New Opportunities for Medical Answering Services

By Ravi Raheja

For several years, answering services have been a critical component to continuity of care when medical offices are closed. They have traditionally relayed urgent messages to the doctor on call and informed patients about office hours and other needed information.

Due to the increasing demands of medicine and the availability of sophisticated technology, answering services have started to provide expanded services, such as appointment scheduling and physician referral, in addition to relaying urgent messages to the physician on call. In addition, more and more people are working outside of their regular 9 to 5 jobs, and they expect the same level of availability at their doctor’s office for appointments, nurse on call availability, and questions.

Traditionally, the office, the answering service, and the nurse triage service work together but as discrete entities. Now with the advance in integration technology and EMR, there are several points of integration that can be implemented to improve efficiency and have the three entities work as one single unit. Here are the different points where integration can improve efficiency and patient care.

Call Schedule Integration: Currently an office may have to call both the answering service and the nurse triage service to inform them about on call schedules and scheduling changes. This creates confusion, inefficiency, and the possibility of errors because some parties may not get the information or receive it in time. Today, technology makes it possible for doctors to have access to a Web-based scheduling system that automatically updates the answering service and nurse triage systems. This portal enables access 24/7 and secure access from mobile devices.

Appointment Scheduling Integration: When patients call and talk to the triage nurse, many need follow-up appointments in the office the following day. If the nurse triage system is integrated with the practice EMR, the nurse can schedule the appointment at the initial point of contact. In addition to being a convenience for patients, it increases continuity of care and prevents people from going to the ER since they know they have an appointment.

Integration with EMR: When the nurse triage system is integrated with the practice EMR, triage encounters are sent directly to the EMR. Technology has advanced enough that the nurse can securely get a brief medical history from the EMR before triaging the patient. This can dramatically improve care by giving telephone care providers access to patient history such as allergies, medication, and important past medical history.

Integrating Answering Service Messages with EMR: When a patient calls to request a referral, a prescription refill, or an appointment, an answering service can take the information and enter it directly into the EMR so that is shows up as an inbox message at the doctor’s office. This saves time and ensures messages are not missed. Patients do have access to patient portals, but many of them still want to talk to a live person. Integration allows the answering service to act as a true extension of the practice and provide continuity of care

Integrating Answering Service Calls with Nurse Triage: When a patient calls after hours to request a nurse call, the answering service enters the information into their system. Currently non-integrated systems coordinate patient information via fax or email. Faxing can cause a potential loss of information and delay in nurses seeing urgent requests. The information sharing can be significantly improved if the data gets directly entered into the nurse triage system.

In conclusion, with the technology available today, outsourced answering services and nurse triage services can act as a true extension of each practice. With the proper integration system in place, all three entities can securely and efficiently work as a single unit.

Ravi Raheja, MD, is the director of sales and technology at The TriageLogic Group. He can be contacted at 855- 887-4243.

[From the February/March 2013 issue of AnswerStat magazine]