Converting New Patient Leads into Patient Appointments

by Christa S. Nuber

In this age of digital and media marketing, most of us in the healthcare industry understand that traditional print advertising and word-of-mouth testimonials aren’t enough to grow a medical practice and bring in new patients. It has become essential to promote a medical practice through a website or online profile, directory, and as many other marketing channels as possible. Once your practice is sufficiently visible, potential patients will start contacting your front office to learn more—usually by phone or email.

The most important question then is: Will these leads actually convert into new patients? How your staff handles that first call or email to your front office will determine this and will make a huge difference in the growth and survival of your practice.

The Care and Feeding of New and Existing Patients: How Does Your Garden Grow?

Ideally, the front office staff understands that first impressions are everything and each incoming call or email can represent a new patient lead. Are those staff members who handle your phone and email communications able to “convert” initial inquiries into booked patient appointments? If you are not seeing a significant increase in your new patient load, the answer is likely “no.”

Remember that you are competing with other healthcare providers for business. Most new patient leads will contact several practices when they are searching for a new healthcare provider. They will choose the new healthcare provider based on their first impressions of each office they contact. How can you ensure they will choose you and your practice? Make sure your front office staff is trained to handle all communications with excellence and convert new patient inquiries into booked appointments.

Further, if existing patients are transferring their care to other providers, it is likely your front office staff could improve their overall communications and do more to ensure a positive experience for every patient. How your staff handles patient communications—from that first point of contact to the first booked appointment and every office visit thereafter—is a key component of practice management.

Training Your Front Office Staff

As a busy healthcare provider, your top priority is good patient care and you may feel overwhelmed at the prospect of managing your front office operations. Many healthcare providers choose to either rely on their office manager for all staff training or hire outside firms to train their front office staff on how to handle incoming phone calls as well as other aspects of practice management. Practice management encompasses a gamut of subcategories, and medical marketing firms offer a range of services that fall under this category. Among these are finding new patients and customer service training on best practices for handling inquiries, greeting patients, booking appointments, returning phone calls or emails and creating a positive waiting room experience.

The cost of practice management and marketing services can vary from firm to firm and will depend on the number of people on your staff who will receive training, as well as the duration and depth of training services you require. For example, a short-term phone training program starts at $1200. Since the proper handling of your inbound phone calls and emails from prospective patients is essential, this should be the first area of focus if you hope to recoup the cost associated with branding your practice. The marked increase in conversion from call to patient—the desired end result—will be well worth this minimal investment.

Phone Training Boot Camp

Not everyone is good at phone communications, so providing a structured procedure and script for staff to follow when answering inbound phone calls is essential. In a phone training program, make sure your office manager or the training firm covers the following areas:

  • Answer calls with a scripted greeting that is used consistently by all phone staff, such as “Good morning, Dr. Smith’s office, how may I assist you?”
  • Answer calls after a minimal number of rings, and make note of the day and time of the call
  • Keep length of time on hold to a minimum
  • How to convey warmth, professionalism, efficiency and interest over the phone
  • How to turn a simple inquiry into a “get to know you” conversation by asking the right questions
  • Gather important information like the caller’s name, contact information and referral source early in the call
  • Provide important information like the healthcare provider’s credentials and the basics of a procedure and relevant cost or insurance concerns
  • Scheduling the appointment

Staff members should post any scripts from their training near their phones. These serve as reminders of the main points to cover and key phrases they should use when
answering calls.

Analyze Performance and Measure Results

How do you analyze inbound calls and measure improvement in results after training? Call auditing is essential to measuring conversion. It is helpful to do the following:

  • Record and audit a sampling of your inbound calls; this can be done either in house or through a third party service
  • Analyze how changes can be made to convert more inbound calls into booked appointments
  • Customize staff training based on the analysis
  • Audit post-training calls at regular intervals to assess progress
  • Provide constructive feedback to your staff on an ongoing basis

If you select a firm to provide phone training, make sure they will not only analyze your inbound calls, but also provide tools for measuring the performance of your staff and improvements necessary in their results throughout the duration of the analysis. In addition to auditing, monitoring and coaching, it is important to celebrate your staff’s successes.

Motivating Your Staff

It is crucial you find a firm that you feel confident will work well with your front office staff so they feel supported and have a positive training experience. You rely on your office staff to not only handle calls, but also to schedule and confirm appointments, greet walk-in patients, manage the waiting room, coordinate billing and insurance issues, prepare files, order supplies, tidy patient consult rooms, and sometimes upsell any retail products you offer for purchase in your office. In other words, they have many tasks to juggle while those phones are ringing, and providing an excellent first impression to new patient leads may notbe at the top of their mind or their highest priority. How do you overcome these challenges to effective phone communication and emphasize how important those new calls are to the practice? Make sure you’ve chosen a training firm that offers ongoing staff support. Consider programs for your staff such as patient conversion incentives to motivate the staff members who handle your inbound calls.

Incentivizing Your Staff to Convert More Calls to Booked Appointments

Consider establishing a realistic goal with monthly incentives addressing the percentage of patient leads, via phone call, that are converted to new patient appointments on your calendar each month. This type of incentive program provides your employees with a way to supplement their net pay, while also increasing their understanding of how important inquiry phone calls are to the growth and viability of your practice.

You have a lot of marketing and training options to choose from and it can be difficult to select which program will be best to help you develop your practice. The most cost-effective programs are those offered by firms that give you phone training pachaged with other add-on marketing services. This will maximize your return on investment even further. Once your entire staff has received training in how to convert more of those inbound inquiry calls to booked appointments, you should see a positive upswing in the number of new patients your practice acquires. After you’ve improved your patient conversion rate, you can consider adding other training programs and services to your overall marketing strategy to take things to the next level.