Medical Answering Services

By Bradley Hagen

Medical professionals are busy people and reaching them immediately can sometimes be difficult. Medical answering services provide a reliable link between patients and doctors. When doctors use a medical answering service, the answering service handles their patient related calls and keeps a record of their schedules. Depending on the degree of emergency and the doctors’ instructions, they forward calls to them or relay messages to on call physicians on behalf of the patient. This way, doctors can spend less time managing patient calls and focus more on their work.

Medical answering services are different from general telephone answering services. Sometimes referred to as answering services for physicians or doctors, they serve the medical industry specifically and are tailored to healthcare professionals. They do not handle other types of business, sales, or marketing calls. In the United States, there are many companies that provide medical answering services. Most offer live medical answering services 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, and some have bilingual agents.

Signing up for a medical answering service and using their service is simple. Any physician, doctor, hospital, or healthcare professional with an established practice can employ a medical answering service to facilitate communication with patients. Better communication between the patients and the practice increases patient satisfaction, lowers practice costs, and allows the prioritizing of responses. With fewer administrative calls, no worry about missed messages, and a permanent record of communications, a practice can now determine how much to offload from its busy front office.

A medical answering service will need the daily schedule and contact numbers of the doctors, nurses, and PAs. Many medical answering services provide a Web-based service to post an on call calendar, which allows doctors or their staff to easily make changes by logging in. According to the patients’ need and the doctor’s schedule, they can also do the appointment scheduling. Medical answering services document every message taken on behalf of the practice.

Another common option is a free mobile app, providing doctors access to critical patient and callback information. Callbacks are documented with the time and duration of the call and even provide an option to record the call. It’s HIPAA compliant, retains complete documentation from message origination to callback, allows private response to interoffice messages, and has an option to call patients back, showing an on-file office number as the caller ID to keep the cell phone number private.

Professional medical answering operators undergo instruction in medical terminology and methods of handling urgent calls from both patients and medical staff. They are trained to react with speed and precision, dispatching urgent messages quickly and accurately.

Operators send complete messages to on call doctors instantly, using an alphanumeric or digital pager, text-capable mobile phone, or smartphone to take advantage of the features of a mobile app. They also note any detailed instructions regarding prescriptions or cautionary notes that may exist for each patient. This helps the telephone operators who take the call to direct them to specific individuals with required information, depending on the specifics of the call. These services need to be HIPAA compliant, so only deal with a medical answering service that can provide certification they are HIPAA compliant.

The doctor can determine the best way to be contacted and get regular text and phone messages according to his or her schedule and patient status. Medical practices can opt for a full-time or part-time service, depending on their needs. The billing and charging of services is item specific, resulting in a cost-effective service.

Medical answering services are a proven technology to help a medical practice or doctor’s office save time and money and can offer business day services that increase revenue. A good medical answering service will improve the patient experience and become a value added part of a practice instead of a necessary expense.

Bradley Hagen is the director of interactive marketing at SolutionBuilt, which represents TeleMed Communications, a provider of call center and telephone answering services to the healthcare community.

[From the October/November 2012 issue of AnswerStat magazine]