Medical professionals are frequent users of virtual receptionist services. This article discusses the benefits of medical answering services and how these virtual receptionist services for medical practices work.
Virtual receptionist for medical practices
Doctors (or their administrators) need to worry about billing, patient records and privacy, dealing with insurance providers and Medicare, etc. But not everything needs to be difficult. One piece of medical practice management that can easily be outsourced is answering the phones.
For almost as long as there have been phones, there have been medical answering services – services that are designed to answer patient phone calls and make sure that urgent messages are relayed to the right doctor or other individual, while less urgent calls are tracked and saved for handling at an appropriate time (like when the office staff is in the office the next day). Medical answering services now also provide intelligent voice responses (to handle certain types of interactions more cost effectively) as well as chat, SMS and email answering services.
This article is designed to answer all of your questions about medical answering services. If you want to learn more, read this discussion of the telephone answering industry or this article about what is a telephone answering service?
Why would I need a Medical Answering Service?
If you run your own practice, or are part of a larger practice, your patients will expect that they can reach you in the event of an emergency or other situation that requires a medical professional. They expect to be able to reach you even after normal business hours and on the weekend. Medical issues don’t follow a traditional work week.
There is no way for you to have a life outside of your practice if you were forced to answer all after hours calls. Further, it would be expensive for you to hire staff to handle your phone calls 24/7. The answer is to hire a medical answering service to handle calls when you or your staff are not in the office.
How does a Doctor Answering Service Work?
Medical answering services make it easy for you to outsource your after hours calls. You will typically go through an onboarding or setup phase in which you instruct the answering service how you want your phones to be answered, who will be designated as the “on call” person each day, and what types of calls should be “dispatched” or transferred to the on call person.
In general, a good medical answering service will ensure the onboarding process is smooth and that you are easily able to roll over calls to their virtual receptionists during the hours you want them to handle your calls. When a call comes in on your phone line, the answering service presents the virtual receptionist with details about how you like your calls to be answered and handled. Often, a script is presented to the virtual receptionist that makes sure they answer the phone the way you want them to.
The virtual receptionist then determines whether the call needs to be dispatched or transferred to you or one of your employees. For example, if the call is an emergency and the caller really does need to talk to you or another medical professional in your practice group, then the virtual receptionist will attempt to dispatch or transfer the call to you.
In some situations, the caller need not be transferred, but should be assured that a medical professional will be notified of the call immediately. In these situations, a secure message may be dispatched or sent to the on-call medical professional by the virtual receptionist.
For HIPAA and other privacy reasons, these secure messages may be sent using a secure pager or a secure application on your phone. A good medical answering service will be able to make sure that calls, messages and other information is accurately and securely dispatched to the appropriate on-call individual.
Most medical answering services allow you to log in to a secure web portal to update and configure your practices on-call schedule. The on-call schedule determines how calls and messages get dispatched to different members of your team. The on-call schedule is a key feature of a good medical answering service.
When a call or message is dispatched to the on-call team member, most answering services track the message or call to make sure that the on-call team member confirms that they received it and that they will follow up with the initial caller. This confirmation is typically referred to as an “acknowledgement” or acceptance of the dispatched message.
How do I choose a Medical Answering Service Provider?
For a detailed checklist of how to choose an answering service provider, use our Guide to Picking the Right Answering Service. The details in that checklist apply to any answering service, including a medical answering service. However, medical answering services add a few complexities that you should be aware of.
First, you'll need to make sure the service you select is HIPAA compliant. Make sure that they understand they will need to sign and comply with a HIPAA business associate agreement (and make sure they understand HIPAA and are not just claiming they do). You may want to ask them questions about how they protect patient data and how patient data is stored. Also, if they record patient phone calls, are those recordings properly protected and encrypted?
Next, you'll need to confirm that they have a secure way of messaging you and other medical professionals in your practice. A message that includes patient data cannot be sent via SMS or email as those transports are typically not encrypted. Many medical answering services use special applications that encrypt communications. For example, you may be required to download a mobile app on your phone to receive “dispatches” or other messages.
Finally, confirm that the medical answering service provider has other medical clients. You don't want to teach an answering service how to handle patient matters — instead, choose a service with experience with doctors, patients and medical issues.
How much does a Medical Answering Service Cost?
Medical answering services typically charge by the phone call or by the minute (including time spent configuring the system, time spent dispatching messages, etc). Expect to pay at a minimum several hundred dollars a month, but the cost will likely be more than that. But remember, you are trading those dollars for your time, which is much more valuable.
If you have more questions or would like to hear our recommendations of the better medical answering service providers in your area, please contact us, we'd love to help.