We can all picture the old fashioned phone operators of the fifties- sitting neatly in their perfectly pleated dresses, with their hair up in victory rolls, neatly plugging their wires into the correct holes. These are the original answering services, and they never exactly become obsolete. Doctors were the very first clients to need the help of trained answering services.
Physicians in the 1920’s were often needed in several places at once, and they often traveled to care for very ill patients. It’s easy to imagine just how uncomfortable it could be for rural Americans to try and travel to see a doctor in the 1920’s when they were suffering from anything that caused real pain. Motorized vehicles still weren’t available in many areas, and trying to move an ill person or very pregnant woman by horse and cart was dangerous.
Phones were popular and fairly widespread, and this made it more practical to call the doctor- bringing him to you. Answering machines weren’t exactly available back then, and this made it necessary for doctors to make sure that someone was available to answer phones. This was more than just a necessary service- it was one that saved lives! Now we live in an era of med answering services, and electronic recording devices. Things weren’t always this easy!
In the 1880’s the original phone operators (a little bit more old-fashioned than the ones we picture from the 1950’s) were coming up with the first real system for taking messages. They generally patched calls through using people’s last names. When they decided to start taking messages- they began assigning people numbers. They could take messages specifically for a certain number by request. When that number called in, they could either receive their messages by phone- or just go and pick them up in person.
As the 20th century saw new progress in technology, the switchboard became a thing of the past. It wasn’t long before new automated programs took over the organization of calls, and switchboards were relegated to major office buildings. This meant that executives and people working within large companies were almost always guaranteed an answering service of some kind. This was important, as we were still years from the digital age. What few people understand is just how important it was to have a way to get and keep important information. This wasn’t a matter of recording devices, or ways to capture messages as they happened. They literally had to write things down word for word- and they had to make sure to be absolutely accurate. One wrong word, and the entire message could be distorted.
The next evolution in answering services came in the form of the answering machine. They thought that this would be a fantastic way to record and convey information- but it lacked the personal touch necessary for certain industries. Physicians and dentists require someone who can prioritize their calls, and can get people through to the necessary professionals.
Someone who is experiencing a medical emergency or an urgent question that only their physician can attend to- probably needs to get through to a doctor quickly. They can’t wait on someone to listen to a message and evaluate their status. Even in this era of digital and instant communication, we need that personal touch in order to properly service the clients that really need it.
Doctors today have the option of using answering services that are outsourced to companies that specialize in their professions. This is an excellent option that saves them money- while improving their level of quality service!