In a fast-paced business office with hundreds of calls pouring in daily from patients and payers asking a wide range of account-related questions, it’s easy for staff to become overwhelmed. Your organization no doubt includes a diverse team of representatives who each have distinct personalities, communication styles, and various levels of customer service training.
Likewise, patients each have their unique approach to handling serious matters like healthcare and financial information. While many patient-representative interactions are positive and easy, there is always the potential for difficult and unpleasant conversations. That’s why the most important virtue customer service representatives bring to the table is patience.
Each and every patient deserves to be treated with empathy and compassion regardless of the reason for their call.
Rising out-of-pocket expenses and insurance changes within the industry have brought an influx of calls from frustrated and confused patients. Difficult conversations surrounding financial expectations and requests for payments are common when discussing such sensitive matters. The good news is frustration can be diminished by avoiding certain phrases.
Simple tweaks to common expressions can exponentially benefit both parties on the call.
Advise your self pay representatives to stay calm, watch their tone, and always convey to the patient that they are able to help. Here are five of the most frequently used phrases that can make or break the patient financial experience:
Instead of “no” say “what I can do is…”
If it’s a flat-out “no” then there is nowhere for the conversation to go. If the patient is asking for the balance to be adjusted the answer most likely is no, but the representative could offer a payment plan, a paid in full discount, or even financial assistance. It’s important to give the patient the options so they can make an informed and considerate decision.
Instead of “I understand” say “I could see how that would be frustrating.”
The representative may have encountered a similar situation or even faced a healthcare scare or financial hardship personally, but it’s not accurate to assert an understanding for whatever the patient‘s situation is or what they are experiencing. Saying, “I could see how it would be frustrating,” is a minor change, but the meaning is less insistent and more empathetic.
Instead of “That’s not my job,” say “I would love to get you to someone who can help you.”
The patient is calling the business office for a reason: they need help to resolve an issue. The representative in the business office has little control over an unposted payment or a policy that the patient’s insurance has in place. A well-informed representative might not have the answer, but he or she should know who to ask in order to give the caller direction in how to get the issue resolved.
Instead of “You need to talk to my supervisor,” say “I would be happy to assist you.”
The plain truth is there is a little that a supervisor can say or do on a call that the representative cannot. Some patients just feel like they are being listened to if they are speaking with a supervisor, but in reality, the representative should be able to resolve the issue or help the patient with the concern, regardless of what it is. The representative shouldn’t be pushing the call off to a supervisor, but instead should take steps to de-escalate the call and take steps to help the patient.
Instead of “Calm down,” say “I am sorry, I am here to help you.”
If a caller’s emotions are already running high, this phrase is like adding fuel to a fire. Telling someone to calm down is the least calming tactic one can employ. It’s much better to let the patient know their concerns are valid. Sometimes all they are looking for an apology for a perceived mistake and accurate information on how to correct it.
The Bottom Line
Train your self pay representatives to change the way they communicate with patients by watching their tone, not interrupting, avoiding jargon, and giving the patient control over their account. Ask questions, with patience and empathy. These, combined with the kind, respectful phrasing above, can be the catalyst for positive outcomes in patient and employee satisfaction as well as increased payments and improved revenue cycle performance.