The Importance of Support Staff at a Doctor’s Office

We’ve all been there. Checking in at our doctor’s office to find the front desk staff would rather be anywhere other than work. You’re often met with no eye contact, not even a smile. You’re asked quick yes or no questions. “Has your insurance changed?” “Do you have your I.D and insurance card with you?” “We need you to complete these forms and wait to be called back.”

I personally have not worked at a front desk in a primary care office. I’ve only been a patient where this routine information is exchanged. Yet, I do have over 8 years of experience in the medical field.

Starting Out in The Healthcare Industry

My first experience in the healthcare industry was at a behavioral health clinic. I was one of four front desk receptionists. Talk about getting thrown into the field!

Working in behavioral health is a lot of work. Helping and treating patients with behavioral health needs comes with a lot of social awareness.

  • You must be mindful of how you show up is important.
  • You’re helping a demographic of people that have already been through so much.
  • You absolutely cannot be anything but patient, understanding, helpful, kind and friendly.

I had been working for the behavioral health clinic for nearly 90 days when I was presented with the opportunity to work for a local hospice agency.

Hospice is where I found my passion

When I started at this hospice agency it was apparent even from the interview that I needed to work for this company. The owners were personable, experienced, and deeply compassionate. On top of fabulous owners that were present every day, the staff was even more exceptional.

They somehow found the most amazing providers, nurses, nursing assistants, billing, receptionists, and even IT support. Not only did everyone have a passion for this line of work, but they enjoyed being around their coworkers.

I started with intake and referrals

This is a very important position as you are the first point of contact with prospective patients, family members and referral sources. The calls that come in can be difficult. High emotion, worry, sadness, sometimes emergent. You have to be that calming, kind, helpful voice on the other end.

Turns out I was perfect for this role. You need to be detailed and methodical. Scheduling that initial admission visit with the best nurse you can think of to be a good fit for an evaluation from the small amount of information gathered on the call also taking into account their geographic location and availability all while accommodating the patient/family’s needs and/or the hospital’s or referral source’s. 

“We treat the whole patient every day, every time.”

Brittany Wagner, ElderHealth Practice Manager

Throughout my years working for hospice I had the opportunity to work as operations support (literally every role in the office) i.e DME coordinator, scheduler, referrals/intake, reception, and I even helped the volunteer department. I was also a team assistant for hospice and palliative care.

When we were acquired in 2021 I was the business manager for palliative care. Although the passion for this line of work was still present, the new company’s philosophy was not that of the previous hospice that I worked for. Patient care was suffering. Turnover increased.

The new hospice’s priorities were vastly different. We also had a lot of red tape having to stay within certain parameters of our roles. Immediately, we lost the personal care piece of hospice. We weren’t empowered to make decisions on our own, even if it was what was best for the patient. We were bound to a new EMR with no room for personalized care or modification; and no one to listen to our concerns.

At that point I knew this couldn’t be my long-term career as I had previously thought. I thrive off of experience and knowledge. I like being helpful and people’s go to. And I missed having conversations with families and growing relationships.

In 2021 I was offered the best opportunity yet. I was asked to come to ElderHealth.

Taking all of my past years experience in hospice and palliative care and applying it to geriatrics. To be honest there’s not much difference in how I interact with patients and families now than I did when I was working in hospice and palliative care.

At ElderHealth, we are focused on individualized care.

I enjoy getting to know our patients and their families on a personable level. As a manager, I’m empowered to make decisions based on what’s right and what’s best for the patient.

  • We care about their quality of life by offering suggestions for enrichment or thinking outside the box and may recommend non pharmacological resources.
  • We do more than meet with our patients once or twice a year. We do more than prescribe medications, or only focus on one ailment at a time.
  • We treat the whole patient every day, every time.

ElderHealth is unique in having a licensed clinical social worker (LCSW) on our team. Laura Aylmer supports patients and families through the disease process, offering emotional support, and guidance. No other geriatric primary care practice offers this in Tucson.

Knowing our patients on a first name basis makes all the difference

When the caller knows that you know who they are without having to present their DOB and give a short autobiography about who they are and which doctor sees them, it matters. We treat our patients like they’re our own family. It’s hard to age in this world.

Things are fast paced and ever changing, but our healthcare system needs work

The other day my husband called a specialist to make an appointment and was just told “We don’t have a referral for you.” Yet, his doctor sent it months earlier. There was no offer to contact his doctor’s office to request the referral and documentation. This is maddening to me.

If it were ElderHealth we would absolutely follow up to help our patients. If our patients aren’t getting calls from the specialist we want to know. I like to follow up and ensure that a specialist received our referral. Also, I’ll verify that they have the correct contact information to schedule the appointment.

I try to remove obstacles that cause any further delay in care

My husband is young and this is trying even at his age. Throw in complexities of insurance, transport, aging, mobility issues, lack of communication and no follow up; it makes it that much more difficult for a patient to get quality care they deserve.

A pleasant support staff makes a difference

It’s important that office support staff understand the importance of their role. The provider can be wonderful but the patient should never dread their interaction with the front office or support staff. Support staff need to be helpful, kind and compassionate.

Resources and knowledge makes a difference

There are things that we as service staff know about the healthcare system that a patient may not. Patients trust what we say as the source, usually without challenge or question. That’s why it’s important to go above and beyond in every opportunity presented.

Not offering assistance or insight to patients is a disservice to them. Do communication errors come up time-to-time? Yes, we are far from perfect! Despite our shortcomings, we hold ourselves accountable and learn from our mistakes.

It may not be feasible to know everyone that calls the doctor’s office on a first name basis. At ElderHealth, we know member’s names on a first name basis. I take the time to ask how a member’s day is going and initiate a small conversation. This lets our members know that I’m engaged and they’re more than a number to me.

Even if someone isn’t interested in ElderHealth, I may:

  • Offer to look up other PCPs in their area with the addresses and phone numbers.
  • Validate concerns and clarify information if something isn’t completely clear so there’s no assumptions.
  • Provide additional reminders if they have difficulty keeping their appointments.

I hope that one day this type of customer service in healthcare is standard practice.

It’s an important role providing patients reassurance and kindness. If we provide the same level of care to all patients that we do our own family, this topic wouldn’t be up for discussion. So support staff, after you’ve gotten a restful night’s sleep, breakfast and coffee (of course), start the day by being mindful; as a way to deliver exceptional care to every person you speak with.

"I believe deeply in our model of care. Everyone deserves to be empowered, listened to, and supported in their healthcare journey." - Brittany Wagner, Practice Manager

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