5 Tips to Get the Medical Office Staff on Your Side

Health
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By Martine Brousse

Learn more about Martine on NerdWallet’s Ask an Advisor

The people behind the scenes at your doctor’s office — the medical office staff — can sometimes seem uncooperative, unfriendly and even uncaring. How can you reconcile your needs and rights with their schedule, training, orders and attitude?

As the health care system undergoes a transformation under the new federal law, medical providers have had to adapt to a dizzying number of requirements as they also implement new technology, meet legislative mandates and other compliance deadlines. Sweeping changes are apparent to patients as clinical staff members spend more face-to-face time typing away on tablets, appointment reminder messages are automated and phone calls rarely lead to a live person.

Workloads at medical offices are more complex and bigger even as cost-cutting measures brought on by the economic downturn, leaner financial operations and lower insurance reimbursements have cut the number of people available to help patients. Health care workers are too often overworked and overwhelmed. As a billing manager and primary patient contact for over 20 years, I understand their frustrations and limits. Here are some tips to turn medical office workers into allies.

1. Politeness goes a long way

The old standard of being demanding, using abusive language and “showing who you are” may get results in the short term, but here’s a word of caution: You will be tagged as “difficult.” Under a coat of chilly professionalism, you’ll wait a little longer for your appointment next time, and your calls might go straight to voice mail, since no one on staff will want to answer them. The truth is that perceived abuse of one staff member, let alone many, gets around and passive collective resistance will grow.

2. Practice acceptance and a little patience

Understand that once your doctor falls behind on his appointments, the receptionist has no control over the doctor’s schedule. Pushing the staff around won’t get your doctor out of another exam room faster. And keep in mind that it takes more time for your doctor, or the office staff, to generate electronic health records orders than to scribble on a piece of paper.

Unless you see the office staff playing Candy Crush or chatting about the latest movie, please limit the number of times you ask, “When will I be seen?”

And if the wait is so long that you are concerned about your work schedule or you’re angry or anxious, then reschedule the appointment. The office should be receptive, since the delay isn’t your fault.

3. Stop the blame game

If I had a dollar for every time a patient yelled, “It’s your fault, you always make mistakes,” I would definitely be writing these words from a sunny beach in Hawaii.

Remember, just because another office mismanaged a claim or other paperwork doesn’t mean that a different office will also do so. Incompetent billers and uncaring individuals do cause problems, but maybe it won’t happen at this office. It is aggravating to be condemned before being given a chance to review and possibly correct any errors. After all, the misunderstanding may be yours or it could have originated in another office.

4. Mistakes will happen

It’s crucial to report a clinical error to your doctor immediately. If it’s an administrative error, talk to the office manager. An occasional mistake should be corrected, then forgotten.

5. Do your part

At your first visit, bring your identification and your insurance card, which the doctor’s office must, as required by law, copy into your chart. Also, bring an up-to-date list of your medications and the names of your other doctors. Bring a translator if necessary, and one support person to take notes and help you remember your questions.

Try to book the first appointment of the day or right after lunch for follow-up visits. Fridays are usually lighter days, and your wait time will be shorter. Report any changes to your medications, insurance coverage or health history. Instead of waiting for a call, follow up on authorization requests, labs results or prescription orders. Confirm that any new physician you are referred to is part of your insurance network.

Helping the staff — with a minimum effort on your part — will pay off, especially when you ask for a favor or expedited action.