It may appear to be easy to spend the whole day on the phone with patients, but any medical office professional who has the responsibility of contacting patients for customer service or billing reasons knows better. Handling patient issues and complaints can create anxiety and judgment for the representative on the phone, their co-workers and even for their disgruntled patients. But one small decision can change a negative experience into a positive one.
International customer service management consultant Barbara Burke understands the struggles patient account representatives deal with each day. In her book "The Napkin, the Melon & the Monkey," Burke tells the story of a perpetually level-headed veteran service representative, Isabel, and a new representative, Olivia. Isabel offers Olivia a list of life lessons that help her understand that while she cannot change what happens to her throughout her day, she can decide how to react.
In the story Burke coins a simple acronym to help remind similarly struggling representatives that they can control how each conversation makes them feel: SODA.
According to Burke, SODA is "the sure-fire formula for staying calm in any emotionally charged situation."
The key element to SODA is the first step - unplugging. Isabel explains it this way: "Our minds are filled constantly with whirling thoughts and feelings and endless chatter. I discovered when I unplugged mentally, it all stopped."
Disconnecting from hectic offices, endless to-do lists and everything else, even for a few moments a day, can help reduce anxiety. Unplugging allows representatives to stop their busy minds, stop feeling angry at the last patient who yelled at them for sending a bill to the patient instead of to their insurance company, and to remove themselves from that stressful situation.
Once removed from the situation emotionally, it is easier to see it as it really is. Observing "what is" can help a representative to find a solution without being judgmental or getting emotionally involved. Is the patient angry at the representative for sending a bill, or are they confused about their insurance coverage and nervous about an unexpected expense? It is likely that the patient is yelling "to" the representative, not "at" them.
Isabel explains, "Once you are fully capable of stopping to see what is, it will be just a matter of time before it becomes habit." Although observing stressful situations from a place of detachment can take some practice, doing so will help reduce anxiety for the rep and lead to a better solution for the patient.
From practicing SODA Olivia learned, "once I figured out how to simply observe my thoughts and not get caught up in them, I would start to see the events in my life differently."
Once a representative learns to listen to a patient's complaint without judgment and anxiety, it is easier to decide what the best way to help them is. Even if the decision is to not jump to conclusions or get angry with the person, the outcome of the call will be much more positive than if both parties are angry or upset.
Patients develop a sense of trust with representatives who make themselves a resource for their questions and concerns. Being helpful and assisting a disgruntled patient will not only diffuse a tense situation, it will create a sense of trust, which will keep the patient coming back with payment.
Have a SODA!
Next time you or someone in your office is dealing with a difficult patient, just remind them to have a SODA! To get your own copy of Barbara Burke's, "The Napkin, the Melon & the Monkey," visit her website. A for "sage advice" for Customer Service Leaders, check out her Monday Aha! Blog.
Looking for more training on connecting with patients, handling calls and changing your patient account representative's mindset about collecting from patients? Check out one of our free educational webinars!
Written by Ali Bechtel, Public Relations Coordinator
This information is not to be construed as legal advice. Legal advice must be tailored to the specific circumstances of each case. Although we attempt to provide up-to-date information, laws and regulations often change. We make no claims, promises, or guarantees about the accuracy or completeness of this document. For legal advice, please consult an attorney.