As a doctor, you really don’t think that something as simple as choosing the right answering service call center will be a challenge, but this relatively small expense turns out to be a critical part of your practice. Here are seven of the most common (and important) mistakes doctors make when choosing an answering service.
1. Thinking that most answering services are the same or that it doesn’t matter. How important is it to choose the right service? Your answering service is really your “after hours receptionist”. Your daytime receptionist is often the first interaction your patients have with your practice. If he/she doesn’t sound nice, caring, and professional, or if she is less skilled or sloppy with details, the result is disastrous for your practice. The same is true after-hours; having the best possible service is critical for how your patients see you and how well they are being served. You might not like to think of your practice as a business, but your patients are really your customers.
2. Not recognizing how important it is for you to have a service tailored to your office. It sounds really easy at first- please answer our phones and if it’s urgent, please contact me (the doctor). However, there are other things to consider like how you want to be contacted, what to do if you don’t respond, who’s on call and when, what to do when you’re out of town, what to do when you’re closed for lunch, do you want your nurse to know what calls you handled last night, what to do with non-urgent consults, prescription refills, etc. Putting it plainly, it’s a huge help for you to have an answering service that is an expert in the medical answering field so you don’t have to “reinvent the wheel”. With the right medical answering service, these very complex issues are much easier for you.
3. Thinking that it’s just something we’ll use after hours. What do you do when you’re closed for lunch? Who will be on call (if anybody) at that time? What do you do if your phone lines are busy or your front desk is not able to answer? What do you do if someone forgets to turn on the answering service before leaving the office? All these issues can be handled, but if you have never thought about them, you’ll end up not taking advantage of all the help a great service can provide.
4. Believing that the traditional operator service is the only way to go. It’s true that for some applications (i.e. appointment setting), the traditional operator service is still the best choice. However, for nearly all other areas of a medical answering service, a completely automated service will serve the patients better and eliminate frustrations for the doctor on call. A well-designed, automated service will separate the urgent and non-urgent calls, make it easier and faster for the patient to leave a message, deliver the message faster and with more accuracy to the doctor, and make it easier for the doctor to call back. Patients have no interest in wasting time speaking with a call center employee with no medical training; they just want to reach their doctor in the shortest amount of time.
5. Underestimating how frustrating it can be when your service is less than perfect. Few things are as frustrating for you, the doctor, as when you get called after hours when you are not on call. Or, even worse, your patient is in pain and needs you, and your service doesn’t contact you right away. It is also frustrating when your service is inconsistent with what is considered urgent and are told to call back a patient who just asks a routine question. You’ll be amazed with how hard it is for most answering services to triage calls correctly.
6. Not making it easy to leave non-urgent messages to be returned when the office is open (i.e. new patient inquiries). Nobody likes to have to spell and repeat everything to a call center operator. Americans put a huge value on time and convenience, so you need to make it as quick and easy as possible for your patients to interact with you, even during the hours when your office is closed.
7. Thinking that if it costs more, it has to be better. This line of thinking might be true about most cars and wine, but not when it comes to a medical answering service. Over and over, medical professionals switch to our company from traditional services because they have had ongoing quality problems. After they have been with us for a while, they find that not only have we solved their problems, but we also cut their bills by 50-90%!
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