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Beware of the Pitfalls of Medical Answering Services

Beware of the Pitfalls of Medical Answering Services

Written by Editorial Team on . Posted in Medical Answering Services

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.

Can Your Company Afford to NOT Have an Answering Service

Can Your Company Afford to NOT Have an Answering Service?

Written by Editorial Team on . Posted in Answering Services

Businesses whose customers need after-hours access can rely on answering services to provide that access. In fact, live answering services is our business here at Apello. One of the things we hear a lot from potential customers is that they cannot afford an answering service. Here’s our take: can your company afford to NOT utilize a service?

Businesses tend to look at affordability in terms of direct financial transactions. They look at what comes in as opposed to what goes out, but only in strict transactional terms. Many do not tend to look at the indirect costs of doing what they do. Therein lies the key to truly appreciating the value of an answering service.

For purposes of illustration, imagine you own a small property management company. It is just you and your spouse. Your spouse thinks hiring a property management answering service makes good financial sense; you disagree.

First Thing’s First: The Calls

The first thing you and your spouse need to do is sit down and decide what you’re going to do with incoming calls. You only have two choices. You can either answer them or ignore them. If you choose to ignore them, be prepared to count the financial cost of doing so.

Tenants are none too happy when they need help but cannot get in touch with the property manager. Whether the heat goes out or the sink won’t drain, you can bet a tenant will remember when it comes time to renew the lease.

Heaven forbid a tenant has a genuine emergency that could significantly damage the property. Not being able to contact you could mean steep financial losses. Again, not good.

Answering the Calls

Knowing what you know about property management, it makes sense to answer the calls when they come in. Not hiring a property management answering service means you don’t have that monthly financial outlay. But that doesn’t mean you get away scott-free.

You and your spouse could handle the calls yourself. But your time is worth something. Remember that every hour you work is another hour you cannot do other things. So if you are working after hours and not getting paid anything extra, you are losing on multiple levels.

Not interested in handling the calls yourself? Then you will need to hire someone to do it for you. That means paying wages and benefits. It also means extra time handling payroll, withholding, taxes, etc. That is more time for which you are not compensated. All those hours can add up to the point of seriously depleting the value of your salary.

One Way or Another, It Costs

Here is the bottom line. One way or another, call traffic costs money to deal with. There’s no getting around it. Ignoring after-hour calls costs money by making it more expensive to deal with the issues in the morning. Answering the calls costs money in terms of the labor involved. You are going to pay regardless of how you decide to handle things.

We are admittedly biased. As a live answering service, we are always going to promote the benefits of hiring a company like ours. Be that as it may, our marketing doesn’t change the fact that calls represent customers trying to reach you for whatever reason. Being unsuccessful in that endeavor is not good for your business.

Small businesses of all types rely on customers to stay in business. To keep them happy, their calls need to be answered in a timely manner by competent people. Hiring a live answering service addresses that without having to add more staff.

Shopping for an Answering Service Why Prices Vary So Much

Shopping for an Answering Service: Why Prices Vary So Much

Written by Editorial Team on . Posted in Answering Services

Shopping around for a live answering service can be a daunting task. There are so many things to consider, and business owners don’t want to just settle for the first answering service they find. Then there is the cost issue. Not only do you not want to pay too much, but prices between services can vary significantly.

Price variation exists in every industry. If it is not an answering service you are looking at, it could be a landscaping company or a cleaning service. You cannot escape price variation. However, it’s fair to say that there is more variation in our industry than some others. There are valid reasons for this. None of them have to do with answering services trying to rob customers blind.

Historical Best Practices

One of the most pervasive aspects of pricing an answering service is the historical best practices our industry has followed for decades. Answering services have been around for a long, long time. Some companies in our industry are just stuck in their old ways. They still bill the way they did back in the 1990s.

In that sense our industry is a lot like healthcare. Evolution can be slow and tedious. Fortunately, service providers that have kept up with the times usually offer the most streamlined and efficient pricing structures.

Individual Business Models

Business models have a significant impact on pricing. For example, a lot of live answering services bill every four weeks. Do the math and you will discover that a four-week billing cycle results in 13 bills annually. Other companies, like Apello, bill monthly. That means 12 bills per year.

Another example is rounding. There are answering services that round up to the nearest minute. So if a call takes a minute and a half, the company might round up to two minutes for billing purposes. There are answering services that don’t round up at all.

Included Services

Answering incoming calls forms the basis of what live answering services do. The most bare bones providers only answer and take basic information. Their prices tend to be the cheapest. But answering services can offer additional options including transferring calls, holding them, sending messages via text or email, generating message reports, and so on.

All the included services affect pricing structure. Ideally, being able to choose between an all-inclusive package or an à la carte service is the way to go. This plays into business models.

Billing Basis

The basis on which an answering service bills also affects pricing. The two most common models are per-minute and per-call. If you compared five service providers on a per-minute basis, you would probably find a wide variety of pricing due to rounding-up practices.

Under both models, pricing tends to be tiered. You pay one rate if your call volume or minutes falls within a certain window. A higher window would mean a higher base rate.

Technology Utilization

Believe it or not, the technology that an answering service works with can influence pricing significantly. Some technologies make call answering more efficient, especially when they utilize things like automation and artificial intelligence. On the other hand, doing everything manually requires more work. You can guess which scenario would tend to lean toward higher prices.

Since companies do things in so many different ways, combining all these factors together inevitably leads to a lot of pricing variation. Will our industry ever simplify pricing? Who knows? The one thing we can say for sure is that it is important for you to fully understand a service provider’s pricing structure before signing on the dotted line.

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