How Much Provider Productivity Does Your Phone System Cost You?

While this is known primarily as a human resources focused blog, we frequently reach out into other areas of FQHC operations when they have an impact on what we do.  Right now, the biggest hot button we see is in the area of provider compensation and productivity — so much so that we are conducting an FQHC Provider Productivity & Compensation Survey to collect data to help address the issues.   We often warn health center managers that many productivity problems are far beyond the control of providers, and that they should start dealing with systemic issues before tackling provider performance and productivity issues.  So why don’t we start by having you ask this question:

How much productivity do you lose as a direct result of your phone system?

I’m a patient person (well, sometimes).  If I’m trying to call a client or colleague at an FQHC, and I don’t have a direct number, I will call the main number, and then simply put the call on speaker and wait for my call to make it through the system.  When calling many health centers, this also gives me the opportunity to browse through my email, feed the cats, run downstairs to get a cup of coffee, read a few chapters of my favorite novel, etc.

But I am not the typical patient of a health center.  I’m not in a field or at a community center or at the apartment of someone with more resources than me.  I’m not borrowing a land line phone or using my precious cell phone minutes trying to get an appointment, or find out my test results, or perhaps wait for phone triage while I sit here in pain.  A patient should not have to wait 10, 15, 20 minutes or a half hour on the phone lines before they can talk to a human being, or having talked to a human being at the outset, have to wait that long again to get to someone who can give them the information they need.

Just now one of my colleagues came down the hall red-faced and frustrated — she has been trying to call participants in one of our FQHC surveys.  Her average wait time, on the main health center phone tree systems… has been close to 15 minutes… after 20 she’s just been giving up.

Have you tried calling yourself to really have the patient experience?  Do you wonder how many potential initial appointments you’ve lost because the patient couldn’t wait on the phone any more, or how many follow-up visits never occurred because someone couldn’t get through?  Do you wonder how many of your “no-shows” actually tried to call and reschedule?  Do you know how many patients ended up using ER services because they couldn’t get through to you?

To really make the point, try it from the patient’s perspective.  Don’t call from your office. Go sit on a bench in a local park on your cell phone and see what the usage time is.  Go to your neighbor next door and borrow their phone, and see how uncomfortable and awkward it is to sit and wait in silence for that connection.

If you’re one of those where phones are answered in three rings and a real person will talk to the patient in two minutes, great for you.  But if you’re not — try fixing this problem before investing a lot of time and effort in a provider productivity incentive plan.

About Edmund B. Ura

Edmund B. Ura, MAIR, JD, works with governing boards, executives and human resources staff to develop methodologies for ensuring fair and equitable compensation programs that support achievement of organizations' missions. Contact Ed at
This entry was posted in Organization, Performance Management, Provider Compensation, Rants, Staffing. Bookmark the permalink.

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