Working with a third party answering service is a requirement for most medical practices, of any size. The answering service helps manage incoming calls to the practice not only during off hours windows, such as nights and weekends, but also during busy times in normal business hours, when practice staff aren’t able to handle the incoming call volume on their own.
An answering service helps triage patient calls and also relays time sensitive messages and consult requests from other providers. Calls that are not answered in a timely fashion by professional operators can lead to poor patient outcomes, as well as lost referral revenue. Therefore, choosing an answering service is an important decision for a medical practice.
Here are the top five things that practices often forget to ask when evaluating a potential answering service partner:
- “How many hours of training do each of your staff members receive?”
It’s important that operators both speak professionally and knowledgeably and also be able to closely follow the triage script that has been provided to them by the practice.
- “How do you manage updates to practice call schedules?”
Physician on-call schedules can change frequently as providers trade shifts and switch days. It’s critical that the answering service have a reliable method for both receiving, and distributing to its operators, the latest updates to a practice’s call schedule.
- “Do you use a secure messaging system?”
For practices that wish to have their on-call physicians texted, or “paged” in certain scenarios, rather than receiving a phone call, it’s essential that the answering service offer a reliable HIPAA compliant messaging system, or the ability to integrate with the tool already in use at the practice.
- “Can you follow my escalation policy?”
Often, a practice’s contract with a hospital includes an SLA related to response time to a consult requests. When working with an answering service, it’s important that an escalation policy be established, and closely followed, so that operators ensure a physician receives and is able to respond to calls in compliance with the practice’s SLA at the facility in question.
- “Can you process payments?”
Many practices accept payments for patient responsibility over the phone. A good answering service should have the willingness and ability to train its operators to process payments on behalf of the practice.