Answering services and socialism

12 Nov, 2015     nomorephonetagNew

Who would have thought that the traditional medical answering service and socialism would have so much in common? Well, they do…
Grewing up in Sweden in the 1970’s, we always discussed and thought a lot about communism, socialism, and capitalism. Capitalism was seen as the cold greedy solution while communism and socialism were the warm, kind solutions that guaranteed that everybody was taken care of. Socialism seemed perfect in every way. However, I always disliked it because it took away the motivation for individuals. Back then, whenever there were problems with any socialistic states, like the Soviet Union, the people on the left would always explain that the only thing needed was better leaders, and then socialism would work perfectly. Well, by the late 1980’s, it became clear to most people in the world that socialism simply didn’t work, so countries like India, China, and many others decided to go to the “dark side” (become more capitalistic), and since then, their economies have exploded.
So, I think we can all agree that socialism is not a good idea, but what does that have to do with traditional answering services? Just like socialism, the idea of a friendly, well informed and trained telephone operator answering your office phones when you can’t, seems like a no brainer. However, reality is something totally else. The call center operators are never as well trained as your staff, and it’s, of course, not legal for them to give any medical advice whatsoever. In addition, they are usually very low paid and they have to work in the middle of the night. What quality of work force can you attract with that deal? (many call centers don’t even dare to do drug screenings…)
Over and over, doctors end up being frustrated with their answering services, they switch services a couple of time, but that well run service never seems to materialize. In the end, because there no good services to be found, doctors end up believing that there are no good services available at all, and they stay with their truly sub-par provider. It just kills me…
Back to politics. Socialism seems very attractive if you ask “would you like a society where nobody is poor, starving, or uneducated, and everybody has the same chance?”. However, the question is, of course, incorrect, because socialism doesn’t deliver any of those things. Instead, history and facts has proved that socialism leads to less prosperity and more corruption.
Just like with socialism, I believe one of the reasons doctors are so emotionally attached to these sub-par answering services, is that they have they have asked themselves the wrong question. They ask themselves “would a patient in need prefer to talk to a person or with a computer?”. Of course, every person, particularly if they are in need of help, would answer that they prefer to talk to a person. However, the question is flawed. The correct question would be “what do patients want when they call their doctor’s office after hours?”. The answer is pretty obvious. Patients call for three reasons:

  1. To get information (open hours, address, etc.).
  2. To quickly and easily be able to leave a non-urgent message (scheduling, billing, etc.)
  3. If it’s urgent, to get a callback from their doctor in the shortest possible time.

When you ask the correct question, it becomes clear that the answering service telephone operators are more of a hindrance than a help for patients that call after hours. No answering service has an unlimited number of operators, so calls are answered slower and callers may be put on hold. Operators may give incorrect info, and they are slower at taking messages. They filter the information which may lead to misunderstandings or even incorrect call back numbers. Also, operators are simply not really good at triaging calls, so non-urgent issues may result in calls to the doctor in the middle of the night. Finally, operators are slower at contacting the doctor, they sometimes make mistakes about who’s on call, and they are less accurate at escalating if the doctor doesn’t respond.
Last year, the manager of one of our customers was in a group discussion with other practice managers of large medical offices. These practice managers are all in charge of substantial medical groups, and they are very good at what they do One of the other practice managers that runs an eye surgery practice with about 10 MD’s, had lots of problems with her answering service, so she asked the other managers if they were using answering services, and if they would recommend the service they use. Going around the table, each manager stated that they use a service, and they have learned to work with them, but none of them would recommend the service they used. Finally, when she asked the manager of a large oncology practice, she learned that use an answering service (No More Phone Tag), and she was happy to recommend her service, Now, the eye surgery practice is on board with us and they never have to worry about how their calls are handled after hours.
Today, at the noble age of 56, I know that a market economy (or capitalism) is actually the warmer and friendlier option. The people have the rights in those societies to create their own success instead of being at the mercy of the people on top. Well, the same is true for answering services. If you give the doctors, patients, and staff the power to make informed decisions, everybody ends up being so much happier.

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