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Monday, November 29, 2021  

Phone Etiquette and PrivacyPublished 9/18/2007

Calling to schedule an appointment for a test at a hospital is not a pleasant task and the same can hold true for a doctor’s appointment.

The medical reasons behind making the call to begin with would probably make almost anyone feel uncomfortable.

Let me share an incident with you that will make you think twice to what could be happening on the other end of the phone. I made a call to a local hospital to schedule a test. The person that answered the phone did not acknowledge herself or her department and then asked me what I needed. I told her that I wanted to make an appointment. After she requested it, I gave her both my name and social security number.

While talking to me on the phone, she was continuously speaking with someone else and I had to repeat my information to her twice. She proceeded to inform the other individuals that her shift was almost over and she wanted to accompany them. After confirming her social plans, she gave me a date and time for the next available appointment.

I reminded her that I had been there before and, regardless of my insistence, that I had never been to the facility before. She proceeded to talk to someone again, told them to hang on and that she would get to it later. She reminded me again of my appointment time. I told her thank you and hung up.

I thought to myself about how unprofessional she was. I also wondered who was within ear shot of my personal information because she repeated my social security number out loud. That particular phone conversation has really made me more aware of my personal health information and how it is being used. I now catch myself watching how others handle the front office in a medical practice and on the phone.

Just the other day, I was sitting in a physician’s waiting room and I overheard a full conversation about a man and his medical condition. What has happened to the Health Insurance Portability Accountability Act? I stumbled across an article with the title, Communicating to Patients about HIPAA Privacy: Have We Achieved Compliance or Complacency? That article really struck home. So, here are some phone answering tips that will ensure that callers know they're dealing with a winning business.

1) Answer all incoming phone calls before the third ring.

2) When you answer the phone, be warm and enthusiastic. Your voice at the end of the telephone line is sometimes the only impression of your practice a caller will get.

3) When answering the phone, welcome callers courteously and identify yourself and your office/department.

4) Enunciate clearly, keep your voice volume moderate, and speak slowly and clearly when answering the phone.

5) Control your language when answering the phone.

6) Train your voice and vocabulary to be positive when phone answering, even on a "down" day.

7) Take telephone messages completely and accurately, as well as make sure the message gets to the intended recipient.

8) Answer all your calls back within one business day.

9) Always ask the caller if it's all right to put him/her on hold when answering the phone, and don't leave people on hold. Provide callers on hold with progress reports every 30 to 45 seconds.

10) Don't use a speaker phone unless absolutely necessary.

11. Finish all conversations internally before answering the next call.

12. Be aware of how personal health information is being used and who might be within ear shot. It is okay to close the glass door at the receptionist area.

Deresa Claybrook, MS, RHIT has over 25 years in the health care industry. She is the president of Positive Resource, which specializes in Human Resource Management and Health Information Management with a special emphasis on transitioning the health care community to the Electronic Health Record (EHR).

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