Virtual reception – flexible and affordable for doctors commencing private practice

In this episode of PodMD, owner and director of ⁠Rooms With Style⁠ (RWS) Caroline Chaplin will be discussing about virtual reception and how it is flexible and affordable for doctors commencing private practice. We talk about what virtual reception consists of, what the back-end and front-end of virtual reception is, the key indicators of transitioning to your own staff, how VR can be flexible and more.

This podcast is brought to you by Rooms With Style (RWS). RWS provides an extensive range of services for doctors in private practice. Their services are specifically designed to make your private practice more profitable, compliant and efficient. We are the experienced and trusted industry professionals.

  • Transcript
    Please note this is a machine generated transcription and may contain some errors.
    *As always, all in this PODMD podcast is intended for health professionals and the comments are of a general nature. Information given is not intended as specific medical advice pertaining to any given patient. If you have a clinical issue with one of your patients please seek appropriate advice from a colleague with expertise in the area.

    Today I’d like to welcome to the PodMD studio Caroline Chaplin.

    Caroline is the owner and director of RWS (Rooms with Style).

    RWS has assisted surgeons to set-up private practices across Australia for the last 20 years, providing a turnkey solution for busy doctors.

    Today, we’ll be discussing Virtual Reception – how it is flexible and affordable for doctors commencing private practice.

    **We do hope you enjoy this podcast but please remember that the advice here is of a general nature and is not intended as specific advice about private practices.

    Caroline, thanks for talking with us on PodMD today.

    Caroline: Thank you for having me.

    Question 1
    Caroline, what is virtual reception, or VR, for doctors that don’t know?

    Caroline: Virtual reception is something that I from my experience, doctors kind of know about. They’ve heard of friends and colleagues talking about it, but they’ll often say to me, please run through it and let us know exactly what it is. So that’s what I’m doing for you here today. So virtual reception is a virtual office, which means that instead of having to hire a secretary. You can use a virtual office service to perform some of the tasks in your practise. So the way I think it runs most effectively.

    And in telling you this will explain what it is so. We start off and we would set up a phone number for you. You might already have a phone number. And then that phone number is ported to the phones at the Office of the Virtual Reception Service that you’re utilising and then messages and so forth are added to the phone out of office and so forth. So now when the phone rings and typically it’ll be, you know, 9:00 to 5:00, Monday to Friday, the phone is answered and the virtual reception team will have a conversation with you in relation to how you would like the phone answered and and so forth. Then from there, patient inquiries are listened to and and acted on.

    Also, appointments are loaded into your software, so often the startup doctors might have a cloud based software and that’s really easy as you know to to log into at a moment’s notice. If you are using a server based software, it’s a lot trickier, so just be mindful of that. Sometimes it can take. A couple of days for your IT people to properly allow us to log in, so it’s not as user friendly for virtual reception. Once we’re logged into the software, as I said, we can upload the appointments onto the appointments screen and so forth, and also upload the referrals from patients. So I would term that the front end of virtual reception.

    Question 2
    So Caroline, what is the back end of virtual reception?

    Caroline: The back end of virtual reception means things like your billing, organising your consulting lists, and your theatre lists and potentially doing some typing as. Well, depending on what your requirements are, sometimes doctors might also need some debtors chased and and so forth as part of the service.

    Question 3
    That explains what it is, how do you think it works best?

    Caroline: Again, good question. So in relation to virtual reception, one of the issues I see is that doctors will come and they’ll see it just as a stopgap. To get started and so forth with with low cost and it is that I mean the truth is in private practise your two biggest costs are always going to be a staff in your room. So if you can remove the cost of staff at the start, that’s terrific. But I see virtual reception as playing a far bigger and more important. Role than just a stopgap. So I think at the START virtual reception should be that you engage your team that are setting you up correctly. After all, it’s. It’s typically your foray into private practise. This is the first time that your referrers and your patients are getting an image of you and your brand and what you stand for and what you do.

    You want to do it correctly, otherwise you’ll have the challenge that later on when you remove yourself from virtual reception, if it hasn’t been set up correctly, you won’t know what to do. And there’ll be a disconnect if you like, in relation to how the service was performed initially and and now how you’re performing the service under your own brand, potentially with your own. Laugh. So how I think the perfect way of setting up virtual reception should be is like this. Imagine that you’ve given us your baby, or any any crew that’s doing virtual reception. Your baby, and we’re looking after the baby. So we’re the nurses potentially in the hospital. And we’re looking after that baby. And we’re setting that baby up for a good start in life. That baby’s being well fed and looked after. And we’re measuring the weight and we’re getting it. All right. Similarly, we’re doing the same thing with your virtual reception. We’re getting your correct forms in place and compliance.

    We’re setting up your appointment booked correctly. So that it will. Be set up correctly for future efficiencies at the start. It’s not so important because not many appointments are coming in, but it’s certainly going to be important as you go through the stages of private practise. So again, back to the analogy of the baby. Once that baby’s going well and the baby’s thriving, just as your practise would be thriving now, we’ll get to the point where we need to hand the baby back to you because you’re ready to get your own stuff. This will happen. Virtual reception will not be your and. Other. Long term, it will be an answer to keep your costs down, but use it also to get yourself set up correctly from the onset. If you have a team of experts that are helping you and they know how to set up a practise correctly, this is what matters.

    Think about not going with companies that perhaps are measuring the length of calls and so forth and and putting charges. If you go overtime because what are you saying to your market, you’re basically so. Coming up with a system that is trying to hurry people along where you’re actually trying to build great relationships with GP’s and the patients that are ringing in. So with relation to handing back the baby. A good virtual reception will mean that you can hand the baby back, but we can come back and mine the baby from time to time. So, for example, a staff member might be away and we can come back into the picture because we know your systems, we know how it works and we know that it’s been set up correctly and efficiently and. Considering compliance. From that point of. View. You get the flexibility to move in and out of virtual reception. It’ll still help keep your costs down and it’ll give you that backup so that you’re not needing to use temp services and so forth.

    Question 4
    So with VR, do doctors not need any staff at the start?

    Caroline: Technically, no, they don’t need their own staff, but what they do need is a meet and greet person when consulting. But that simply means somebody who can say hello, Missus Jones, you know, take a seat. Doctor Black will be with you. Shortly and potentially just process an F POS payment at the end of the consultation, the virtual reception service should be liaising and teaching that meeting great person. That might be someone from a hospital or whomever just so that they’ve got they they might have a list faxed, faxed over and they can see the. Patients that are coming in, generally speaking, we wouldn’t recommend that they’re on your software because they they potentially will create more problems. It kind of depends on who it is. So that’s a case by case scenario, but you will need somebody for meet and greet when consulting at the start. But no, not your own staff.

    Obviously, the costs of virtual reception end up being it’s a lot more flexible and that actually before I talk about cost, let’s talk about flexibility. Flexibility is key. Be careful, don’t get yourself locked into a long contract. I don’t believe in any contract with VR because as your brand or sorry as your. Practise is changing and growing. That’s going to happen at different rates. It’s going to happen depending on how much effort you’re putting into your marketing. It’ll depend on you know how much need there is for your service in the particular area that you’re. It might be that you’re only in private practise .4 or something like that. So it depends on how much time you’re in your private practise too. They’ll all be indicators of your rate of growth. So what you want to do is have a scenario that when the indicators are there that you’re going to need your staff member and we would help you with those. Then at that point we can start talking about hiring for you.

    Or you might have someone in mind yourself, and we can just do the compliance and maybe some training for them. Let, let’s have a case in point a, you know that I think a an example speaks 1000 words sometimes so. We had a specialty surgeon that was renovating rooms and he wanted to have his own staff. He come from a busy practise and then so he started off with some VR because he he needed to keep the practise going. So he’d moved from there associate ship and now he’s starting out by himself. But he was experienced. So virtual reception started off by taking his calls and then improving his processes because his processes had been adopted by what was happening at the other practise and not necessarily what he wanted. Now he had a much better idea of who he was. How he wanted to be perceived perceived in the marketplace and so forth with referrers and patients.

    So from there after the virtual reception was set up that was running smoothly and we hired for him, his rooms weren’t ready though. So what we did was there was gaps in the education of the person that we had hired. Where they come from. Our physicians rooms and they didn’t understand about surgical building. So we had then the opportunity to continue taking the phones and then hand over the phones to the new staff member from a consulting point of view. But we could still continue doing the billing and and any of the surgical requirements. And then transition that over to her as we were able to teach her and and she could do that. Then in a situation that wasn’t pressured. She actually stayed in our office for a period of time as well whilst the training happened because the rooms weren’t ready once the rooms were ready. Then she transitioned over to the rooms.

    We continued to do a bit of the billing to help take the pressure off where whilst she got into the rooms and so forth. Slowly but surely she was able to take back. All the tasks for running the front office now Fast forward a little bit into the future. That same doctor then needed to hire a second person, so we had. With that, and at that point, we were able to help the staff member when they were on leave and so forth, until such time as he had two staff staff that he engaged. So that’s the progression that you need to look for. You need to think with virtual reception. Am I setting up correctly? Am I setting up in such a way that there’s a system here that I’m not? Paying a fortune and locked locked into this system so that when I do need to move and need to get my own staff that I can. And am I? Am I doing virtual reception in a way that gives me backups? So should that person be away or on leave or sick or anything that might happen. And you know things happen then we can slot back in or a group can slop back in and help you because they know your business. That’s how a virtual reception in my mind should work.

    Concluding question
    What are your main take home messages?

    Caroline: I certainly can. So, so #1 just remember to keep the cost down of staff at the start and put your money into market. Thing if you haven’t got patients coming in, what’s the point of having a staff member there that’s costing you a lot of money? So virtual reception is a great option when when you think about that and avoiding that cost and that commitment at the start at #2, make sure you’re using a virtual reception service that’s going to set you up correctly.

    Of a long haul because that reception service is going to be the one that’s going to save your bacon when the person doesn’t turn up for work or is away on leave and so forth. So that’s very important. So to that end, make sure that you’re not getting locked into a contract. I’d suggest go for somewhere where you’re not getting a contract. All, and therefore you can come and go with the service, obviously subject to availability I guess, but that’s better for you because. The trajectory of your growth is not yet known and and as I said in the podcast, it’s going to be determined by certain factors. Such as, you know, the degree to which you market, how important or how not. Not important.

    Sorry, I shouldn’t say important. The degree to which you market the need for your sub specialty in the area that you’re you’re at and so forth are going to be the types of factors that are going to affect the speed at which you move. From virtual reception to your own staff? Thirdly. And you need your own staff. It’s not a long term solution to do virtual reception, it’s something that should morph into the background and just be there for you for support services when you need or things change in your practise.

    The things that change might be that staff gets sick, staff leave, that you’re at a point where you need more. Staff and we can give you some guidelines in relation to what the indicators would be in relation to to when it’s you know you’re ready for one and a half staff or or whatever might be happening. So they’re the reasons that virtual reception works and and in my mind the the way it should work so that it’s most most effective for you. And it’s not shooting you in the foot in that it’s set up as a cookie cutter call Centre style virtual reception, do it properly from the start.

    Thank you for your time and the insights you have provided

    Caroline: Thank you

*As always, all in this PODMD podcast is intended for health professionals and the comments are of a general nature. Information given is not intended as specific medical advice pertaining to any given patient. If you have a clinical issue with one of your patients please seek appropriate advice from a colleague with expertise in the area.