Since the duties of hospitals, doctors, and nurses have increased, the healthcare field is resorting to medical answering services for handling crucial communication channels. Instead of employing staff to handle calls all through the day and night, medical organizations work with expert personnel like the Best Call Center to provide effective and timely patient attention. From scheduling appointments to sending reminders and answering patients’ calls, medical answering services achieve what seems impossible in the medical field.

Overview of Answering Services

Even though most healthcare providers may feel they have all it takes to manage patient calls during working hours, there’s a chance you are not well-equipped to handle them during holidays or after office hours. When calls flood in during work, it eventually will result in frustrated patients and long holds. This is a clear indication of insufficient answering services.

Instead of overburdening office employees with duties that slow down their patient care responsibility, most medical practices have turned to medical answering services. They simplify operations, thereby freeing their staff so they can concentrate on achieving an unrivaled customer experience.

Eventually, a medical answering service enables you to provide high-quality services and increase your profit consistently.

How They Work

A medical answering service responds to patients’ calls on medical professionals’ behalf, when:

  • Their practice is closed
  • They are incapable of taking calls at peak hours
  • At any time, either during the day or at night

When any patient calls you or the office, that call will automatically be redirected to an answering service, and a trained call answering agent answers it for you. Based on the patient’s needs, the agent addresses common concerns or transfers the call to your office staff as required, taking comprehensive notes while at it. How every call gets handled is based on your needs and your practice.

An answering service agent works with you and helps you develop a suitable call workflow that ensures your patients’ needs are met while ensuring you obtain the necessary information that will help do your work. Your agent’s documented organizational socialization process will summarize how you will agree on the best process, including how they’ll communicate with you or your staff. For instance, should the agent have a message from a patient that they need to deliver to you, you may opt to pass it via an encrypted email or text message. Alternatively, you may choose that they send it via the website portal of your answering service.

Handling health emergencies is one of the key components of hiring answering services. Emergencies are not scheduled to occur at a particular time. They rarely arise during working hours. Also, your patients may not be aware of what entails a real emergency. However, they understand the general protocol. An answering service has to follow your rules for when patients should wait until the following day when they should call 911, and when their call or message should be rerouted to an on-call doctor.

The secret to successful organizational socialization is your agent’s investment in comprehending your unique process and business needs. Thus, a competitive answering service will train its agent on your medical practice for a given period.

Answering Services Can Support Your Distinctive Practice

There is a need for medical answering services to be adjustable to every healthcare provider’s distinctive needs. However, some answering service providers are inflexible and might not be fit for supporting your work.

Here are the various indications that a particular answering service is capable of supporting your needs:

Unprejudiced Recognition of Excellence

One simple and best way to determine whether a medical answering service meets your work’s high-quality standards is by checking if they have ever won the ATSI Award of Excellence. This coveted award is granted to the tested medical services as part of a secret shopper program. Judges from the ATSI (Association of TeleServices International) assess answering services for six months, basing their assessment on their accuracy, response time, courtesy, the kind of services they provide to their customers. Only those that have a high score get this award.

Information Retrieval

Based on how great your practice is and the number of stakeholders who need to access call data, you should opt for a service that permits you to control how you collect information. The best means of a process like this is via a comprehensive website portal. A web portal will enable stakeholders to view and update contact information, retrieve messages from any device, run detailed reports, update your on-call schedules, etc. Whoever you allow access, this info simply depends on you and your specific needs.

Software Integration

Various healthcare practices might need to combine their practice management software with their answering services’ web portal. When it comes to a call center industry, customers have championed enhanced Customer Relationship Management integration to improve data access and, at the same time, ease data analysis. Healthcare practices precisely have needed integration of this kind for class and seminar registration. If you’ve got a requirement like this, you will want to ensure a prospective partner/agent can integrate with your software program.

Our Services Go Beyond Just Answering Calls

Often, medical answering services offer other high-quality services beyond merely answering patients’ calls. For example, they can schedule appointments, thereby relieving your staff of administrative duties. They can also offer reminder services, thus helping you minimize missing critical events. Certain answering services even provide nurse triage services that deal with less-demanding medical needs.

Reminders and Appointment Scheduling

In the medical field, a patient might call seeking to schedule next-or same-day appointments. He/she might be anxious about seeing a doctor immediately and has arranged to call your office the second you open for the day’s work. Answering services can spare healthcare providers the hassle of scheduling anxious patients, which means they will do it for them.

An automatic appointment reminder service ensures none of your patients forget about their appointment dates and appears when scheduled. The service will not only minimize failures to show and have your schedule occupied but also help you increase your working efficiency. This is because the amount of time your staff spends on these duties can be allocated for other responsibilities, and the expenses of sending email reminders are eliminated. Ultimately, an effective appointment reminder service will enhance the performance and profitability of your practice.

Appointment reminder methods are:

  • Text message appointment reminders — Studies have shown that text message reminders are the most preferred by patients. You will speak with your agent concerning patients’ preferences and often generate better and quicker confirmation responses.
  • Email appointment reminders — Email reminders come second in the list of the most preferred appointment reminder methods. You will be capable of sending emails with your practice’s brand. Your patients will be able to confirm their appointments by only clicking on the link in those emails. Upon clicking, their confirmation will be automatically updated on your answering service’s web portal.
  • Telephone reminders — These provide custom, professionally-recorded and articulate messages to patients. The answering service might even be capable of recording these messages in several languages to satisfy your patients’ needs.
  • Smartphone application reminders — If you have a reminder app for Android and iPhone devices, your patients could get push notifications straight on their phones to remind them of the approaching appointments they have with you. What is best is that the patients can add their appointments directly to the calendar on their phones.

You simply need to upload the patients’ names and details to your answering service appointment portal then select the contact method these patients prefer. The portal also gives you instant visibility into which patient has already confirmed his/her appointment and who might want to reschedule. It is even possible to generate reports that indicate each member of your staff’s day-to-day schedule, which allows you to modify your calendar by filling canceled or rescheduled appointments as required.

Nurse Triage Services

As we mentioned earlier, certain answering services that specialize in supporting healthcare offices provide nonstop nurse triage services. Health systems, practitioners, and physicians can leverage nurse triage answering services to provide their patients immediate and easy contact with URAC-certified nurses that offer expert medical advice.

First, triage nurses determine the needs of your patients. Then, they will adhere to your administrative protocol. In case the patient’s requirements are crucial, the nurse connects him/her to any of your physicians or nurses. Also, they can pass messages to physicians if a particular patient has to consult a doctor. Finally, you will then be capable of reviewing day-to-day triage answering reports via the client portal, fax, or email to evaluate the triage call’s volume and your patients’ needs.

Hiring Services That Are HIPAA-Compliant

It isn’t news saying that the answering service you employ has to abide by the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) regulations. However, not all of these services comply with the rules. Answering services worth working with will take additional measures to protect the PHI (Protected Health Information) of their clients’ patients.

Legal Requirements for Obtaining Services

How your call answering agent communicates critical information to your patients and stores data is an essential differentiator.  As per the United States’ Health and Human Services Department,  if you hire a medical answering service,  you should have a written contract with the provider or any other agreement establishing specifically what the answering service is engaged to do. The department also requires that your answering agent complies with the regulations’ requirements to safeguard the security and privacy of PHI. Answering services are directly responsible for adherence to specific provisions of HIPAA rules and regulations. 

The Significance of HIP AA-Acquiescent Answering Service

For both you and your answering agent to have flawless operations, you must have a website portal, which will enable you to access instantaneous data.  Since the data might include Protected Health Information, the portal has to have security measures to guarantee patient information security.  An unprotected message containing Protected Health Information is problematic to your work.  If HIPAA data leaks or is breached, the impending loss of trust and fines are severe consequences.  

Note that your data is not only at risk in the course of transmission.  Data-at-rest (the digital information that is usually stored in the cloud or drive) is equally vulnerable to theft or loss.  Whether it is spreadsheets, databases, offsite backups, or archives, data-at-rest has to be encrypted.  If your answering agent has this info within his/her control, he/she has to take similar measures as you for the protection of patient data. Ensure the website portal of your answering service has an EVC (Extended Validation Certificate). This is an additional encryption level, verifying that the portal is under a legal organization’s control.  

Choosing the Best Medical Answering Service Provider

Since the healthcare industry spends a significant period dealing with patient communication, most answering service providers have adopted it to meet its unique needs. Because there are many providers to hire from, you should know how to choose the best one that your practice needs. Here are tips on how you can select an ideal answering service provider.

  • First, you have to determine the primary solutions you should have and which extra benefits are worth the additional cost. Eventually, the best answering service will add significant value to the business. Apart from merely answering patients’ calls, they will take comprehensive notes, manage emergency health situations, and take screen calls to reduce staff interruption.
  • When talking to potential service providers, inquire about other aspects other than the answering services. Know how that provider can assist you in providing an unrivaled patient experience, maximizing your profit, and increasing process efficiencies. If they are not capable of achieving these, they are not worth hiring.
  • Apart from understanding the healthcare field, any answering service you are working with also needs to learn what your requirements are and provide recommendations. Talking to potential providers much more gives you more insight into how flexible they can be to your needs.

Factors Affecting Medical Answering Services Charges

How medical answering services are priced depends on several factors, and it could change depending on the plan you opt for. The significant differences arise from selecting per-call or per-minute billing.

Time-based pricing shows the actual amount of time your answering agent spends supporting your practice. This time might be spent on answering or placing calls, sending messages, etc.  It is worth noting that if an answering service provider charges strictly for the period they spend on the phone, it is likely that their per-minute charges will be highly expensive. This is because they will accommodate the extra support they offer when they are not speaking to patients.

The extra valuable support that an answering service can offer also affects your cost. HIPAA-compliant text messaging or storage, enhanced reporting, and appointment reminders may increase your charges. Certain providers also charge for taking calls during holidays.

Per-call pricing critically depends on the definition of a ‘call’ by an answering service provider. A provider might charge a similar rate for calls when a patient immediately hangs up or dials the wrong number. These calls aren’t valuable to your business in any way, but they will cost you the same amount as when the patient gets actual help. Certain providers might even categorize emails and text messages into their definition of ‘call’.

Advantages of Medical Answering Services

Imagine all you can gain with an answering service agent taking your calls. Here are just a few of the benefits you have:

  • More time for you and your employees to focus on critical duties. If there isn’t any ringing phone that you need to answer constantly, you can use your time more efficiently. Call volume can be overwhelming even to the savviest administrative staff. A medical answering service comes in handy, especially during busy periods. With an answering agent on standby, your patients will never be put on hold, waiting for someone they can talk to.
  • A medical answering service agent can handle patients themselves by taking messages and answering questions that you will follow up at your own convenient time. Alternatively, they can redirect calls to the correct person or department within your practice when applicable.
  • An improved online reputation and more positive reviews from patients because their experience will be unmatched. Medical answering service will enable you to reach even the patients that are away and please them with your willingness and availability to help them irrespective of the location or time.
  • Improved office organization, accountability, and communication by using powerful tools to manage your calls and messages - Hiring an answering service to support your patients is great. Additionally, an answering service agent can be more valuable to your business in other ways, including their proprietary and powerful account management tools.

General Problems Associated With Medical Answering Services 

Taking into account the stakes, coming across a competitive answering service provider can be stressful. You should go for a provider that can offer, at the minimum, the same degree of quality your employees can provide. Also, as patient experience increases, you cannot afford to do business with an inferior service provider.  Ultimately, your health insurance provider might downgrade your business should your patients report less-than-worthwhile experiences.  

These are the characteristics that indicate an answering service is subpar and may lead to non-worthwhile patient experiences.  They may also be an indicator that you will have problems with your answering service.

Rushed Onboarding

Usually, it takes a considerable amount of time for an answering agent to learn your practice’s specific needs and devise suitable workflows. However, medical practices do not often realize how a rushed onboarding process affects their work until it is too late. Your answering service provider should include you in the onboarding process to ensure your specific needs are satisfied.  If you aren’t involved, the answering service may not know what exactly your patients want from you. A hurriedly conducted onboarding process can also signify that an answering service is not spending adequate time training their answering agents.  

Inadequate Communication 

Any patient wants and needs to have their health concerns addressed as soon as possible. The moment this patient calls, they want to be told that their problem will be resolved quickly. How would they feel if their call is not answered entirely or promptly? What if the answering agent is struggling to comprehend their issue and take the necessary action? How will the patient feel? How will a patient feel if they do not get feedback since their message didn’t reach the intended person? 

High-quality communication is vital to sustaining an excellent patient experience.  If there isn’t this kind of communication in your business, you risk tarnishing your reputation and losing patients.  You need an answering agent that can effectively answer a patient's calls within a specified number of rings and give you instant access messages.  

Nonexistent or Mediocre Training

Particularly in the healthcare field, in-depth training is a necessity. Answering service companies are known to have a high turnover rate of employees, which could compromise their capability of maintaining a high-standard call experience. Much of their training is based on professionalism and baseline telephone etiquette. However, working in the medical space needs additional specific attention.

In case an answering agent does not get adequate training on patient confidentiality and HIPAA compliance, they will be a liability to the business. Additionally, as we mentioned earlier, working with hospitals and medical practices requires an answering service company to train their employees on evaluating what situations qualify as true emergencies and which ones do not.

Limited Support

Whereas your fundamental need is to have an agent capable of answering patients’ calls, there’s a chance that you may need much more support so that you can adequately meet all the needs of your patients.  From call recording and thorough documentation to scheduling appointments and appointment reminders, an invaluable answering agent offers many other solutions that streamline your practice. Do not select an answering service provider until you’ve understood all their services and evaluated how your partnering with them will affect your profitability and daily operations. 

Finding the Best Medical Answering Services Near Me

Undoubtedly, a medical answering service can do a lot for your practice that you shouldn’t think twice about not hiring one. In case you care deeply about your practice’s reputation, bottom line, and, most importantly, your patients, you cannot afford to overlook partnering with an expert medical answering service. Best Call Center is the leading answering service provider for healthcare practice across the country. We always strive to provide high-standard services to all clients, including excellent telecommunication and customer support that eliminates mediocre customer experience. Talk to us about your needs by calling 800-385-4656. We are confident that partnering with us will benefit you and the patients you serve a great deal.