How a Great Answering Service Can Improve a Medical Practice’s Bottom Line

By D. E. Murray

With rapidly improving diagnostic technologies, physicians are continually challenged to learn more and do more. While patient care may be technically improved as a result, insurance companies and third party administrators are made happy by their efforts, and the care team may take pride in efficient and effective medical treatment. However, patients may often feel as if they are only a small part of a thoroughly mechanized, automated, and impersonal administrative process. Too often, they are right.

Studies have shown that medical litigation is greatly influenced by a patient’s relationship with their physician. The more a patient feels as if they have been heard and can share their concerns with their physician, the less likely that patient is to sue– even when the physician has made an error.

American medicine is practiced in a team environment. The physician is typically in charge of the team, which often includes physician assistants, nurses, aides, technicians, front office staff, and the practice’s telephone answering service. As the practice’s primary ambassador after-hours, the patients who are a physician’s primary consumers may associate a poor answering service with substandard care if calls are mishandled and as a result, the care team is not available to represent themselves. Conversely, an outstanding answering service will project a practice’s focus on patient care and professionalism 24-7.

“A great answering service may greatly assist the patient/physician interface, improve and solidify patient relationships, and add to the practice’s bottom line. If your answering service is merely serving as a voicemail system with a live operator, you are missing the boat,” stated Nancy Duncan, chief operating officer for On Ramp Medical Communications. “Beyond the crucial after-hours interface with patients, a great answering service can add to office profits, patient satisfaction, and retention by providing automated appointment reminders, surgery or appointment cancellations, Rx refill information, and patient surveys.”

A great telephone answering service recognizes that they are an extension of their client’s practice. Answering service staff training should include both initial and ongoing training with a focus on patient service and client profiles. A great service will utilize current and upgraded software and hardware with all-weather capability in the event of power failure. A great answering service will regularly communicate with their clients, keeping them abreast of opportunities to improve patient communication during and after office hours, increasing office profitability.

“At the end of the day, a great answering service recognizes their importance to the patient care equation, understands that they are an extension of the medical practice, adds to the practice’s bottom line, and delivers professionalism and value far beyond expectations of the practice,” continued Duncan. “Remember, your answering service will answer more of your patients’ calls– throughout the course of any given year– than your handpicked staff; their influence on your patients’ satisfaction is enormous.”

D. E. Murray is a freelance writer residing in Florida.

[From the June/July 2009 issue of AnswerStat magazine]