Whether you’re a physician, dentist, or medical practice manager, you likely face daily challenges in running your office. These challenges include providing adequate and timely medical care to your patients while managing appointment scheduling, incoming calls, and on-call coordination.

It can be challenging to dedicate your attention entirely to your patients. You could hire an in-house call management staff to handle the call volume, but those tend to be costly, as you’re paying for staffing and training, additional equipment, and the costs of running an in-house call center itself. However, there’s no need to go down that road, as you can simply hire a HIPAA-compliant doctor’s answering service.

This call answering service, also known as medical answering service (MAS) or telephone answering service (TAS), is a medically-oriented call center that collects inbound calls and messages from the patients and other callers after hours. However, due to their efficiency and convenience, more and more medical practices hire live answering service providers for full-time, 24/7 call management.

Calls made to the medical offices are forwarded to a call center provider, who employs live operators, called virtual receptionists, enabling the patients to speak with a real human to attend to their needs. Depending on what kind of service you hire, a virtual receptionist may take a message and relay it to you or assess the caller’s situation and base their action on its level of urgency. 

Investing in an automated answering service is also an option, and it is not uncommon for a combination of live operator and automated solutions to be used together. 

However, offering different call center services largely depends on the cost of medical answering services — the higher the price, the more complete service you can expect. 

So, in today’s article, we’re going to discuss medical answering service pricing, different pricing plans, and the benefits and drawbacks of individual pricing options.

Per-Minute Medical Answering Service Pricing

Pay-per-minute is, by far, the most frequent billing method for medical answering services nowadays. As the name implies, customers get billed based on how many minutes they utilize. 

Physician answering services have systems that keep track of how long their agents spend on the phone handling patient calls. To calculate your total, just multiply the number of minutes by a predetermined pay-per-minute rate.

The cost of a medical answering service ranges between $0.70 to $1.20 per minute of receptionist time spent on medical calls. A more affordable end of the price range corresponds to a more basic service. Likewise, the higher end of the scale usually provides better options, like bilingual services, 24/7 support, appointment scheduling, appointment reminders, and perhaps even secure messaging.

It’s worth pointing out that you’d still have to pay a monthly base fee for pay-per-minute service. Sometimes your base package will include a set number of minutes with a per-minute rate applied for additional minutes. Base packages may come without included minutes but are often available for a lower rate. 

These rates differ from one company to another, so we’ll provide a real-life example of how a pay-per-minute billing method works.

Per-Minute Pricing Examples

Let’s start with the basic service. It has a base monthly rate of $50 for a one-month period, at $1.10 per minute of virtual receptionist’s time. Some companies might even request a down payment equal to the base rate of the selected plan.

Suppose your practice forwarded 100 phone calls, each lasting approximately three minutes at a $1.10 per min rate. This means you owe the company $50 for the base monthly rate, plus $330 for the minutes spent, totaling $380. Now some companies may charge additional pay-per-minute fees for each call patched directly to your office. However, if you paid for an extra package with a base rate of $135, you would also get 100 minutes included in the pricing plan and additional minutes priced at $0.99 per minute.

Building on the previous example, that means you’d have to pay a $135 base rate, and you had 100 phone calls, each lasting approximately three minutes, priced at $0.99 per minute. The initial 100 minutes are free, meaning you’re only paying for 200 minutes, priced at $0.99, which equals $198. Add the base fee of $135, and your grand total is $333.

This excludes additional options such as call patching/live transfer, appointment setting, and SMS provided that the company offers such service in the first place. It would also be a good idea to inquire whether the services are charged extra or they’re included in the base rate.

Flat Rate Medical Answering Service Pricing

A monthly flat rate is very straightforward — each month that your healthcare practice is using the service provider’s services, you’ll be charged a flat-rate cost. This grants you a limitless number of calls, but this type of pricing package is nearly obsolete because most service providers actually lose money on flat-rate services. Only about a handful of companies in the U.S. operate using this service, and the number of calls you can make per month is now limited.

Per-Call Medical Answering Service Pricing

The average cost of this pricing method ranges between $0.63 to $1.94 per call. Your provider will want to know what type of support they will offer to your callers, allowing them to better determine a fair cost per call. The rates within this pricing model might surprise you, as they can vary immensely.

The price depends on the service provider’s definition of what constitutes a phone call. A live call could be an actual live call, but the provider might charge you for a call every time some form of communication occurs, even through text messages, electronic mail, or even voicemail.

Does your provider count dropped or accidental calls, and will you be charged for those? The definition of a “call” is something you should pay special attention to, as it may help you determine whether per-call pricing is a suitable pricing plan for your specific needs. It’s also good to ask about additional services, how they work, and any additional costs incurred. 

Per-Call Pricing Example

Suppose you contracted a medical answering service provider, paying $200 upfront, at $1 per call, $0.50 per message or email, and $0 for dropped or accidental calls. That means you have 150 minutes worth of calls, equating to $150, and 100 messages, which cost $50, totaling $200, or it can be 100 minutes and 200 messages.

Either way, you have already decided how much you’re spending, as you’ll only have room for as many calls and/or messages before you hit your limit. This scenario would allow for several different combinations of messages and calls at specific rates before your $200 was used up.

Pricing for Add-on Services 

Answering services may provide services beyond live call taking. These services could incur additional fees. Examples of add-on services include: 

  • Call Patching / Live Transfer: This service connects callers directly to your staff. Once the connection is made, you are still utilizing the answering service’s inbound line to host the call, so the remainder of the call from the connection until disconnect is generally charged at a reduced per-minute rate. 
  • Pre-Recorded Message Service: This feature allows you to create a custom automated message/greeting that plays for every caller before they reach an agent. Time may be billed for the length of the recording at a reduced per-minute rate. 
  • Custom Development and Software Integration: Advanced answering services like Continental Message Solution (CMS) are capable of advanced programming and system integration work. They can build custom software that integrates their call center operation with your existing business systems. These services may include database integration, SFTP, API, form-fill and auto-submissions, and other custom functions unique to your needs. These services are generally quoted hourly or on a per-project basis. 

The Risk of Using Cheap Medical Answering Services

As a medical practice, it’s important to ensure that your calls are answered in a professional and timely manner. Unfortunately, many practices choose to cut corners by using cheap answering services. While these services may seem like a cost-effective solution, there are actually a number of downsides that can outweigh the savings.

Here are some of the risks of using budget medical answering services:

  1. Low-quality service. When you choose a cheap answering service, you often get what you pay for in terms of quality. This can mean long wait times, unprofessional staff, and a general lack of responsiveness.
  2. Missed calls. One of the most frustrating things for patients is trying to reach a medical practice only to have their call go unanswered. This can easily happen with a low-cost answering service that is understaffed or doesn’t have adequate resources.
  3. Lack of features. In order to save money, many cheap answering services skimp on features. This can include things like custom scripting, automated on-call paging, and secure messaging. 
  4. Poor customer service. When you have a problem with a discount answering service, it can be very difficult to get the issue resolved. This is because there is often little to no customer support available.
  5. Difficulty scaling. As your medical practice grows, you may find that a budget answering service is no longer able to meet your needs. This can be a major problem if you suddenly have an influx of calls that need to be handled.
  6. More errors. Low-cost vendors may rely on more manual processes and lack the advanced technology used by modern providers. These manual processes can lead to errors, such as the wrong on-call doctor being contacted or urgent messages not reaching the appropriate party in a timely manner. These are errors that most medical practices can’t afford. 

Overall, it’s important to carefully consider whether or not a cheap answering service is a good choice for your medical practice. While there may be some initial savings, the risks and downsides can outweigh the benefits in the long run.

What Do I Need to Keep in Mind When Choosing a Medical Answering Service Pricing Model?

You will want to consider a few things when choosing a MAS pricing model:

Is the Service Provider Trustworthy?

HIPAA compliance is not only essential for the medical industry but also required by law. Your medical office, and to the extent any services you contracted, are responsible for handling your patient’s confidential data. Violating HIPAA can incur hefty penalties, so make sure that your service provider is up to the strict standards of the healthcare industry.

Are the Services Provided Too Much or Too Little for My Needs?

Medical answering services double as a live person answering the phone and passing along information. Service providers offer numerous other helpful services that your practice might or might not benefit from. Luckily, today’s service providers often offer custom-tailored pricing plans or plans with at least a degree of customization. You can select which services you need, and which ones you don’t.

Does the Pricing Model Make Sense for My Business?

This depends on the call volume, additional over-the-phone services your practice has to deal with, and the cost of the pricing model offered by the service provider. If the costs of running your call service exceed the costs of the pricing plan, hire a medical answering service provider. Likewise, if the pricing plan doesn’t correspond to the call volume, you can always choose a more affordable package.

Are There Services Provided Besides Answering Questions? Analytics? Call tracking?

Most modern services, such as Continental Message Solution (CMS), offer analytics and call recording, allowing you insight into all the phone traffic conducted on behalf of your practice.

Is Using a Medical Answering Service for Me?

If you’re greeted each morning by a voicemail box overflowing with calls made outside regular business hours, have on-call personnel and after-hours emergency calls, or need daytime overflow support, you would benefit from investing in a Medical Answering Service. Your physicians and staff will thank you.

CMS is a leading answering service with experience serving thousands of healthcare practices nationwide. To learn more about having us take calls for your organization, contact us today.