Medical Office Mistakes to Avoid when your Receptionist Calls in Sick

Unlike a vacation, which employees schedule in advance, no one plans a sick day—or at least most people don’t. In most cases, a sick day is not a pre-arranged absence. So what do you do when your receptionist calls off at 7:45 in the morning? Medical office managers have several actions to ensure that the front desk responsibilities are covered. These tasks include answering phones and making appointments. There are common mistakes that office managers will make when the receptionist is unexpectedly absent. Learn from these common mistakes and be prepared for when it happens next.

Mistakes For When Your Receptionist Calls in Sick

1. Panicking

The idea of hearing a ringing phone all day and knowing there’s not much you can do about it is enough to cause a helpless manager to want to call in sick too. While most would claim that answering the phone is easy, those who lack the training and experience to do so are unlikely to last more than a few minutes juggling phone calls, dealing with upset callers, and struggling to remember the illogical button sequence to transfer a call. Panic is certainly an understandable reaction, but it’s not a solution. Take a deep breath and don’t rush to any decisions; several solutions are available to you, and starting your day anxious sets a poor tone for the whole office.

2. Filling the seat with an untrained receptionist

Internal staff. Once the panic subsides a bit, you mentally review your staff list. Can anyone cover? What if you draft each staff person to fill in for one hour? Of course, you will have nine people with good reasons to be angry with you. And nine people to train on your systems. Get ahead of the problem by starting to teach 2-3 internal, willing staff members on systems and processes now so that you can have a pool of backup available. Having backup reception staff is excellent, but it still doesn’t fix the immediate problem, if they haven’t been trained yet. That also means you are short-staffed somewhere else now.

Temp agency. What about calling a temporary employment agency? Indeed, they have people on their roster trained in dealing with the public over the phone. While Temp workers are likely trained in phone basics, they won’t know your system and might not fit your standard of excellence. Temp workers often are not available immediately, and you could wait until after lunch or the next day for the temp to be available. Your office most likely requires HIPAA regulation training and certifications, which they might not have. Temp agencies can also be expensive with hourly wages higher than you pay your own staff.

3. Turning on the answering machine. 

If juggling staff isn’t going to work, perhaps you can turn on your answering machine for the day—providing it still works. Letting calls go to the answering machine is often a last resort, but that means double work getting back to all those callers the next day. A medical office is different than an ordinary business; you have patients with real problems who need to talk to a doctor or nurse triage. And letting a health-related call go to voice mail sends a poor message to patients. Using an answering machine also misses opportunities to gain new patients. If you don’t answer, they will call the next physician or practice that appears on their google search.

Answering Solutions For When Your Receptionist Calls in Sick

If you already use an answering service, the solution is easy. Contact your client services agent and let them know you need full coverage for how many days are necessary. Answering services have several different options and can function on an as-needed basis or as a dedicated agent focusing only on your needs. These agents are fully trained on any system you use and meet HIPAA regulations. The agents can take incoming calls, schedule appointments, and patch patients to the on-call doctor when necessary. If you don’t have a relationship with a medical support answering service, get that set up today! They are surprisingly low cost and can flex to meet your needs, no matter how big or small.

Having your receptionist call in sick doesn’t need to be a disaster. There’s no need to panic, scramble, or close the office. Just call your answering service and leave the rest to them. Then sit back and experience a typical day at the office.

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