Table of Contents
- How Medical Answering Services Work
- Types of Medical Answering Services
- Why Does My Office Need a Medical Answering Service?
- What Should I Look for in a Medical Answering Service?
- The 8 Best Medical Answering Service Companies of 2022
- Choosing the Best Medical Answering Service
- Get Pricing and Learn More Today
- Compare Pricing
When it comes to finding the best medical call answering service for your business, there are several important factors to consider.
An excellent answering service will deliver superior customer service (both to you and your callers), have exceptional attention to detail, and ensure that your company is protecting your client’s privacy by staying in compliance with state and federal standards, including all current HIPAA regulations.
By freeing up your time and human resources to focus on your core objectives, a medical call answering service saves you money while helping your callers feel valued at the same time.
How Medical Answering Services Work
Medical answering services answer calls for medical practices and healthcare companies.
Calls that come into your office after hours are re-routed to live receptionists at off-site locations who answer in your practice’s name on your behalf.
These “virtual medical receptionists” are trained in customer service to handle the most common inquiries that typically come in—appointments, on-call emergencies, routine office calls, etc.
Some answering service employees have advanced training to set or cancel appointments, provide medical information (as allowed by law), and forward calls to other parties, personal messaging services, or emergency service providers.
Answering services can provide backup during busy times and peak call hours, helping to relieve the load on your on-site staff by taking messages, checking appointment status, or routing calls to specific personnel or departments.
Most medical call answering services are available 24 hours a day, seven days a week, to ensure no calls are missed, especially for your customers who have an urgent medical need after standard business hours.
These answering services broaden the medical professional’s ability to serve their clients to such a great degree that employing one is a nearly universal practice in today’s medical field.
The following article will discuss various medical answering services, how they can help your business, and what services they typically offer.
Finally, we’ll take a closer look at the best answering services being offered to medical professionals today so that you can choose the best for your practice and your clients.
Types of Medical Answering Services
For decades, medical professionals have relied on various answering services to maintain support and availability to their patients. With most practices seeing more and more patients every year and the increasing complexity of medical services, it’s more important than ever to maintain that availability.
A well-trained medical answering service provider adds value to your practice, not only by maintaining your receptionists’ duties. Services like call answering, message taking, appointment setting, etc., but by being specifically trained for the healthcare industry. This empowers them to help improve your office’s efficiency and assist your clients in getting the services they need and want.
This increases your office’s efficiency, helps reduce overall costs, and improves individual patient care and your reputation as a healthcare provider.
Whether you’re looking to partner with a new service or considering a migration to a different service than you currently use, an important first step is knowing the various types of services and understanding the commonalities and differences between what they offer your practice.
Some of these available services include:
- Medical Call Answering Services
- Telephone Answering Service
- Medical Call Centers
- Medical Contact Centers
- Telephone Triage Services
Medical Call Answering Services vs. a Telephone Answering Service
Two of the most common services are Medical Call Answering Services and Basic Telephone Answering Services. Two key differences between these services are handling the basic incoming calls and dealing with more complex contacts.
Medical call answering services are typically better trained to handle more complicated issues and support the practice they represent. Because of this advanced training, they can usually offer a more in-depth service concerning various issues and practice specialties.
In addition to messaging and call forwarding, medical answering services may also include:
- Integrating with your software applications
- Booking/canceling appointments
- Complex scripting and call routing
On the other hand, telephone answering services often focus on a broader range of industries in their training. They may be limited to receiving calls, giving basic (i.e., scripted) information or answers, taking messages, and dispatching emergency issues.
The per-minute or hourly cost of hiring a specialized medical call answering service will often be higher than that of a basic or general telephone service.
Given the extensive amount of information provided, call times tend to be longer with medical call answering services. Longer calls are more expensive, as most answering services charge by the minute.
Medical Call Centers vs. Medical Contact Centers
Medical call centers can be so similar to medical contact centers that it can sometimes be difficult to differentiate between them. However, even though many folks use the two terms interchangeably, there are notable differences between the services each provides, and decision-makers must understand what those differences are and how they will affect their office.
A medical call center in a building or office where inbound and outbound telephone calls are handled by a large number (typically) of trained customer service professionals referred to as call center agents.
The call center may represent one business or several, and agents are often divided into teams within the same office.
These agents answer incoming calls and assist callers with questions about their accounts, appointment scheduling or cancelations, tech support, and products and services.
In many ways, medical call centers are comparable to medical call answering services because they can provide more advanced and specialized services for inbound and outbound healthcare calls.
Outbound calls focus on appointment confirmations and relaying calls or messages to medical professionals.
Nearly all medical call centers use interactive voice response systems (IVR) to automatically direct or redirect calls to the correct department or agent that deals with the specific topic of the query.
Often these systems use lengthy or complicated phone trees and menu options, much to the annoyance and frustration of the caller, especially when their call is urgent.
Medical Contact Center
The main difference between a call center and a contact center is that call centers typically focus on one form of communication, phone calls. A healthcare contact center, on the other hand, may offer a variety of communication channels, including phone, text, live chat, voice-over-IP (VoIP), chatbots, and even video chat.
This variety of communication styles and services means more options for your clients to use their preferred method of interaction and often helps them feel that your services are more focused on their personal needs and preferences.
While a contact center may use an IVR system just like a call center does, it typically incorporates FAQ options, automated text confirmations (for setting up or canceling appointments, prescription and refill requests, etc.,) knowledgebases, and community forums to help callers find the information that they’re looking for more quickly without adding to extended hold times.
Contact centers can often offer valuable marketing data to their clients, gleaned from various forms of incoming communications.
Of course, you, as the client, will likely pay more depending on the number of service or service package that best suits your clinic’s needs, whereas call centers (assuming their services meet your needs) can be a cost-effective option for smaller or still growing offices and clinics.
Larger companies, or those that cater to a more technology-friendly demographic and receive more digital engagement, often need to stay updated with the latest tech options to maintain or improve their competitive edge.
As the decision-maker for your medical practice, it’s important to understand which services you need, which have value now, and which represent a positive future ROI for you, your employees, and your clients.
Telephone Triage Services
(in medical use) the assignment of degrees of urgency to wounds or illnesses to decide the treatment order of multiple patients or casualties.
Telephone triage services employ trained call agents, nurses, and medical personnel to offer services and answer questions for incoming callers. The degree of this support varies greatly depending on the level of training and expertise that an individual service employs.
Most facilities offer these services in-house, during standard business hours, so 24/7 telephone triage centers are typically used to cover off hours and days that the clinics are closed, which is more cost-effective than maintaining staffing during those hours.
Nurse Triage Service
Nurse triage services employ registered nurses and other medical professionals with clinical expertise to answer incoming calls and provide answers and recommendations. The call agents can determine the level of care your caller requires and dispense appropriate medical advice.
Why Does My Office Need a Medical Answering Service?
Life (and business) happens 24/7, including medical emergencies and healthcare communication.
After-hours callers who are forced to leave a message and then wait for a call back (or have to call back themselves) will be frustrated and dissatisfied.
And they may look for a medical provider available when they need them (and plenty are out there!) At the same time, the cost and inconvenience of maintaining a 24/7 office are not realistically possible for many providers.
The ability and availability of third-party medical call-answering services is a modern business reality and necessary in successful direct-care medical practices.
Here are just a few of the reasons why…
1. A Medical Call Answering Services Increases Patient Satisfaction
The #1 key to the success of any medical practice is patient satisfaction.
You’ve worked hard to build a reputation as an exceptional and reliable medical practice, don’t stop growing the reputation after you turn off the lights for the night!
Your patients work all different shifts and schedules, and the very real possibility is that, without a reliable call service, you’re missing out on those clients who can’t call during your regular work hours, and they’re missing out on the help you can provide for them and their families.
You need your clients, and they need you…24/7/365.
It’s easier to accomplish than it sounds.
A full-time medical call answering service can meet both of those needs, allowing you to offer HIPAA-compliant, trained professionals that your clients and partners can reach any time of the day or night.
Weekends or holidays?
No problem…your patients never need to hear “Please leave your message at the sound of the beep” again. A medical call answering service allows you to be available whenever a patient needs you and manages your appointments without chaining you to your office chair.
2. Because Nobody Prefers Automated Solutions
Let’s face it…nobody likes automated phone messages. We don’t like listening to them, and we don’t like responding to them. An automated recording device performs the absolute minimum amount of service in response to what, for us at least, might be an urgent situation or need…especially when it’s a medical need.
Sure, it may cost less than having an actual live human being pick up the phone…but then again, when you factor in customer satisfaction, repeat, and referral business (or the lack of all three) …it may not be the value it first appears.
People, especially people with a medical need or problem, want to talk to a person; they want real answers to their questions.
They want a human voice, a response, and maybe even a little empathy.
An automated phone response provides none, but a call answering service can.
Let your patients know you’re there and care, even after hours.
They’ll thank you for it.
3. Urgent Availability Improves Your Reputation
In today’s Yelp-driven economy, we live and die in a world of online reviews.
According to a recent survey by the online researcher Consumer Fusion, 80% of people said a negative review prevented them from choosing a particular business, and even more frightening, 55% of potential customers will read a negative review before reading a positive one.
It’s true: just one or two bad reviews can seriously impact your reputation and your new business growth.
Medical professionals know they aren’t immune. Review websites such as Healthgrades and Ratemds are prominent and ever-present.
Making activities like after-hour appointment setting, cancelations, call-in advice, and general customer service more straightforward and more available for your patients is one meaningful way to ensure you’re getting all five of those gold stars every time and keeping that appointment calendar full!
4. Clear Communication is More Efficient
The Hospital Consumer Assessment of Healthcare Providers and Systems (HCAHPS) considers implementing a medical answering service important enough to add to their annual survey results.
So, it’s certainly something that you should consider necessary too.
From an efficiency standpoint, the fewer calls patients need to make to resolve their pre-care or post-care issues, the better. Having live agents at a medical answering service responding to your patients helps gets their questions answered right the first time.
That’s efficiency. And, as time is money (and, even more importantly, your patient’s health), efficiency is vital.
5. Because Provider-Patient Trust in Foundational
Trust is an essential measurement in the doctor-patient relationship. Your patients need to know that they can trust and have confidence in your medical judgment and skills and that you’ll be there when they need you.
Even if that’s 4:00 am on a Sunday.
That trust is hard to build and, unfortunately, all too easy to lose. Having their calls answered by a trained, vetted call agent, regardless of the hour, helps build that trust without requiring you, the doctor, to give up your personal needs and self-care.
6. It Maintains a Clear Undisputable Record
This may seem minor, but most medical call answering services monitor, record, and time stamp all incoming calls. They can provide irrefutable records, accounting for every call, should you ever need them.
There are several reasons why documenting phone calls is important. First, it can help to ensure that patients receive the care and attention they need. By documenting calls, healthcare providers can track what was discussed and ensure all issues are addressed. Additionally, documentation can help to identify patterns or trends in patient calls, which can help improve care delivery.
Another reason why documenting phone calls is important is that it can serve as a legal record.
Consider this scenario: A patient calls your practice after hours to discuss a sensitive issue that they are experiencing. Your on-call provider follows up to provide the patient with advice and recommendations. Later, the patient experiences a negative outcome and claims to have never heard back from the on-call physician when they were in need.
Call recordings and documentation of on-call interactions can help shield you from liability in the event of a dispute.
7. Boosts Profitability
It’s okay to make a profit…even in the healthcare industry (really!)
The fewer hours you need to staff your office, the lower your overhead.
While call answering services aren’t free, they are still considerably less expensive than wages, overtime, insurance, and everything else involved in keeping your office open for extended hours.
They also allow you to handle more patient or customer interactions, as your customer contacts, referrals, appointment scheduling, etc., are handled by a team of call agents, not just one or two overworked staff members.
There are many benefits to be had by incorporating the best medical call answering service available into your practice for your business and your patients.
However, not every service provider has the same offerings, and not all call service agents have the same level of training or experience. It’s vitally important, therefore, that you do your research on any company you may be considering. Find out what they have to say about their services and, perhaps more importantly, what others say.
Read reviews. Talk to your colleagues. Ask for references, and make follow-up calls.
The medical call answering service you chose could (and should) significantly impact your business and your patients.
What Should I Look for in a Medical Answering Service?
Choosing a medical answering service can be pretty challenging, but if you want to keep your competitive edge (and your patients), adding purely automated services for your client’s convenience and care is non-negotiable. You need a human touch.
Many answering services are available, and it can seem a little overwhelming at first to pick just one, but you can do it. Start by sitting down (preferably with your staff’s input) and making a prioritized list of exactly which services will positively impact your office and why.
Some of the most commonly offered services you’ll need to consider and rate in the order of priority include 24/7 availability, custom scripting, security and HIPAA compliance, on-call scheduling, and appointment setting.
24/7 Call Coverage
This is one of the essential features of a good medical answering service. You never know when a patient will need to reach you, so it’s critical to have someone available to take calls.
Need coverage for your on-call physicians after hours? Your answering service should be there.
Need extra call coverage during office hours? Your answering service should be able to help with the overflow.
With a 24/7 medical answering service, you can rest assured that you will have a team of agents ready to take your calls whenever you need them.
Customized, Dynamic Call Scripting
Dispatching errors and incomplete information can be a significant source of frustration for your providers. You can avoid this by ensuring the right calls are reaching your on-call staff and that they are constantly receiving the information necessary to respond promptly and effectively.
The best way to do this is through custom call scripting. This feature can help eliminate errors by reducing the need for human decision-making during the on-call relay process.
For example, if you don’t accept prescription refill calls after hours, the scripting and technology should prevent those calls from getting through.
At CMS, we do it right from the start, scripting your account and implementing your precise instructions to ensure every call is handled your way every time.
Every decision we make is based on your requirements, not judgment calls. That means no more being woken up in the middle of the night for a call you don’t handle after hours, missing something important, or receiving communications with data entry errors. We take good care of your patients while also protecting your private time.
How we deliver this at CMS:
- 100% Customized Services. Every Medical Provider’s account is built from the ground up to meet their patients, staff, and physicians’ unique needs.
- Physician-Specific Dispatch Instructions. We know physicians have different on-call needs, so we have scripted dispatch instructions for each physician.
- Scripted Dispatch. Eliminates non-emergency calls being dispatched and calls going to the wrong on-call. We understand the balance between addressing patient needs and recognizing the value of your physician’s free time.
In our current medical environment, one of the more critical things to look for in an answering service agent is proper and up-to-date training in HIPAA regulations and compliance for professionals.
HIPAA (Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act) is a collection of federally mandated privacy protections regarding patients’ individually identifiable health information.
There are many ways that HIPAA affects your practice, and anyone representing your practice must understand these and how to communicate with callers within PHI (protected health information) guidelines.
For your protection and that of your patients, one of your first criteria when considering a medical call answering service should be that they are HIPAA compliant and that their agents are adequately trained in these regulations.
Another service you should look for is how the answering service handles managing and making changes to your on-call schedule. Avoid companies with complicated management systems requiring phone calls and message trees.
These systems are more prone to miscommunication, misdirected calls, and provider errors.
The best services provide on-call scheduling. This software provides online access to your account and scheduling management, where you can set schedules and make changes directly within the system (without relying on someone else to do so) in real-time.
Of course, another essential feature of any suitable medical call answering service, along with answering medical on-call requests, is the ability to set, change, or cancel appointments with the caller’s medical provider (you).
Besides emergency calls, this is what most after-hours calls are about.
If your patients can only access this service during standard office hours, then you are unavailable to them for two-thirds of every day.
That’s not ideal for business efficiency, customer satisfaction, or billable activities.
Seek a provider who can make appointment scheduling, appointment changes, and appointment cancellations available to your clients 24/7/365.
Other services to look for could include:
- Live Agents
- Overflow Call Handling
- Call Recording
- Secure Text Messaging
- IVR Capabilities
- Emergency Forwarding/Dispatching
- Advanced-Data Security
- Integration with Your Software
A high-end medical answering service is proud of what it can offer its clients and will make its available services and specialties, pricing, fees, terms, and conditions upfront and clear to any potential clients.
You should expect everything in writing and have all of your questions answered before deciding to partner with any one service.
The 8 Best Medical Answering Service Companies of 2022
Below is the list of the top-rated medical answering services of 2022. These are the most reliable and technologically up-to-date companies on the market and can make the most significant difference for your practice and your clients.
Each of these companies is proficient in taking medical practice and healthcare calls, responding professionally and empathetically, and offering the widest variety of features and expertise available.
By understanding what each company offers to your specific practice and needs, you can be confident in choosing the one that will bring the best benefit and value to your business.
#1 Continental Message Solution (CMS)
We know we’re biased, but it’s for a reason! CMS is just the best answering service for medical practices.
CMS is a well-known and well-respected leader in 24-hour medical phone answering services, and for good reason. Founded in 1967, CMS has 50+ years of experience and has worked with practices of all specialties and sizes in the medical industry, from single-provider offices to complex multispecialty nationwide healthcare systems.
Dedicated to customer service and operational excellence, Continental Message Solution is an award-winning call center and live answering service serving clients’ communication needs worldwide.
Offering 360° solutions that make outsourcing simple and affordable, partnering with CMS lets you set up the perfect call center operation without any of your own equipment, personnel, or training requirements.
CMS offers new and upgraded servers to help prevent system failure through redundancies. Multiple backup power options mean CMS will never have a service outage due to power loss. For T1 lines, CMS has a fiber optic loop to sustain services should there be any failure or damage to the phone lines.
CMS continually invests in the latest technologies and develops proprietary software and additional services. They use 100% customized scripting to program every account and provide their call agents with the exact verbiage to answer your customer’s phone calls. You can even integrate your medical practice software, EHR system, or CRM directly with a CMS account.
CMS Features and Benefits Include:
- 100% customizable service: From the way calls are answered to the instructions the agents follow, every aspect of their service is configured to meet the demands of your business. Your account is built from the ground up to meet your patients, staff, and physicians’ unique needs.
- HIPAA Compliance ensures that the privacy of your patients is secure with CMS. The most advanced, safest, and robust electronic safeguards are in place, and CMS staff are fully HIPAA trained and certified.
- 24×7 availability. CMS offices never close. 24/7/365, overflow, after-hours, holidays, or on-demand, professional representatives are always available and ready to take calls and assist your patients.
- Web-Based Tools for each account include dashboard and on-call scheduling, message management, reports, and easy-to-schedule on-call personnel.
- Robust Online Reporting: The complimentary Client Dashboard includes real-time access to Call Recordings, Message Search, On-call Performance Tracking, and custom reports (available upon request.)
- Integration. CMS offers an in-house software development team that can integrate various practice management platforms, websites, scheduling tools, and other web applications, based on your needs, directly into the call center workflow.
- Scripted Dispatch. Eliminate non-emergency calls being dispatched and calls going to the wrong on-call provider. CMS agents understand the balance between addressing patient needs and recognizing the value of your physician’s time.
- Experience. CMS has been providing receptionist and answering services to medical practices since 1967.
- Month-to-Month Service Agreement. For over 50 years, CMS has earned and retained a loyal business following based on their exceptional service, not contracts. CMS clients only stay as long as they’re happy with the service that they’re receiving.
CMS is based in the USA and never outsources calls overseas. When you work with CMS, your account is handled by highly trained, courteous agents located only in the US.
Pricing: Starts at $50 per month. Click here for complete pricing or to request a custom quote.
#2 MAP Communications
MAP Communications is an employee-owned answering service and call center provider. They boast a range of specialty offerings and have been in business since 1990.
At just $43 a month, they are also one of the cheapest services on our list, which may appeal to medical practices concerned with cutting costs above all else. Some customers have expressed concerns with service quality and billing issues.
- After-hours medical answering
- IVR and automated solutions
- On-call scheduling
#3 Sound Telecom
Like MAP Communications, Sound Telecom offers call answering services to various industries, with their medical call answering services being one of their most popular. They boast 24/7 availability and 100% USA-based agents.
Although they aren’t the most experienced company listed (CMS has been in business since 1967), they have been in business since 1986 and have experience serving various customers. In addition to serving medical practices, Sound Telecom advertises solutions for glass repair companies and towing dispatch.
Sound Telecom only has a single location in Spokane, Washington but will use affiliated agents to support their call volume if necessary.
- 24/7 availability
- HIPAA compliant answering services
- Call dispatching
Moneypenny’s call answering services are all about convenience. Moneypenny is focused on providing the easiest-to-implement, easiest-to-use services on the market.
Moneypenny’s service plans are based on average call volume but can be customized, scaled, and quoted for practices of any size.
They were founded and are headquartered in the United Kingdom but have offices in the US.
- Virtual receptionist services
- Phone answering services
- Web-based tools and analytics
US-based VoiceNation offers bilingual services to give your callers a less frustrating, more comfortable, and easily understandable experience. They feature 100% U.S.-based agents and custom scripting.
VoiceNation is no longer an independent company and is now owned by MoneyPenny, the #4 company on our list.
VoiceNation pricing starts slightly higher than other options listed.
- HIPAA compliant answering
- 24/7 and after-hours solutions
AnswerConnect is another live call answering service that provides call agents specializing in many different industries. Call center agents offer medical answering and use personalized scripts.
AnswerConnect boasts, “No voicemail, no bots!” This mantra indicates their commitment to providing live customer service but may prove problematic for healthcare organizations looking to offer a hybrid solution that combines automated technology, such as voicemail, with live operators.
AnswerConnect agents are trained in HIPAA compliance and work from home environments from the West Coast to the East Coast and in every time zone. Like VoiceNation, they are no longer an independent company and are now under the umbrella of a larger firm, AnywhereWorks.
- Appointment Scheduling
- After-hours medical reception
- Urgent call handling
#7 Call 4 Health
Call 4 Health is a medical call answering service that has specialized exclusively in working with the healthcare industry since 1997.
They offer HIPAA compliance, as well as a variety of remote service options like nurse triage services and telemedicine. They are a good fit for practices looking for solutions beyond general receptionist and call-handling support.
- 24/7 and overflow call support
- Remote receptionists
- Interactive Voice Response (IVR)
#8 On Call Central
On Call Central is a unique, fully automated call answering software system that serves as a call answering backup system for when your representatives are unavailable.
Live and returned calls can be recorded (on request) and access is available to text transcripts of recorded messages to review and help screen calls.
On Call states that it provides faster response times and more reliable service while eliminating operator error and securely protecting your patient’s contact information.
However, as all responses are automated, the ability to speak to a customer’s specific concerns may be limited, as is personal interaction. They do not offer live operator support.
- Automated answering service
- Call recording
- Urgent call dispatch
- On-call scheduling
Choosing the Best Medical Answering Service
When choosing the best medical call answering service, you have a lot of options.
The various services offered by the companies listed above are becoming more and more relevant to, and expected by, today’s medical clients.
Offering your patients a reliable means of getting their after-hours questions answered and needs met without the frustration of waiting for a return call that may be minutes or hours away empowers your clients to trust in your medical services for themselves and their families.
A qualified medical call answering service can improve your practice’s efficiency, minimize missed appointments and miscommunications, and save money. All while maximizing your reputation and profitability.
Get Pricing and Learn More Today
Click here to learn more about CMS or request pricing for your medical practice.