Staff burnout is at an all-time high across just about every industry. In healthcare, it’s nearing a breaking point. Independent practices are under enormous pressure to retain staff during an incredibly demanding time — or risk finding qualified replacements amid “the great resignation.”
Addressing burnout has become a critical strategy for practices to keep moving forward and continue focusing on care and business growth. It is difficult to scale to meet growth goals for your practice without a happy, committed staff helping to deliver a positive patient experience.
In recent years, front desk staff have been bearing the brunt of many pandemic-related challenges: enforcing COVID-19 guidelines, managing screening questionnaires, scheduling tests and vaccinations, and answering patients’ calls and emails during busy, short-staffed shifts. It’s a lot. Doing what you can to keep your front office burnout under control is critical and requires identifying signs of burnout, and taking steps to prevent or reduce it.
Top signs of front desk staff burnout
Much of the work on identifying occupational burnout — whether physician, nurse, or front office staff — can be traced back to the work of psychologists Christina Maslach and Susan E. Jackson. The Maslach Burnout Inventory (MBI) is a standardized assessment featuring 22 signs of burnout clustered around three major groupings.
Here are the major warning signs that someone is suffering from burnout.
1. Your front desk staff is emotionally exhausted.
Emotional exhaustion is when someone feels constantly drained by their work, feeling in over their head, constantly overextended, and unable to get ahead.
If you’re wondering whether a front office employee is emotionally exhausted, ask yourself the following questions:
- Has the turnout dropped at practice staff meetings or training activities?
- Do you sense increased frustration or cynicism from staff members?
- Are you noticing less friendly office banter than usual?
If you answered ‘yes’ to any of the above, these are signs of decreased staff engagement. Of course, with the increased stress of the past two years, some drop in engagement and interest is to be expected. But, if left unaddressed, disengaged staff can lead to more serious problems that can hinder the overall wellbeing of your practice - and patients.
If you’re not sure how to re-engage, begin by simply talking to your staff openly and humbly. Acknowledge recent difficulties and ask staff how you can better support them. These discussions may reveal that certain routine tasks — including calling patients for appointment reminders or entering patient registration data — have become too repetitive and difficult to manage. Staff may surface ideas on how to break up the tedium or further streamline workflows.
Conducting an open discussion with your staff lets them know you care. Getting them involved in any improvement efforts upfront can lead to a greater sense of investment and better staff buy-in for the long run.
2. Your staff is experiencing depersonalization.
The second sign of burnout is “depersonalization.” This is when employees distance themselves from work through sarcasm or cynicism. Are your front office staff uncaring or unsympathetic towards the needs and wants of patients?
When front office staff are overworked and burned out, your patients may feel it. It may be a less-than-warm welcome to the practice, or even errors or delays that can impact the patient experience. If your staff are feeling overwhelmed, you may notice an uptick in complaints or negative patient reviews, which can lead to negative effects on your practice’s online reputation.
The best way to keep an eye on patient sentiment is by routinely monitoring your practice’s online reviews. If something is off, you may not notice an increase in complaints right away. But identifying a drop in patient satisfaction and promptly addressing negative feedback are both critical to your practice’s long-term success.
If you don’t already send out automated patient satisfaction surveys, now is a great time to begin, as part of a comprehensive online reputation management program. Not only is this good for your online reputation, but can help you identify where your staff may need more support. These strategies will help you keep a close watch on patient satisfaction, so you can take care of any operational issues or systemic problems before it’s too late.
3. Your front office staff feel a lack of professional accomplishment.
The third and final major sign of burnout is suffering from a lack of professional accomplishment. Do your staff feel as though their work benefits patients? Do they feel competent, intellectually challenged, like they have the tools and resources to contribute to the practice’s strategic success?
If your employees are experiencing a lack of professional accomplishment, you may notice an overall decrease in office productivity. When your front desk staff feels stressed, completing routine tasks can take longer than normal.
To help your front office staff feel stimulated at work, try automating mundane tasks your staff is responsible for. This can be especially helpful if your staff spends the majority of their time answering phone calls, calling patients to confirm or reschedule appointments, or tracking down patient payments. By automating routine tasks, your staff saves time, is more productive, and can shift their focus on enhancing the patient experience, and other strategic goals.
How to prevent front desk staff burnout
Healthcare providers who are worried about front office burnout should make any adjustments to help those showing early signs of burnout. The following three strategies can help combat staff burnout. Implementing these strategies could go a long way to ensuring happy and healthy staff members.
First, healthcare providers need to delegate responsibility effectively so that they are only doing what they are uniquely trained to do: care for patients. In doing this, they create a waterfall where front office staff are given more responsibility for the overall success of the practice.
This might seem as if it would cause front office burnout, but it actually provides a better sense of professional accomplishment for everyone because it creates the belief that a patient’s well-being is a team-based effort.
2. Automate routine tasks
Second, automate routine processes for frontline staff so that the added responsibilities delegated to them don’t create an overwhelming feeling or the feeling of treading water. Tasks such as appointment reminders, patient satisfaction surveys, online reputation management, and even scheduling patient visits can be automated through medical software.
3. Require time off
Studies show U.S. workers are bad at taking vacations to emotionally recharge themselves. By mandating front office staff take ample vacation time, it forces them to step away from their jobs to spend time with family, travel, check-off items on their personal to-do lists, and more. This in turn provides a source of energy to return to work with new vigor.
Tools that can reduce front office staff burnout
You can address staff burnout by empowering your team to work smarter, not harder. By using proven technology and tools that automate certain functions, you can reduce manual, repetitive tasks that make a job frustrating and unsatisfying.
The digital tools you implement also contribute to an easier, better patient experience. Here are a few your practice should consider to reduce front desk staff burnout:
1. Online appointment scheduling
Online scheduling saves time for front office staff and brings digital convenience to patients. As a follow-up, automated appointment reminders cut down on phone time, while helping reduce no-shows and late cancellations.
2. Text messaging
Giving patients the option to text your practice will reduce incoming call volume and allow staff to respond as time permits throughout the day. It also saves patients the frustration of waiting on hold or playing phone tag, so it’s a win for practice and patients
3. Digital patient registration forms
Shifting from paper forms to digital patient registration and intake reduces the need for manual data entry, saving staff time and reducing risk of errors. Patients will appreciate filling out forms ahead of time and having less of a wait before their visit. They’ll also be thankful to avoid the germ-filled clipboard and pen.
4. Online bill patient pay
With digital patient payment solutions, your practice can send digital invoices via text message to patients for co-pays and up-front payments — which can be paid from the convenience of a mobile device. This saves your office the administrative hassle of printing and sending out invoices, and collecting payment at checkout. A seamless digital billing process can also cut down on calls related to billing questions.
How an all-in-one practice growth solution reduces stress staff and providers
Investing in technology can help address and reduce front desk staff burnout. But to prevent further frustration, the technology must be easy to use. An ideal solution is an all-in-one practice growth platform, with easy, seamless access to all the tools outlined above.