Medical Answering Service Technology

By Robin L. Davis and Julie Deyett

In every medical practice and hospital, quick and accurate messaging is critical to physician and patient satisfaction. Making sure the right information is delivered to the right person at the right time can literally be the difference between life and death. With hundreds of calls coming in every day, physicians need a reliable way to manage a barrage of requests for matters including prescription renewals; making, canceling, or rescheduling appointments; referral needs; and X-ray or lab test results. It is also vital that in the event of emergency, physicians will be contacted in the fastest and most reliable method possible, yet not be unduly interrupted during their private time due because of outdated on-call schedules.

Equally important to the physician’s satisfaction is that of the patients. In order to retain patients, their calls must be handled quickly and with great attention to detail. In fact, recent studies indicate patients choose one doctor over another not for clinical reasons, but because of the experience they had at the doctor’s office. A busy signal, long hold-times, or incorrect transcription of their message could not only lead to frustration and prolonged aggravation, but could potentially jeopardize their health and lead them to seek alternative care.

In fact, having reliable message answering is recognized as being so important that it has become commonplace for medical facilities to outsource messaging responsibilities to an unaffiliated answering service. The upside to this approach is professional, prompt, and accurate message taking as well as delivery any time of day or night. The downside is lack of control and increased expenses in an industry facing tight budgetary constraints. In an attempt to manage expenses, it has become increasingly important for healthcare facilities to look towards technology rather than outsourcing or hiring additional staff for an affordable way to address messaging challenges.

Fortunately, with the advent of new and easy to use tools, medical facilities can integrate affordable technologies that allow medical offices to handle their answering service needs on site by helping operators and staff provide succinct, reliable, and efficient messaging. On a small scale, this technology can shave minutes off hold times, eliminate frustration, increase patient retention, and improve the overall experience for physicians, patients, and operators alike. On a large scale, this technology can save lives, diffuse emergencies, save money, and reduce costly errors.

When researching a solution for your in-house answering service needs, it is important to determine how robust of a system you will need. Choosing a single solution will keep costs to a minimum while still improving message taking and delivery. Layering multiple technologies will allow automated self-service and coverage for nights and weekends. With several systems on the market, consider prioritizing your needs in order to find the system that will work best for your environment. The following list outlines a few of the most helpful and important features available on the market today.

Professional and PersonalizedĀ Greetings: Delivering exceptional customer service is an important goal of any medical facility. Today, voice saving technology helps enhance your customer service by delivering personalized greetings designed for a specific time of day, office location, or special event. Voice saving technology also ensures that every customer is treated with respect and each call is answered in a consistently professional and pleasant manner. By housing a host of predefined greetings, this technology not only cuts down on your call center noise, but literally saves the voice of your operators, particularly during lengthy shifts. Most importantly, this technology reinforces your facility’s image by guaranteeing that your patients are consistently greeted in a polite and professional manner.

Fully Customizable Message Templates: Fully customizable message templates provide operators with a tool that makes message taking simple and accurate. Flexible templates can be designed to meet the specific needs of an individual physician or healthcare environment and help control the delivery of clinical and non-clinical messages as well as information between patients, physicians, hospital, and office staff. Pre-selected delivery options and notes ensure messages are delivered according to the preferences of the recipient and guarantee quick, accurate, and convenient transactions for operator and physician alike. This allows each doctor in a practice or hospital to have a different set of protocols. For example, one doctor might wish to be paged for all calls, while another prefers to receive a page in only the most severe emergencies. The flexible templates dictate the information that should be included in each message as well as the proper delivery method, thus ensuring that operators gather the exact information necessary for individual doctors and are able to deliver that information in a timely manner.

Multiple Options for Message Delivery: A comprehensive message is useless if it isn’t delivered in a timely manner to the person who needs it. Today, state-of-the-art technology allows for various methods of message delivery, including pager or text messaging to mobile device, email to computer or mobile device, fax, and data download. Also important is a solution that allows for seamless integration with your on-call schedule, enabling messages to be delivered to both the on-call physician and the office. Doctors are able to dictate the best way to be reached and operators are easily able to comply, ensuring that patients’ needs are addressed as quickly as necessary.

Serial Calling: By allowing patients to reach multiple contacts with a single call, you automatically reduce frustration and streamline the calling and messaging process. For instance, if a patient needs to speak with a nurse regarding a prescription renewal and then wants to be directed to the lab, there is no need to hang up and redial. Using serial calling technology, your operators take advantage of a special transfer that will automatically return the caller to be transferred to a second or third destination where he can speak directly with a staff member or leave a message for the appropriate person.

Automated Emergency Processing: Automated emergency processing ensures that in moments of stress, when every minute is critical, your operators are able to launch messages to the right emergency teams quickly and accurately. By handling a host of predefined emergency procedures and instructions, automated emergency processing takes the guess work out of emergency procedures and promotes rapid and concise messaging and delivery.

Reports and Automatic Audit Trails: Finally, to ensure accountability, consider a solution that logs all messaging transactions. It is important that your solution allows for permanent message storage and provides powerful search tools that can pull up a message based on name or even keywords, months or even years after the message was taken. Transaction logs act as an insurance policy for staff and physicians alike, providing proof of all successful message transmissions and alerting operators if your system fails.

Choosing an Answering Service Technology that is Right for Your Facility: Careful consideration should be given to how you handle messaging in your medical facility. Before deciding to embark upon outsourcing your needs to a professional answering service, consider researching new technologies that provide your operators and staff with tools that make messaging easy, efficient, and accurate. Adding answering service technology to your in-house call center can be a cost-effective way to improve customer service and physician satisfaction. Ultimately, it can make an operator group a revenue-generating and relationship-building department for your facility.

Robin Davis is marketing manager and Julie Deyett is product implementation manager for SDC Solutions, Inc. with expertise in healthcare-specific telephony solutions, including PC-based consoles, speech auto attendants, and web and IP-based directories. They can be reached at 603-629-4242 or rdavis@sdcsolutions.com or jdeyett@sdcsolutions.com.

[From theĀ February/March 2006 issue of AnswerStat magazine]