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Can Your Receptionist Increase the Risk of a Malpractice Incident?

Your front desk staff person is a key point of contact that patients, family members and caregivers have with your practice. What risk, if any, does this position pose to a malpractice incident?

Your front desk staff person is a key point of contact that patients, family members and caregivers have with your practice. What risk, if any, does this position pose to a malpractice incident?

Regardless of the amount of responsibility you delegate to a front desk or receptionist position, it does present risk. Therefore, it’s important that whoever is in this position is trained properly, so you not only make a good first impression, but so you also reduce the potential risks that could arise.

An AHC Media article illustrates the need for implementing policies and procedures to mitigate risks arising from the front desk. In light of lessons learned from the article, you should review the following policies and procedures at your dental practice:

Communication etiquette including:

Identification, greeting and check-in procedures

  • Greeting your patients by name and proper title (Mr./Mrs.) helps personalize the patient encounter and builds good rapport
  • Remember, making a good impression is a priority during every interaction, not just the first time

Answering and putting patient calls on hold

  • When answering calls, identify yourself and the name of the office to the caller
  • Ask for permission and wait for the answer before placing a caller on hold
  • If a message is taken, advise when a response might be provided

Handling angry or disgruntled patients

  • Have a chain of command for handling patient complaints
  • Patients with substantive complaints should be invited to discuss their concerns in person rather than over the phone

Triaging Calls:

  • Train employees on how to triage calls and handle emergency/urgent care concerns, including when to interrupt the doctor.
  • Telephone protocol grids are a good tool to manage calls received, and they may help staff triage calls more effectively. More importantly, these grids help staff better understand to whom a call should be directed. Guidelines for telephone protocol grids should specify what information staff members must obtain from a patient in order to facilitate an accurate assessment.
  • Providers may be responsible for any acts or omissions committed by staff members – even when the provider does not know about them. Therefore, you should consider having only clinical staff handle telephone triage as allowing non-clinical staff to provide medical advice on your behalf can increase your liability.

Documenting Calls:

  • Document telephone calls – including the caller’s name and relationship to the patient, the date/time of the call, the reason for the call, any advice given/instructions provided and a call back number.
  • Documentation of all clinically relevant telephone calls must be noted in the patient’s record. Using a standard triage encounter form is recommended for consistency and to help capture relevant information from the call.
  • All telephone calls involving the exchange of medical information or questions about a patient must be documented. Clinically relevant calls can include, but are not limited to: information on prescriptions or prescription refill requests, reports of complication or concerns, requests for advice and calls to patients regarding test results or other follow-up efforts. This includes telephone calls taken after hours.
  • It is important that all telephone entries are reviewed by the healthcare provider. The only way to validate involvement in the care is to document your efforts.

Every process in your practice should be reviewed from the perspective of mitigating potential risk. Policies and procedures go a long way in this regard. 

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