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Patient access leaders are recruiting new hires from nontraditional backgrounds such as retail and food service, searching for strong customer service skills. They look for these attributes:
While dining at a local chain restaurant with her kids, the cheerful attitude of the waitress caught the attention of Tanya Powell, CHAM, patient access director for Ochsner Healthcare’s North Shore Region in Slidell, LA.
The server anticipated the family’s needs without having to ask. A nearby family demanded a discount on their bill because of poor service. Next, a boisterous, noisy group sat down, but the children laid on the seats and refused to place an order.
The waitress kept smiling through it all. “She showed the utmost respect to all the customers,” says Powell.
After the meal, Powell gave the waitress her contact information and asked her to call if interested in an opportunity in healthcare. “We scheduled her for an interview,” says Powell. “She was rather new to the professional interview process, but I was very optimistic.”
The new employee developed stellar patient access skills. These include working error holds to allow release of “clean” claims and point-of-service collections. “She is exemplary in quality assurance metrics and is willing to take any shift,” says Powell. “Her excellent customer service helped us achieve top scores.”
Miranda Crawford, the registrar who was recruited while waiting tables, was thrilled to be approached for a patient access role, given her lack of healthcare experience. “Everyone was so friendly and willing to help me with learning the processes. I have been with Ochsner now for a year, and plan to be there for much longer,” she says.
Many ED registrars have a food service background at Riverside Regional Medical Center in Newport News, VA. These individuals are used to being on their feet for hours at a time, which works well for the ED setting.
“Retail and restaurants are the two best places for me to recruit new hires,” says Lolita M. Tyree, MSW, CHAM, patient access manager for the ED.
Tyree recently struck up a conversation with an especially attentive server and learned she was interested in a career in healthcare. “She’s been one of my best hires to date,” Tyree says. “If it weren’t for eating out that evening, we would have both missed an opportunity.”
At Sentara Leigh Hospital in Norfolk, VA, and Sentara Albemarle Medical Center in Elizabeth City, NC, many patient access employees have come from outside of the healthcare industry. “My philosophy is we can teach them the job but not great customer service. It has to be part of who you are,” says Mike M. Harkins, manager of registration. “I am always looking for customer service champions.”
One employee was “discovered” while working at a backed-up Taco Bell drive-through line. Despite a long line of cars filled with frustrated customers, she managed to keep them all informed and apologized sincerely for the wait. “When I got to the window, I still had to pull forward to wait,” says Harkins. Some customers became impatient and impolite. “I watched her with all the cars in front of me, and she continued to take all the flack with a smile and a kind word,” says Harkins.
To apologize for the long wait, the clerk added some cinnamon twists to the order — but not before warning Harkins that they were high in sugar in case she was diabetic. Harkins gave the clerk her business card and told her to call if she ever wanted to get into healthcare. A few months later, Harkins did get a call. “She was applying for a job with our company and wanted to use me as a reference,” she recalls. “I was happy to do it.”
On another occasion, a patient access colleague raved about the service she had gotten from a waitress at a pancake restaurant. Harkins went to observe her table service and learned she was a young single mother. “She was super friendly with a great attitude. I told her friend to send her in for an interview, and I hired her on the spot,” says Harkins.
The employee thrived in patient access and was quickly promoted, and now works in the hospital’s IT department. Another employee at a pizza restaurant was well-known for great service — she was hired, and thrived in patient access for a decade.
“I can teach them the job,” says Harkins. “I can’t teach them the warm and fuzzy customer service.”
There is growing awareness that having a “customer mindset” is more important to today’s patient access departments than technical expertise.
“I have actually recruited from food service and retail in the past when I have seen someone with a fantastic, servant-minded mentality,” says David Kelly, director of revenue cycle at Mary Rutan Hospital in Bellefontaine, OH.
Some patient access applicants have years of experience — but something isn’t quite right. That something often turns out to be customer service. (See related story on identifying customer service expertise in patient access applicants.)
“I have certainly seen where people have ‘the right stuff’ on paper, but the interview goes south — or they don’t make it out of a probationary period,” says Kelly.
As patient access tasks are increasingly automated, the human-touch elements of patient access are becoming more important. “As we head into the ‘future of work,’ one job that can be partially, but not fully, automated is patient access,” says Kelly. “Lots of other industries bring things to the table on this front.”
Employees from retail and food service are used to working at a fast pace, in stressful conditions, with little control over their work schedule, and with highly demanding customers.
“Many also bring cash handling experiences to the table,” says Kelly. “All of these skills translate directly to modern registration roles.”