Friday, July 29, 2005

I spent the week doing two different types of training. Even though I've been on board for two and a half months, I got signed up for the full-fledged IDX training class (the computer system we use to schedule appointments for patients, among other things), and I also attended a training class on our phone system.

The IDX class was helpful in some ways, even though by now I've already done the majority of the things that the class talked about. But I also got some shortcuts, thanks to the class, that I hadn't realized were possible.

For example, I had no idea that when we're looking through a doctor's open appointment slots, we can specify which days of the week we want to see. This is good to know, as we have some patients who work, take classes, receive dialysis or other treatments, etc on particular days of the week. Naturally, they want to visit doctors on their free day(s) instead of disrupting work schedules, missing class, and so on. And having seen how my late friend Joan was exhausted after her dialysis treatments, I wouldn't ever recommend a patient coming in for an appointment with us after they were dialysed, not unless they had a significant medical reason for doing so.

Anyway, instead of just searching through ALL of the doctor's open slots and visually picking out the ones on the desired day(s) of the week, now I can request those specific days of the week from the word "go" and avoid having to weed through unwanted results. The big stuff that the class covered, I already knew how to do by this point, but it's little tweaks like that which will make my workday that much easier.

Which brings me to the OTHER training I had this week: the phone class. During my four years as a temp, most of the assignments I had involved receptionist work and believe me, I saw a LOT of different kinds of phone systems. Only one or two times did I encounter a type of phone system that was used by more than one company.

Now, I freely admit that I'm a geek and that figuring out how to use various devices is one of my strong suits. I can't walk and chew gum at the same time, but leave me alone with a techie toy and no manual and I'll generally get the gist of what the thing does, if you give me enough time. So when I tell you that some of the things our phone system does are, to me, counter-intuitive, believe it.

For example, if I had my way it'd be a lot more forgiving to a person who pauses partway through dialing a number. If I'm trying to transfer a call to another department, or even to another extension within our own office, I have to dial at least the 7-digit number. Suppose I want to send someone to 555-1212. If I dial "555", then pause to double-check the final four digits, I only have about two seconds before the phone "gives up" on waiting for the next four digits and gives me a busy signal. So now I've got to start the transfer over again, and do so without serenading my caller with the fast-busy-signal. Nor do I want to hit the wrong sequence of buttons trying to get my original caller back, because as I discovered to my chagrin during my first few weeks on the job, you can easily disconnect someone by accident if you hit the wrong set of buttons in just the wrong order.

So anyway, I had been hoping that this class would be a primer on how to use THIS PHONE SYSTEM. No dice (though the training material we got does include a couple of mini-manuals for the most commonly used phones). It was more along the lines of what our health system's policies are for answering phones and so on. It's not exactly something I needed, but hey. It reinforced a lot of things that I learned over the years while temping.

The final exercise in the class was revealing, though not in the way that anyone intended. We used speakerphones to actually call back to our own departments and see how whoever was there was answering phones. And, of course, we evaluated if said phone greeting was up to snuff with health system standards ("Good morning/afternoon, [department name], this is [person's name], how may I help you?")

Five of our class's students were from the Central Registration department. That would be the department that patients would call in order to provide all pertinent information, instead of the limited amount of info that people like me can enter when we're adding a person to the system for the first time. For example, I can put in a person's name, SSN, phone number, and address. But I can't put in information about their primary care doctor, medical insurance, and a small truckload of other stuff that only Central Registration is allowed to do. Plus, once the information is in the system, I can't UPDATE it to, say, change the address/phone number of a patient who has moved. Only Central Registration can do that.

So we called Central Registration. On the speakerphone.

The first person who answered a call said "Registration"... and then hung up. HUNG UP. The ladies from that department were mortified. One explained that it was nearing the end of a shift, and each person has to make a certain "quota" of calls for the day. So perhaps the person was trying to artifically inflate their call tally by cutting off a caller. I'm guessing that person doesn't realize that there is software in place to measure not only how many calls a person receives, but how long they last. So if someone has a string of two-second calls, it WILL be trackable. Jobs can be, and have been, lost for such behavior.

We called back, again on the speakerphone. We got someone else. She also said "Registration" and hung up. OK, now we're 0-for-2. I felt genuinely sorry for my classmates from that department, who all felt about two inches tall after the way their colleagues back at the office had treated the phone calls.

One more call... the third time was the charm. This time it was a guy who gave the full phone greeting as described above, and actually STAYED on the line to do his job. He was as ideal of an example as the other two were terrible examples. And I suspect that there'll be a little chat between our class's trainers and the management of Central Registration about those two hangup calls. All it will take is for the Powers That Be to use the phone-tracking software to determine if anyone's got an inexplicably high number of far-too-brief-to-be-useful calls, and then have a word with them.

My own department call yielded a so-so result. "Rheumatology, how can I help you?", but no "Good afternoon" and no "This is [person's name]". Hey, it could've been worse -- at least she TOOK the call even though it was within minutes of the end of her workday.

Anyhow, those are the highlights of the week so far. Now I get to go back to the office today and use all these techniques. :o)

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