21 Common Sense Rules for Medical Offices

Two nurses and child dressed  as "Uncle S...

Image by George Eastman House via Flickr

There seem to be a lot of people searching for rules for medical offices.  I’ve never heard of such rules, but since people are looking for them, I thought I’d write some.

  1. Medical offices are professional workplaces and staff need to dress, speak, and purport themselves professionally.
  2. Patients are customers and customer service should be paramount.  Give all patients the utmost respect and practice compassion, compassion, compassion.
  3. If it didn’t get documented (on paper or electronically), it wasn’t done.  If it didn’t get documented, you can’t charge for it.
  4. HIPAA.  First of all, please spell it correctly.  One P, two As.  Secondly, know what it means and make it so!
  5. Never enter an exam room without knocking.
  6. Confirm patient identity (name, date of birth, etc.) before giving injections, taking specimens or performing a procedure.
    a medical dropper

    Image via Wikipedia

  7. Remove very sick or very angry patients from the front desk immediately.  Take the sick ones to exam rooms and take the angry ones to the manager’s office.
  8. Do not use medical jargon with patients.  If they don’t know what you’re talking about, they might be too intimidated to ask.
  9. Wash your hands. Often.  No matter what you do in the practice.
  10. The office should be CLEAN, fresh and up-to-date.  No dying plants, no magazines more than 9 months old, no dust bunnies behind the doors, no stained seating or carpets.
  11. Train staff to apologize, and to apologize sincerely.
  12. Complaints from patients and staff need to be addressed in 2 weeks or less.
  13. Medical equipment is to be maintained and tested annually for safety and performance.
  14. Once a medical record is finalized, the only changes to a paper record are single line strike-throughs with corrected information and initials, or addendums.  There are no changes to electronic records, only addendums.
  15. Patients don’t understand insurance.  Be the expert.
  16. Shred confidential practice paperwork and patient-identified information on-site.
  17. Keep medications (including sample medications) in locked cabinets and use a good inventory system to log the use and replacement of stock.
  18. Strive to meet patients at their communication level. Use graphics, translated materials and interpretive services when needed.
  19. Don’t expect patients to be on time for their appointments when the provider isn’t.
  20. Don’t make copies from copies.
  21. Give everyone the benefit of the doubt.  There’s always more to the story. Okay, this is really a rule for life in general, but it works in medical offices too.

Leave a comment and tell me what rule you would add.

For more medical office rules, read “Ten Golden Rules for Your Medical Office Staff.”

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Posted in: Day-to-Day Operations, Practice Marketing

Leave a Comment (25) ↓


  1. Libby Knollmeyer August 5, 2010

    Loved the article about rules for medical practices. Under the one about HIPAA, I would add the caveat to remember that virtually every word spoken in a physician’s office is overheard by someone.

  2. Dave Kicker September 8, 2010

    Don’t allow you staff to call patients sweetie, honey, sugar, darling and all other affectionate terms. They are Mr. Smith or Ms. Jones. I have never understood why people do this, very irritating to most patients.
    you can be friendly in your actions w/o having to resort to callin a patient by something other than their name.

    • Mary Pat Whaley September 9, 2010

      Hi Dave,

      This is an excellent addition!

      I do remember, however, one practice where I instructed the staff not to use patients’ first names. The staff came back to me and said several patients were offended because the staff stopped calling them by their first names! Sometimes you just can’t win.

      I agree with you 100%. Staff should err on the side of being more professional, not less.

      Thanks for your comment,

      Mary Pat

  3. Patty Gerlach August 8, 2013

    Positive breeds Positive, I think if you emphasize a positive, friendly environment with your staff, it carries over to your clients/patients and they will have a better experience over all.

  4. Linda Prins August 8, 2013

    In addition to seats and carpets not being stained. It is just as important to have your walls clean and fresh. There’s nothing like sitting in a room staring at a stain and wondering what it is – yuck!

  5. Sherry Morreau August 9, 2013

    If the physician is running behind/late and the patient is already in the exam room, please knock then enter after being acknowledged to let the patient know. If the patient is still in the waiting room also let them know. Also keep chatter/talk to low level, as the patients can hear the conversations and or witness the staff’s body language.

    • Mary Pat Whaley August 10, 2013

      Great additions, Sherry!

      Thank you,

      Mary Pat

  6. Dorothy Gingell August 9, 2013

    What a great list. As a Medical PA, I particularly like #19. Trying to impress upon clinicians the need to start clinics on time can be exhausting……………

    • Mary Pat Whaley August 10, 2013

      Hi Dorothy,

      I agree. I have worked with providers of all types who get very stressed if patients wait, and others that seem completely unperturbed by patients waiting for hours. Where does that state of mind originate?

      Best wishes,

      Mary Pat

  7. Lucille du Preez August 12, 2013

    As an Unit Manager in a private hospital, the 21 points as mentioned above, is very helpfull. From the waiting times (in our case – from where the patient was taken to the bed and fully admitted, to bells that is not aswered promtly) to the keeping them informed and the prof addressing of the patient. Nursing staff has the tendency to call the patient sweety, lovey, etc. And some of the patients like it but as you mentioned, some really don’t. So, we strive to call all Mr or Ms. It takes alot of the girls, but we are getting there.

    The 21 points is printed as I type and will be distributed to my girls and hopefully it will have the desired impact.

    Best wishes

    Lucille du Preez

    • Mary Pat Whaley August 13, 2013

      Hi Lucille,

      I am so glad to hear this is helpful to you. It just makes my day!

      Keep up the good work.

      Best wishes,

      Mary Pat

  8. CeCe August 12, 2013

    I managed an office where I tried to change the receptionist calling patients by sweetie, honey, etc. and was met with opposition from the actual president/doctor of the practice. He allowed his “favorite” receptionist to continue using these slang words and she would often call him “Boss Man” when addressing him….so I was defeated since he wanted this double standard for his practice and over the time I was there he lost numerous patients because of a variety of reasons including slang use because the patient wanted respect and did not get it.

    • Mary Pat Whaley August 13, 2013

      Hi CeCe,

      I’ve had lots of experience with the physician letting the “office wife” or “favorite receptionist” have her way and it’s a hard situation to deal with. It’s too bad he didn’t realize the patients he lost because of it.

      There’s a big difference between being personable and being overly familiar!

      Thanks for your comment.

      Best wishes,

      Mary Pat

  9. Al Moreno August 12, 2013

    Great review, these should be posted and issued to each employee with an acknowledgment signature form. All staff including managers and providers should review these annually.

    • Mary Pat Whaley August 13, 2013

      Hi Al,

      I agree!

      Best wishes,

      Mary Pat

  10. maggie August 13, 2013

    Front desk staff and others, please do not discuss your adventures partying last night or what your drinking plans are next weekend. No personal conversations when in the company of patients!

    • Mary Pat Whaley August 13, 2013

      Hi Maggie,

      Great rule!

      Best wishes,

      Mary Pat

  11. Martha August 13, 2013

    Is is a wonderful review of what should be common sense. I agree with Al.

    I always remind the staff that no matter what kind of a bad day they are having the patient is having a worse day. They are the people that came to us for help not to put up with a moody, miserable disposition. Please check your personal problems at the door.

    Be empathetic and compassionate not patronizing.

    If you are the receptionist and a patient walks in the door acknowledge them, if you are on the phone just raise your eyes and smile.

    • Mary Pat Whaley August 19, 2013

      Bravo, Martha!

      Acknowledging every patient with a smile even if you can’t help them at that exact moment, is one of best things anyone helping patients or customers of any kind can do.

      Best wishes,

      Mary Pat