When you call a medical practice and reach a courteous, polished receptionist, you generally feel more confident and at ease knowing that your issue will be handled promptly. This level of organization is often associated with larger, more established practices. Despite this association with bigger practices, the reality is that any medical office can provide this level of service. With a few simple steps, deploying a medical answering service to handle your calls professionally is well within the reach of even the smallest of medical offices.

In this guide, I will show medical office managers and healthcare professionals how easy it is to set up their own answering service and benefit from the professional level of service typically reserved for more established organizations. By employing a call center to handle some of your calls, you can ease your patient communication responsibilities, run your office better, make patients and providers happier, and save a lot of money in the process.

First things first: You aren’t running an answering service, you’re hiring one

This statement is true for large healthcare organizations and small practices alike. Unless you have the resources and skills necessary to run your own call center, it’s best to seek out an established company to provide service on your behalf.

There are countless companies providing answering services for medical practices, companies that exist solely to provide telephone customer service for healthcare organizations.

There are plenty of reasons why outsourcing the telephone answering aspect of your office administration duties makes sense:

  1. Answering service equipment is expensive and the technology can be confusing. It may be easy to have one person set up in your office to take calls, but once you need to include call routing, scripting, integrated software, and call distribution, it quickly becomes more sophisticated. Established answering services have this all taken care of.
  2. Hiring employees is costly and time consuming. If you hired a medical office receptionist to take your calls, there’s a good chance you would pay him or her more in one day than it would cost you to use a medical answering service for a month.
  3. Managing a medical call center operation takes skills you don’t have (and don’t have time to learn). Handling call volume, staffing, quality assurance, software customization, etc. – these are things call centers deal with every day.
  4. You’re best at running your practice. As the above points indicate, it takes a lot to run a call center. You’re doing what you do because you’re good at it, so taking time away from your core responsibilities has a direct impact on your business performance. Handing this work off to another company allows you to stay focused on running a smooth operation and prioritizing patient care.

So find a company that has experience working with medical offices, preferably experience with practices with your specific needs, and enlist them to operate your medical answering service.

Next: Customize the service and make sure it meets your needs

Here is where a lot of medical practices make a mistake. Not taking the time to make sure your new call center actually works for your business is a recipe for disaster. Medical answering services impact a lot of people and all of these stakeholders need considered, including patients, practitioners, office staff, on-call doctors, and other facilities with which you interact.

If you send your callers to an answering service that is unprepared, you’re going to be the next example of customer service outsourcing gone wrong.

You can’t treat the vendor as a separate company who is solely responsible for meeting your customers’ needs. That isn’t their job. Their job is to perform your front desk phone duties in a more cost-effective and professional manner.

The key word in that last sentence is your; they’re performing your front office processes. So before you can use them effectively you need to know what your processes are and ensure they address the issues faced by your patients, staff, and other callers.

If you run a multi-physician practice and callers are constantly calling to speak with their doctor, then you should have a system in place for taking messages or routing calls to an on-call physician when warranted. With that system in place, you can easily instruct the answering service on how to handle these calls: Take messages and hold them for the office when they aren’t urgent, then escalate to an on-call doctor when certain stipulations are met. Just like that, the answering service is performing a simple task that you would normally be doing in your office.

Another example is appointment scheduling. If you have patients calling you to schedule or change appointments, don’t hire a call center just to take a message; use a cloud calendar system and give your call center access, allowing them to schedule appointments for you based on your availability.

The above examples can be summarized as follows:

  1. Set up systems ahead of time that address the types of calls and scenarios that you expect to encounter
  2. Determine which calls and scenarios the answering service will be responsible for
  3. Work with your answering service to integrate the systems into their operation so that they can mirror what you do in your office

There’s certainly tweaking that needs done in order to get things right, but repeating the above steps for the different situations that arise will ensure your answering service remains in line with the rest of your business.

Lastly: Take time to listen and refine the patient experience

While it is ideal to set up your answering and let it go, it would be irresponsible not to check in and make sure things are running as planned. You owe it to yourself, to your physicians, to your patients, and to your call center to do your part in ensuring the success of your medical answering service operation. By listening to calls, getting feedback from patients and physicians, and working with your vendor to make improvements where necessary, you can continually improve the effectiveness of your service.

And there you have it, you’re on your way to providing a world-class patient experience whenever a call is made to your practice. Hopefully you find this guide helpful in your efforts to improve your practice, reduce costs, and enhance the service your patients receive. By treating the answering service as an extension of your medical practice and partnering with them to meet your objectives, you’ll find their services extremely worthwhile.

If you have any questions regarding the process or how a medical answering service can work with your business, please contact us to speak with an account representative and learn more about how we can help manage your call volume.