solv Health

For everyday people and their families who care about their health, who deserve a better healthcare experience. Solv is the company that empowers consumers and raises their expectations of the healthcare industry. By eliminating the confusion and frustration of “how, if, where, when, and how much.” We get people healthy.

Solv partners with high-quality providers throughout the United States and equips them with insurance technologies that can improve the performance of their clinic. For consumers, Solv connects them to providers in their area with only a few simple smartphone clicks. From tracking benefits and insurance-related costs to booking same-day appointments, Solv helps simplify insurance and physician visits for effective healthcare solutions.

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