You own or manage a medical service office, and your patients are always calling…
What do you do?
The best way to accommodate patients is to offer after hours answering.
But this isn’t easy to achieve with the addition of new staff.
In fact, it may also be unfeasible.
Medical answering services provide you with the low-cost, easy solution to answering calls even when your receptionist is out of the building.
A virtual answering service or medical call center will answer calls on your behalf so that patient questions are quickly answered, and you never accidently neglect a patient in need. For the busy medical professional that already works too many hours, after hours answering services are the best solution for your business.
How Medical Answering Services Work
When a patient calls your office, the call will be forwarded to a business answering service.
This ensures that there is no delay, and a patient receives timely information.
There are no long menus where a person has to wait until they find the right after hours number to call. These services are unseen by the patient.
Instead, the patient will still think that they’re talking to someone in your office and won’t realize that they are talking with someone from an answering service.
This is all done on your behalf, and you will receive all of the messages that pass through various mediums (text, voice, email or through a web portal). The delivery medium will vary from one answering service to the next.
There are numerous answering services available, and the pricing model that is used will depend on the company.
While pricing models may vary, the following are most common:
Pay-as-you-go pricing is the best option. This can mean one of two things:
- You pay based on the number of calls received.
- You pay without a long-term contract in place.
One thing is for sure, all of the services that are pay-as-you-go do not come with long-term commitments or contracts. This will be very beneficial because it allows you to try a service and decide if it is the best for your practice.
When you use this model, it will be:
- Easier to scale based on your needs.
- Won’t come with a long-term contract.
- Offers the utmost in flexibility.
Normally, you will pay based on the number of calls received as well. If you are a big medical firm with hundreds of calls daily, this means that you’ll be charged far more than the after hours client that wants to ask you about a prescription.
The pay-as-you-go model can be more expensive for larger offices, but it is a more affordable option for smaller outlets.
Monthly options are available and may or may not come with a long-term commitment.
What is important to note is that these options normally state: as low as a certain price.
What does this really mean?
It can mean a few different things, depending on the service. This may mean:
- It’s a starting point and does not include the amount of inbound calls.
- It is the lowest monthly package offered with a certain number of calls allotted.
Essentially, the first is a pay-as-you-go option that is branded with the “as low as” wording to attract customers.
Monthly options are just as good as pay-as-you-go alternatives, provided they do not come with long-term contracts.
Most companies will not have a long-term contract for a virtual receptionist that spans more than a few months at most. You should have the opportunity to try out the service first before diving in head first and signing a contract that would hold you liable for payment even if you cancelled the service.
Language diversity is on the rise. While 60 years ago, you would find that all of your patients spoke English, many patients speak Spanish, Hebrew, French or other languages that your answering service will need to be versed in.
Obviously, it is impossible to accommodate every language.
Knowing your current patients and the languages they speak, you’re the only person that truly knows if a physician answering service should:
- Speak English
- Speak Spanish
- Speak both
English speaking services are a breeze to find, and the vast majority of answering services will offer English speaking receptionists by default.
The issue comes with other languages. Spanish is the second most popular language spoken in the United States, so more and more medical professionals are hiring receptionists that are bi-lingual to answer their phones.
It allows medical professionals to meet a wider range of clients
You will need to make the choice of whether or not the answering service chosen must be able to accommodate certain foreign languages. This is a difficult process that may require you to have two call lines: one for English, and one for another language.
You may also need a service that allows for menu options so that patients can choose their desired language before the call is connected.
Features of Medical Answering Services
Most medical answering services will have the same features. These are the necessary features, such as 24/7 answering or having your calls answered by American speakers only. A few of the features you’ll find include:
Anyone in the medical industry knows that HIPAA compliance is a necessity. This ensures that all of the information about the caller remains safe and private at all times. If any of the patient’s information was allowed into public viewing or allowed to be viewed by a person other than you, the doctor, or part of the medical staff, a major lawsuit could be filed.
It is a necessity that your chosen answering service is HIPAA compliant.
If the service you’re interested in is not compliant, you will want to run the other way. There are far too many legal issues that could arise due to incompliance.
The receptionists that answer your calls are not medical professionals. As such, they cannot legally provide medical advice to patients on your behalf. What occurs is that the patient will be greeted by the receptionist who then asks the patient who they would like to speak with.
The receptionist will then state that you’re not in the office and will personally take down the caller’s:
- Phone number
- Call ID number
The date and time of the call will also be logged at this time.
Delivery of the message is of the utmost importance. This may be the most important aspect of any answering service. There are a few different delivery methods:
- Web Portal: Using a custom domain, you will log into the web portal to find all of the information about calls sent to the answering service.
- Email: A transcript of the call sent to your email address. This will include all of the patient’s information.
- Text: A quick text message alerting you of a patient’s call, followed by a link to the information about the caller.
- Fax: Sent directly through fax. All of the patient’s information and their corresponding messages would be sent to you via fax.
- Phone: The message left would be sent to you to be checked at your convenience.
The advantages and disadvantages of all these services are apparent. With phone, it may be an inconvenience to have a call sent to you after you’re out of the office. The same goes with text if you’re not using a work-only phone.
One of the newest features that is a major advantage of web portals is call search. This may even be provided via an app that allows you to connect directly to your call database to find any calls you may have missed.
With call search, you’ll be able to find calls based on a specific patient or phone number.
Quick and easy, call search is a necessity in today’s fast-paced world where doctors need to see as many patients as possible to stay in business.
You wouldn’t expect medial answering services to not answer the call as one of your staff.
This is what allows for a sense of professionalism that your patients desire.
When call customization is provided, you may or may not have to train the call center to answer the phone in the same manner that your current staff provides.
A simple template may be needed for call customization.
This is a base feature that will be provided by virtually every call answering service in the medical industry.
Many companies do not offer appointment scheduling, which means that your staff will have to handle all scheduling needs in the morning. This is a major inconvenience for all parties involved, especially the patient that is scratching their head wondering why the person that answered the phone couldn’t schedule their appointment accordingly.
When appointment scheduling is offered, you’ll find a few advantages and disadvantages.
- Better customer experience.
- Lessens the workload for employees.
- Allows for scheduling major medical concerns quickly.
- Must allow a third-party to schedule appointments.
- Further scheduling training may be required.
- Can lead to miscommunication problems relating to scheduling.
Most medical offices and professionals prefer to have scheduling handled by an answering service. When scheduling is done for the professional, it leads to fewer outbound calls having to be made, and a greater level of customer service and satisfaction.
This is a service that will come at a premium, but it is a priceless addition to all after hour call answering.
Another service that is not always included, especially at a base price. Call routing may be offered. When calls are routed as specified by the client, this leads to a streamlined customer service solution that provides the utmost in customer service at all times.
A surgeon may have routing that will direct most calls to an answering service, but pertinent issues following surgery may be directed directly to the doctor’s personal line if deemed appropriate by the receptionist.
- Overall better customer service experience.
- Higher level of customer support.
- Complex routing allows for messages to reach the right recipient.
- Further training needed for receptionists.
- Requires a well-planned routing solution.
- Adds to the overall cost of the service.
Routing will add a level of complexity to medical answering services, but it is a great way to offer emergency assistance and screen callers based on their current situation. The same great level of documentation is offered, and you’ll find customers are far more satisfied when they can reach the proper personnel.
Medical answering services are not all the same.
While they will all provide answering of your customer’s calls, the most important features often come at a premium.
As we discussed, many of these features, such as routing or scheduling, can keep an office’s overhead costs lower while adding a whole new layer of customer service to your business.
When used appropriately, these answering services can reduce the workload of a traditional receptionist greatly.
Some services will also allow you to offer a customized screening form that will have the receptionist ask the potential patient a series of questions. These questions can have specific rules or perimeters that need to be followed based on the answer provided. This is the same process a real receptionist would provide to the patient upon receiving a call.
Ultimately, the level of customization will allow you to have a streamlined answering service that handles the “nightly” load for your receptionists.
Call answering, especially after hours and on holidays, leads to higher patient satisfaction.
Your patients need an outlet to get in contact with you at all times, and the phone is always the first form of communication that will be sought by the patient.
One thing we did not mention is that a receptionist will receive potential patient leads and convert them when scheduling is offered. By being available around the clock, it’s possible to boost profits while adding an additional layer of customer service to your medical office.
After hours answering services are the future of customer service for all medical offices and professionals. With a low price point, medical answering services are definitely a wise investment.