On Keeping Good Medical Technicians

November 11th, 2008

I run my own Internal Medicine practice and most of the time I feel like I am flying by the seat of my pants. Luckily, I have been fortunate enough to find a few, loyal and efficient medical technicians. They are hardworking, great at handling the charts (well electronic charts now), taking vitals and eliciting demographics. As a group, however, they drew the line at answering phones. For as good as they are, I had to respect that. I wasted quite a bit of time and money hiring and firing front desk receptionists. Without getting into the details, it turned out to be impossible to keep someone posted at the receptionist desk full time.

I also found that I was spending way too much money on a live answering service. Since I am the only physician in my practice, having a 24/7 medical answering service is critical. However, even though I was paying for a live answering service, there was no attempt made at triaging calls. Emergent calls would take just as long as prescription refills and I had to sort through them on my own. While I wish I could say that I thought of using a virtual answering service de novo, I was actually told of the program by a close friend and colleague. The software has turned out to be a boon for my practice.

Imagine having a 24/7 medical answering service that will separate the emergent calls (and forward them immediately to the correct emergency contact), from the urgent calls, from the ASAP calls, from calls that can afford to wait. Fantastic, right? This next feature was the clincher, for me. It turns out the same program will allow my patients to either call my office to make a doctor appointment or go online and use the web-based doctor appointment scheduling system. My schedule was kept online and new appointments could be made 24 hours a day. It even included an appointment reminder system to help me keep track of things during the day and week.

When I implemented the program the response that I got from patients was surprising. Almost universally, my patients were very enthused by the idea of being able to call or log on and do their appointment scheduling directly. I’m not sure why they felt like they could not do this before, but some patients said that they felt like they had access straight into my calendar. Some described the process as self-service patient appointment scheduling. Having this “power” was important to many and I think I have actually a little better patient follow-up. The other positive is that with this virtual receptionist, patients are never placed on hold, a feature that is very important to patients.

I was initially worried that calling my office would seem like calling a bank or the cable company. In actuality, the phone answering service uses a natural, interactive dialogue which closely mimics a medical receptionist. The other big issue was security. This is a web-based doctor appointment scheduling system after all and I am very strict about the safety of patient information, even demographic data. I simply would not use a program that did not fully adhere to HIPAA regulations. The program I eventually decided on was fully secure.

I now have a small group of very happy, hard-working medical technicians, a fully automated appointment scheduling system and physician answering service and I am actually saving the money!

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