Julia McEachern December 8th, 2008
When I was growing up and my parents needed to contact our family doctor after his office closed, they picked up the phone and dialed him directly. Gone are the days of that personalized after-hours service and you will now be hard pressed to find a physician who easily hands over their personal contact number to patients…just in case.
Physician offices are understaffed, underpaid from managed care organizations, and overwhelmed by the medical and social needs of the patients they serve. Many physicians feel “chained” to their practice and work long hours each day. Sickness and illness occur twenty four hours a day, seven days a week and often can not wait until the office opens. Physicians and patients alike rely on phone answering service to receive calls from patients and relay messages to the on call physician. A quality phone answering service performs this function seamlessly, integrating itself into the workflow of each physician office that it serves. Unfortunately, affordability of these services is often a prohibitive factor as well as the human error that can occur when an phone answering service is used.
Common physician complaints about live answering services include:
- Messages from the service are relayed to the wrong physician on call, sometimes repeatedly waking up this person throughout the night
- Patient names are not transcribed correctly
- Answering service staff are not well versed in medical terminology therefore incorrectly relaying chief complaints or presenting symptoms
- Calls are not triaged appropriately, with non urgent calls being lumped together with more acute calls, putting physicians more at risk for medical liability
- Patients and physicians are kept on hold for long periods of time
- Front office staff receive an influx of sick patient calls for appointments during the first hour of the practice being opened (the busiest time) from people referred from the answering service
- Cost of answering message service does not equal the quality of goods provided
Besides receiving after hour calls directly and never getting a break from patient care, another cost-effective option is to invest in a 24 hour, 7 day a week virtual answering service. These services cost a fraction of what traditional answering services cost minus the human error factors mentioned above. They have the ability to separate urgent from non-urgent calls and immediately connect calls without bundling them and relaying them at specific intervals. You won’t hear patients express frustration at being on hold for too long with these services because they handle multiple calls simultaneously and can even make appointments for the patient calling in. How is that for decreasing your front office burden in the morning, particularly on a Monday and improving your overall medical practice management?
Many considerations have to be put into your selection of an answering service. These include cost, efficiency, degree of worry, and the ability to care for your patients most effectively when you can not be there 24 hours a day, 7 days a week…just in case.