Most of us view a receptionist as little more than an entry-level employee. They smile as people walk in, answer the phone and chat with waiting patients. Nothing too important, right?

Wrong! Not only is this description of receptionist duties woefully incomplete, but it also underestimates their business impact.

Your receptionist holds one of the most critical roles in your office. Still, I often hear therapists say that they cannot afford to pay a receptionist when in reality, you cannot afford to NOT pay for a receptionist – and a good one at that.

Three Areas of Impact

The best-run clinics I see have a strict policy of verifying and communicating a patient’s financial responsibility in advance of an appointment. However, even when that policy is followed you still need to have someone at the front desk who can easily speak to the ins and outs of how insurance works. Nothing will frustrate a new patient more than not having a clear understanding of what to expect financially before they enter into a plan of care.

Referral Conversion. Many factors determine why referrals fail to convert, but the patient’s first interaction with the clinic is a major factor. Receptionists make your practice’s vital first impression with new patients. They also set expectations about what patients should expect out of their treatment at your practice and are often the deciding factor in whether a new patient gets on your calendar or not.

Benefits Verification. In addition to setting clinical expectations and carrying your brand, receptionists start the treatment cycle with verification of benefits. Patients often don’t understand how insurance works, which payer is primary, and what services are covered. Untangling insurance is not an entry-level duty, but receptionists are often tasked with it.

Financial Collection. Chances of copay collection decrease 20% immediately after a patient leaves the clinic. With patient payment responsibility rising, this could have an unintended but nonetheless disastrous impact on your business. Very few patients have a realistic understanding of what their out-of-pocket expenses will be for any given type of care—especially specialty care like physical therapy. Receptionists are instrumental in communicating with patients about the cost of care.

Three Ways to Set Your Front Desk Up for Success

There are several things you can do to ensure your receptionist successfully performs the above critical business functions while also ensuring the best possible patient experience.

Give your receptionist the tools they need to do a good job. Online access to payer information is often overlooked and can provide critical information to make sure payer guidelines are followed. Look for tools that remove burdensome administrative tasks and provides them with the right intelligence.

Set clear expectations. In order to arm your receptionist for success, they should have no confusion about their role. For example, must they collect all copays when a patient arrives? What is an acceptable payment plan should a patient not be able to pay in full? What additional fees will a patient be charged if they do not pay in a timely fashion? Also set clear guidelines about scheduling, such as what type of appointments you like to have at what time and who is the most appropriate therapist to see different types of patients. When you are clear with your staff, your staff can communicate clearly to your patients.

Get the right personality. A physical therapy background is a great asset, but not critical. Over time, many people who do not have experience in PT can gain enough general knowledge to instill confidence in patients. More important is their ability to sell patients on the value of your practice. Because your receptionist manages all patient interactions, both in-person and via telephone, they must have excellent client service skills that can ensure the highest levels of client satisfaction.

These tips should help you to reconsider one of the most important- and overlooked- jobs in your practice. If you get the front desk right, the rest of your practice will hum. Because as some say: “Always be nice to receptionists. They are the real gatekeepers in the world.”


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