Medical offices don’t necessarily stay open around the clock. At the same time, emergencies do not always occur during office hours. So in order to give patients around-the-clock access, providers contract with medical answering services. They have been doing so for as long as most of us can remember.
Medical answering services are available just about everywhere. Major cities have more options, but even smaller towns have access to medical answering services in one form or another. The big thing for providers is choosing the right one.
This post will not try to convince you that Apello is your best bet. We will leave that to the quality of our service. Instead, we want to key you in on some of the pitfalls of medical answering services. If you can find a provider that you are confident will help you avoid these pitfalls, you’ll be in a good position.
Pitfall #1: Poor Communication Skills
Patients calling in after-hours expect to reach someone who is competent, knowledgeable, and able to actually help them. It all starts with communication skills. Poor communication scares patients away. It diminishes their confidence in their providers.
It is a mistake to believe that communication skills do not matter. It is a mistake to believe that anyone who can answer a phone can do the job well. When it comes to answering calls that could involve medical emergencies, answering personnel must have good communication skills.
Pitfall #2: Slow Response Times
Medical answering services should make speed a priority. Not that in the sense that they rush through one call to get to the next, but in the sense that calls are answered in a timely manner. It is a mistake to be slow to answer and then leave patients on hold for minutes at a time.
Calls should be answered quickly. If necessary, callers should be connected to a manager or on-call doctor or nurse. If there are messages involved, they should be forwarded to the clinician as quickly as possible.
Pitfall #3: Improper Compliance Training
The next pitfall is a big one, especially if an answering service does not exclusively handle medical calls. Here it is – improper compliance training. Failure to maintain compliance can get an answering service in trouble. Any such trouble can fall back on the clinician.
The main issue here is HIPAA compliance. In accordance with HIPAA rules, medical answering services need to be just as diligent about protecting personal information as primary care offices, public clinics, and hospitals. There is little room for error.
Pitfall #4: Insufficient Call Documentation
Any type of live answering service should be documenting calls through a combination of recordings and written records. Documentation provides answers when a problem or discrepancy arises. That said, documentation is critical for medical answering services. Again, you are dealing with potential medical emergencies. You’re dealing with human lives. Proper call documentation is not optional.
Pitfall #5: Lack of Additional Services
A basic call answering service might do nothing more than answer calls and take basic information. That’s fine for some industries; it’s not doable for medical calls. Paying only for basic service can come back to bite a clinician later on. As such, it is worth paying for additional services like appointment scheduling, triage, and message forwarding.
The underlying theme here is really getting what you pay for. Many of the pitfalls that come with hiring a live medical answering service arise from trying to get away on the cheap. In the medical realm, you cannot afford to skimp. Your patients need you to invest in an answering service capable of getting the job done right.