Front-office, front-line. Your front-office staff is your patients’ first impression of your healthcare organization.

“They need to be many things to the practice,” says Wayne Gravell, president and CEO of Imperativecare, an urgent care facility in Schodack, New York. “They dictate the flow to the clinicians, so efficiency is the name of the game.” They also have to be proficient in responsibilities that range from overseeing electronic medical records and accounts receivable, to communicating with patients and their families with professionalism and warmth.

These important roles have training needs to help ensure your organization keeps running and to provide patients with a sense of confidence and trust.

Avoid These Front-Office Training Mistakes

The most common mistake made when training front-office staff is failing to provide a full set of tools, according to Sheila Richmeier, founder and president of HealthcareSource courseware partner Remedy eLearning.

“We hire front-office staff who have good personalities to interact with the public, which is exactly the right thing to do,” Richmeier says. “Then we teach them the job’s fundamental tasks: using the computer, answering the phone, checking a patient in, scheduling a follow-up.”

But too often, she cautions, front-office employees aren’t offered the tools necessary to gain the knowledge to be truly successful in their roles — knowledge, for example, in patient-centered care, medical terminology, infection control, prevalent diseases, and care coordination. These are the skills that go beyond a typical front-office worker’s skills but are essential to front-office workers in the healthcare industry.

Proper training can be time-consuming and expensive, but it needn’t be. Increasingly, healthcare organizations are turning to eLearning.

The Benefits of eLearning

Commonly conducted in 30- to 60-minute sessions, eLearning classes can be taken anywhere the student has access to a computer or tablet. They’re generally much more affordable than onsite training, and can also be every bit as comprehensive.

A common misconception is that eLearning is “a passive method of learning and that it doesn’t stick,” says Richmeier. “We’ve tried to incorporate several things to counteract that, such as interactive testing that allows for easier learning and enjoyment, testing immediately after the concept has been introduced for better retention,” and simulating patient-care scenarios, or “operationalizing” the concepts in real-world situations.

Gravell agrees that eLearning tends to stick better than the traditional classroom model: “It stands to reason that if you train staff at their own pace, when their attention wanders, they can stop and return as needed.”

Getting Started with eLearning for Front-Office Staff

Richmeier stresses three important considerations in implementing an eLearning solution:

  1. Interaction: Will it hold the learner’s attention? Is it fun?
  2. Retention: How are learners assisted in retaining the knowledge? How are concepts explained and then tested to ensure they’re learned?
  3. Application: Is the content applicable to the role? Will it be useful? How does the learner apply this new knowledge to their everyday duties?

As you begin your training program, reflect on where your staff is today, their current knowledge levels, and what areas of study would best complement their current training.

“Perhaps [you] want to become more patient-centered or customer service-oriented,” she says. “I would then choose modules that assist in that effort.”

Then assess where you want to go from there. “I might want the staff to complete two or three modules per month for several months, and then do more education in the areas they seem to be struggling in,” says Richmeier.

Support Career-Long Learning

Experts agree that training should be a career-long process. Gravell says he often uses downtime to improve his own proficiency in all aspects of operations, such that “when the inevitable challenge arises, I have a better understanding of the issues facing all my staff.”

He urges administrators to reward employees for their efforts in advancing their knowledge and to always express gratitude. Such efforts will pay enormous dividends. After all, your front-office team members start your patients on the path to a positive experience.

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About Taylor Sisk

Taylor Sisk is a feature and enterprise writer who now specializes in healthcare issues. In his career, he’s interviewed ecologists, economists, undersea explorers, teenage philanthropists, sabermetricians, “Shark Tank” winners, hostage takers, Final Four champions, United Nations officials, radical priests, NASCAR legends, presidential candidates, and death-row inmates.