Etiquette For Your Medical Practice

Giving Medical Advice

Current patients and even new patients to the office often call the office for medical advice over the phone.  The receptionist does not have the medical authority to answer these types of questions.  The receptionist should never give suggestions or advice for medical care to a patient.  The best way to handle this situation is to let the caller know that you are not qualified to give out medical advice.  They can then ask the patient to make an appointment so that the physician can recommend treatment.  Or the patient can be transferred to the nurse, nurse practitioner or physician who can give them further medical advice. When given to the proper person who can give medical advice, this should always be out of earshot of other patients so as to keep that patient’s confidentiality private.  Usually a medical practice has a private office that an appropriate staff member can give results to patients without the possibility of other people hearing them.

Patient Confidentiality

Making sure patient confidentiality is enforced is the one of the most important things when communicating with them.  This falls under the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (HIPAA).  This law forbids medical staff from releasing any information about their patient unless specified by the patient themselves.  If a family member of a patient calls the medical office for any type of medical history or want results of tests that have been performed on the patient, this is not allowable under the HIPAA regulations.  The staff member should inform them that they are not allowed by law to give out medical or personal information from the patient’s chart.  When requesting records whether it be another medical office, law office or even the patient themselves, a signed medical records release form should be signed and dated by the patient giving the appropriate person the right to view their records.

Switchboard Operation

Some medical offices operate a switchboard in their offices.  When doing this there are a few things to keep in mind.  Keeping track of what patients are on hold will keep the lines of communication open.  Most medical practices have multiple lines that can accommodate several lines at one time.  Make sure that the receptionist asks the caller for their name and phone number, then place them on hold and refer the line to the appropriate person.  The tone of voice of the staff member should always be polite and professional. If the person is not available then they should take a message along with the patients name, phone number, alternate phone number, reason for calling, date and time that the call was received and then give the message right away to the appropriate person.

Marina Hall is a Certified Medical Reimbursement Specialist (CMRS) and founder of MariAnn Medical Billing Service. To read a full “Interview with Marina Hall” visit her website at

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