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Separate room for schedulers calms front office chaos

A few years ago, a North Carolina pediatric practice realized that the front desk is not the best place to check people in, make return appointments, and schedule new appointments – all at the same time.

With staff constantly having to answer phones, the area was too busy and too noisy to give waiting patients the attention they deserved.

People were waiting in line only to be told to wait again while a ringing phone was answered. And staff were constantly having to tell either a patient or caller to “hang on” – an especially irritating situation for a parent who’s been up three nights with a sick child.

So the practice moved the phones to a separate room where three staffers do nothing but schedule appointments.

With 15 physicians seeing an average of 200 patients a day, the move was essential. Even so, there were concerns about whether the three staff could handle being isolated and doing nothing but scheduling.

As it turned out, they liked having the peace and quiet needed to do the job.

In a busy office, it’s the scheduling that determines how well the day goes for everybody, and the job is complex. Different nurse times have to be blocked off for different appointment types. For instance, visits involving sick children require lead-time, while twins have to be scheduled on specific days. There are also the “ifs and exceptions” related to each patient’s availability. Being able to focus on the work allows staff to juggle all those elements.

The question of whether it was a good idea to separate a team that was accustomed to working together at the front desk was raised, but that also turned out well. To keep schedulers from losing touch with the rest of the staff, they were included in all front-desk activities and meetings.

Schedulers are also free to swap days with front office staff, just for a change of scenery. One scheduler does this, while the other two prefer to stay put.

The practice manager recommends any office with a busy front desk separate scheduling staff from front office staff who need time to welcome people and take a genuine interest in their needs and concerns. With no phones to answer, they can do just that.

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