This post is designed for physicians, medical office managers, nurses and other personnel who are responsible for managing their practice’s relationship with a medical answering service or call center.
Managed properly, outsourcing a portion of your calls to a professional call center can be an extremely effective and worthwhile business decision. Your practice can provide patients with a better level of care, filter messages for on-call personnel, and avoid the high costs associated with hiring dedicated staff or implementing complicated automated systems. Done improperly, relationships with patients can be harmed and hard earned dollars wasted.
This brief guide will help you make sure you do everything you can on your end to make the outsourcing relationship a success.
1. Make sure your account instructions fit your practice
It’s important that you spend some extra time making sure your call taking script and account instructions are appropriate for the type of calls being handled on your account. Before an answering service can start taking calls for you, they have to be aware of what type of calls to expect on your account and how they should be handled. This process includes developing your script and instructions for delivering your messages.
If your service provider is experienced and has worked with a lot of medical practices in the past, chances are they have a standard script and account instructions that they will present to you. Although these default scripts are a great starting point, they most likely aren’t a perfect fit right out of the box. One of the biggest mistakes you can make is to use a default script without scrutinizing it and making sure it works for your patients.
For example, some medical practices do not handle prescription calls after hours and do not want their on-call personnel paged for anything regarding a prescription. Another practice, however, such as one that performs a lot of surgeries, may routinely take such calls and may have patients with urgent prescription needs after hours. As you can imagine, having an account that does not allow the proper calls to reach on-call personnel is a major problem, one that can not only harm your reputation but also result in lawsuits and financial losses.
So, take some extra time and explore the script from every angle, ensuring the questions and corresponding instructions match up with your procedures.
2. Inform the right people of your call center procedures
It’s important that everyone involved — including on-call doctors, patients, and office staff — be informed of your call center’s procedures and how they are personally affected by them. Doctors should be aware of how the call center will be contacting them after hours and how to make changes to that procedure; patients should be aware of what is an acceptable after hours emergency and how to reach the call center; office staff should be aware of how non-urgent messages will reach them in the morning and whether or not they are listed as a back-up for account clarifications.
All too often, various people are unaware of how they fit into the process and end up getting angry or frustrated when they are called upon. For example, maybe an office assistant is listed as the person your call center should reach if there is no on-call doctor listed. If that assistant isn’t aware he or she may be called after hours, they may not be prepared to assist the call center when asked and may feel that the agents aren’t performing their jobs properly. In reality, however, a lack of communication caused the mix up and could have been easily avoided.
3. Treat your call center as part of your practice and update them regularly
Just as it’s important to keep parties on your end informed, it’s also important to regularly update your call center. By considering them a part of your business, you’ll be more likely to include them when instituting changes that may affect how they operate.
So if your schedule changes, you add or lose doctors, your on-call procedures change, or you build a website for downloading new patient forms, it’s important your call center is made aware. If your office staff has this information but fails to provide it to the call center, callers who reach them looking for it will be upset and won’t find the service beneficial.
4. Look for new ways to integrate your call center into your practice
When you first start working with your call center, it’s likely that they only provide you with a basic service, such as after-hours answering. However, due to advances in technology, there are most likely more services they could be providing, such as appointment scheduling. As you move forward, it’s a good idea to speak with your sales or customer service representative in order to understand all of their capabilities and to ask about specific needs you may have. It’s possible that they could do a lot more for your callers and thus become a more valuable part of your operation. So instead of asking someone who calls after hours asking about their appointment time to call back when the office opens, or taking a message so someone can return their call, maybe it’s possible for your call center to integrate with your software system and look up their appointment information.
5. Use your call center data to make improvements
All of the calls handled by your call center should be logged and recorded, and there are a variety of ways this data can be used to improve your operation and ensure that your call center is effective. By staying on top of this data and being aware of what occurs on your line, you can be certain that your patients are receiving accurate information, that your account is configured properly, and that you’re getting the most out of your service.
As an example, you may notice that a certain amount of minutes are being used but that you aren’t getting any messages. After listening to some calls, you may determine this is due to only accepting emergencies after hours and asking other callers to call back. Armed with the knowledge that a lot of patients are calling after hours for things they can’t be assisted with, you may decide to make some changes that either reduce these calls or improve what can be done for them. So maybe you have your call center record an automated pre-screen asking non-urgent callers to call back during office hours and send out an email to patients about what your call center is capable of, if you want to reduce the calls, or perhaps you take a closer look at the reasons people are calling and work with your call center to allow agents to take more messages and perform more tasks, thus eliminating the need for people to call back the next day. Either way, you’ve taken advantage of the information your call center data reveals and taken action to improve, something that your patients will certainly appreciate.
By following these steps and working closely with a professional and reputable call center, you can be certain that you’re providing the highest level of care to your patients. As a reminder, these tips are for medical practitioners and the personnel they have managing their call center service, not the call center themselves. There are obviously a lot of responsibilities on the call center’s end that play a part in the success of the relationship. I plan to explore these in another post.
If you have any feedback on managing a relationship with a call center or other tips that could be added to this list, feel free to email me – email@example.com. I would love to speak with you about it.