4 Tips for an Effective Medical Answering Service

Managed properly, forwarding your lines to an answering service can be an effective way to field patient calls after-hours. Your practice can provide a better level of care, filter messages for on-call personnel and avoid the high costs associated with hiring dedicated staff.

However, done improperly, relationships with patients can be harmed and money wasted. This brief guide will help you make sure you do everything you can on your end to make the relationship a success.

1. Make sure your account instructions fit your practice
It’s important that you spend some extra time making sure your inbound call script and account instructions are appropriate for the type of calls being handled on your account.

If your service provider has worked with a lot of medical practices in the past, chances are they have a standard script and account instructions that they will present to you. Although these default scripts are a great starting point, they most likely aren’t a perfect fit right out of the box.

For example, some practices do not handle prescription calls after hours and do not want their on-call personnel paged for anything regarding a prescription. Other practices may routinely take such calls and may have patients with urgent prescription needs after hours.

As you can imagine, having an account that does not allow the proper calls to reach on-call personnel is a major problem, one that can not only harm your reputation, but also result in lawsuits and financial losses.

So, take some extra time and explore the script from every angle, ensuring the questions and corresponding instructions match with your procedures.

2. Inform the right people of your call center procedures
It’s important that everyone involved — including on-call doctors, patients and office staff — be informed of your call center’s procedures and how they are personally affected by them.

Doctors should be aware of how the call center will be contacting them after hours and how to make changes to that procedure; patients should be aware of what is an acceptable after hours emergency and how to reach the call center; office staff should be aware of how non-urgent messages will reach them in the morning, and whether or not they are listed as a back-up for account clarifications.

3. Treat your call center as part of your practice and update them regularly
Just as it’s important to keep parties on your end informed, it’s also important to regularly update your call center. By considering them a part of your business, you’ll be more likely to include them when instituting changes that may affect how they operate.

So if your schedule changes, you add or lose doctors, your on-call procedures change, or you build a website for downloading new patient forms, it’s important your call center is made aware.

4. Use your call center data to make improvements
All of the calls handled by your call center should be logged and recorded, and there are a variety of ways this data can be used to improve your operation and ensure that your call center is effective.

As an example, you may notice that a certain amount of minutes are being used but you aren’t receiving any messages. After listening to some calls, you determine this is due to only accepting emergencies after hours and asking other callers to call back.

Armed with the knowledge that a lot of patients are calling for things after hours they can’t be assisted with, you may decide to make some changes to either reduce these calls or improve what can be done for them.

So maybe you have your call center record a pre-screen asking non-urgent callers to call back during office hours and send out an email to patients about what your call center is capable of, if you want to reduce the calls, or perhaps you take a closer look at the reasons people are calling and work with your call center to allow agents to take more messages and perform more tasks, thus eliminating the need for people to call back the next day.

Either way, you’ve taken advantage of the information your call center data reveals and taken action to improve patient care, something that your patients will certainly appreciate.

By following these steps and working closely with a professional and reputable call center, you can be certain that you’re providing the highest level of care to your patients.

Has your practice had success with an answering service? Tell us how it worked.

Gere Jordan works in business development and operations at Continental Message Solution, Inc. (CMS), a medical answering service and call center outsourcing company based in Columbus, Ohio. He has experience designing and implementing effective medical call center solutions and improving communication workflows. You can reach him via email at gere.jordan@continentalmessage.com.