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Shut Down Talkative Patients Without Them Feeling Unheard

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Shut Down Talkative Patients Without Them Feeling Unheard

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How to deal with talkative patients

When chatty patients threaten to derail your staff’s already scattered time and attention, you need an intervention plan.

Talkative patients mean well. They may be lonely and just need to talk to anyone who will listen. Sometimes, they’re just comfortable at your practice and want an opportunity to catch up with your staff (which is great, unless it causes a problem).

You certainly want your patients to have a good relationship with staff and for your front desk to be polite and friendly. However, when managed incorrectly, these conversations can easily come at the expense of answering phones, helping other patients, or taking care of the dozens of other tasks that pop up daily.

To combat this issue, you need to give your staff the tools to smoothly extricate themselves from conversations that go on too long without making patients feel they’re being shoved aside. Training your team on how to deal with talkative patients is essential to protecting your patients’ positive view of your practice while also boosting employee productivity.

Include these steps in your team’s front desk training to help redirect those chatty patients without them even realizing it:

First Impressions Matter

As with any interaction at your front desk, a patient’s first impression matters. Healthcare rating group Health grades reports that, in an analysis of more than 8 million physician ratings from 2020, the most frequent negative patient comments related to interactions with office staff.

One sure way to give a patient a bad first impression is for them to feel unheard or unimportant, which can happen to talkative patients if they aren’t handled correctly.

Your front desk must appear friendly and helpful from the moment a patient steps foot into your office. It is essential that you train staff to greet patients as they walk in with a smile and a “How can I help you?” Whenever possible, asking your team to stand when having these initial interactions can help, too, as they put the patient on an even eye level instead of looking down at someone who’s seated.

Putting a patient at ease with the friendliness of your front desk staff from the get-go will make them feel more comfortable. Then, when it does come time to interrupt and redirect the patient for being too talkative, it helps keep the interaction more positive overall.

Watch Body Language

Nonverbal communication goes just as far – if not further – than the words your staff use. So, if your front desk team is sitting with their arms crossed or subconsciously rolling their eyes at a patient that won’t stop asking questions, it’s certainly not going to make the patient feel welcome.

Train your staff to be aware at all times of their body language and facial expressions. It can be challenging to keep their face from showing their emotions at first, but some role-playing of sample patient interactions during training and staff meetings can help them practice their skills.

Have someone role-play as the patient and instruct them to ask every crazy question possible while standing at your front desk. Let the interaction begin to unfold naturally, and then, when the time seems right, pause the role-play and work through any body language changes as a group.

Even small changes, such as folding your hands in front of you instead of crossing your arms or putting your hands on your hips, can go a long way toward helping patients feel more comfortable. When patients feel welcomed, it can be easier to shut down a long conversation.

Listen Carefully

Everyone wants to be heard. This is especially true for people visiting a doctor’s office, where they’ve likely got questions or concerns they want to bring up with their provider.

Your front desk staff will be more successful at halting a patient who wants to monopolize their time if they’ve been practicing active listening. This allows your team to redirect the patient to meet their real needs. For example, the patient may start by asking to make a new appointment or pay a copay but then launches into a random conversation. Rather than engaging with the last few things the patient said, active listening allows your staff to pull out the key point of the conversation and steer the interaction back in the right direction.

Active listening can be practiced along with body language and other strategies for how to deal with talkative patients during staff training. For example, when your team is role-playing a patient interaction, have the “chatty patient” hide the focal point of the conversation in a string of other sentences and see if the person role-playing as the receptionist can home in on it.

Make active listening exercises a regular part of your team meetings and trainings to keep everyone’s skills refined.

Interrupt Gracefully

Once a conversation has reached the point of going on too long, it’s key that your front desk staff understands how to interrupt the patient without hurting their feelings or making them feel unimportant.

Rudely saying, “I’ve got things to do,” and then ignoring the patient, obviously, isn’t going to do your patient satisfaction rates any favors. Instead, your staff needs to know how to insert themselves into the conversation and bring it to an end.

The best time to gracefully interrupt is when the patient pauses, either for a breath or to switch topics. This may require the individual to be quick on their feet and prepared to jump in, but it’s the method that feels less disruptive (and less rude) to the person on the receiving end.

If the patient doesn’t take a pause, teach your staff to smile and offer a friendly, gentle interruption. Something along the lines of “I’m so sorry to interrupt, but I just wanted to be sure that you got what you needed from me?” or “Excuse me for interrupting you, [Patient Name], but I really need to get back to [pulling charts, answering the phone, etc.].”

No matter what method you use to interrupt an overly talkative patient, be sure to apologize for the interruption. This way, your patient will walk away feeling like they were listened to and you were interested in what they had to say – even if it’s not the case.

Politely Redirect the Conversation

Now that control of the conversation is back in your team’s hands, it’s time to redirect it back to helping the patient and moving along to the next task.

The most effective way to do this without leaving too much opening for another long conversation is to re-state what you understand the patient’s need is in a “Yes” or “No” question. If the patient needs to schedule a new appointment, for example, saying, “I understand that the doctor wants to see you again in 30 days. Does [Date, Time] work for you?”

You’ve then moved the conversation along to its natural end, helping the patient but still allowing your staff to get back to other tasks.

Front Desk Training Help

Your front desk team is the backbone of your practice, and having an improperly trained team can cost your practice thousands. Give your team the tools they need to become the front desk staff of your dreams with Healthcare Training Leader’s new 5-part online training series presented by expert Tracy Bird, FACMPE, CPC, CPMA, CEMC, CPC-I. In each section of this training series, Tracy will provide your staff with practical, step-by-step tactics to help them overcome the most common and costly front desk mistakes.

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