For many patients, scheduled medical encounters are fraught with anxiety or at the very least, some degree of trepidation. Because of that, it’s all the more important for the first human encounter to exude confidence, competence, and reassurance. When you think about creating a consistently positive patient experience, never under-estimate the importance of the people working in registration. Registrars are often the first human with whom a patient comes in contact. They give a “face” to the organization, setting the tone for the entire encounter. When it’s a positive one, the patient assumes he or she will experience more of the same throughout the visit. When it’s a negative one, you’ve set them on edge, leaving them to wonder if the entire experience will continue with the same treatment.
I’ve seen less than stellar front-desk encounters so often that it makes me wonder if anyone really understands the importance of this role. I watched in complete dismay when my mother registered at a specialty clinic where she was to receive highly anticipated test results related to her recent cancer diagnosis. When the registrar heard me state my mother’s name, she asked, “Who?” and followed with; “You’re not listed anywhere. Are you sure you’re supposed to be here?”
Were we sure we were supposed to be there? Believe me, I’m not going to take a day off of work and drive 30 miles for the results of a PET scan when I’m not absolutely sure I’m supposed to be there. Even if the registrar didn’t see my mom’s name on the schedule, she didn’t need to tip her hand about a scheduling mistake and erode the patient’s trust. She could have said, “Welcome. Please take a seat,” then sought assistance to manage the situation.
In another situation, my team monitored interactions during registration for hours as part of a first impressions study. One patient after another presented at the desk, and when they offered their names, we observed the registrar ask questions like; “And who are you here to see?” or “What time is your appointment?” These seemingly innocent questions send the message that their arrival is a surprise. Sure the registrar may be just validating information on the schedule, but the manner in which they verify does nothing to instill trust. To the patient, these questions imply that the registrar doesn’t know who they are or why they are there.
In each of these scenarios, there are better, more trust-inducing phrases the registrar can use. In that same study, we witnessed patient after patient mention that they had completed their pre-registration information online through the patient portal. Instead of saying, “Thank you, I see your information is up to date,” they insisted on asking all the questions the patients had answered just 24 hours before online.
At the risk of grilling up one of healthcare’s sacred cows, I’m going to just say that part of this stems back to the reporting structure inherent in most organizations where registration staff falls under finance rather than customer service, marketing, or guest relations. Historically, the emphasis has been on getting the right information including insurance so that payment will be made efficiently. I get that. It’s absolutely imperative for managing cash flow. But please remember that this first impression sets the stage for the entire encounter. If the registrar has been trained to focus only on the information transfer and not the human being, there is a service gap in the first few moments that will be hard to fill. Take the time to train the front line in the art of communication and engagement. Help them feel confident and prepared to deal with anything that comes through the door. Give them the tools to manage difficult situations. It shouldn’t matter who the registrars report to in the organizational structure if the vision and goal for the experience is consistent.