Patient Physician Communication: Why And How
With the rollout of the Affordable Care Act, millions of new patients entered the healthcare pool, thereby putting greater pressure on physician practices across the country. This translates to more patients that have questions and concerns that must be answered at all times of the day or night. Physician practices are increasingly turning to a mix of new human-centered technology such as telemedicine as well as doctor answering services to meet the influx of patient questions.
Whether a patient has an emergency or just a question, the goal of every medical practice is to provide them with immediate help and never put them on hold. Telemedicine, in conjunction with a medical answering service, provides physician practices with a host of ways to more efficiently care for their patients.
Patients are also winners in that they can get more hands-on care and the answers that they need in a more efficient yet caring manner. Telemedicine can facilitate online patient progress monitoring, as well as bringing outside consultants instantly into the conversation. Other possibilities include providing billing details, test results, and much more via secure online video.
Whether it is online or by phone, patients can now get follow-up information about medications, new available treatments, vaccinations offered, and other information any time of day or night. From answering questions and scheduling appointments to routing to the right doctor in the event of an emergency, a doctor answering service accommodates the growing 24-hour communication stream from patients. Simultaneously, the skilled and technologically advanced doctor answering service can ensure that patients get the right answer from courteous, compassionate, and informed call agents representing the practice.
For many facets of the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA), physician practices are acutely aware of the need for all systems and procedures to be HIPAA-compliant in order to guard patient privacy in telemedicine settings. This includes choosing a doctor answering service that is also HIPAA-compliant.
According to the most recent report from the global research and consulting firm RNCOS, telemedicine is expected to grow by 18.5 percent annually through 2018. This growth reflects the increasing number of physician practices that are adopting telemedicine as a way to meet the growing patient population in a 24-hour communication world. Telemedicine, in conjunction with a skilled and technologically advanced medical answering service, provides an integrated solution. This becomes the foundation of a more efficient and responsive practice capable of meeting all patient needs.
HIPAA Guidelines for Physician Text Messaging
As more physicians turn to text messaging as a preferred method of communication with colleagues and patients, the age-old problems of patient privacy, are best dealt with via the use of a Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) compliant phone answering service.
For many physicians, long days are spent either seeing patients or performing procedures in an associated hospital, or seeing patients in their practice. Their ability to efficiently use their time in order to provide the best care to each patient requires them to stay tethered to their smartphone or other digital devices in order to receive and send messages via voice, text, or even email. Today’s physicians often rely on text messaging to communicate with their patients and colleagues. This brings up both practical and legal issues that the physician must consider.
While the Joint Commission on Accreditation of Healthcare Organizations (JCAHO) recommends physicians limit their use of text messaging to non-prescription messaging as the process cannot verify the sender’s identity, texting can still be a highly useful communication tool when the physician is otherwise engaged. Even when the message contains low-priority personal health information specific to a patient, HIPAA privacy rules still require that the message be secure and private.
Since the early 2000s, text messaging has been a mainstream communication. Primarily used for its ease of convenience and efficiency, text messaging has branched out from being a personal form of communication to an enterprise wide form of communication. Lately for businesses, the use of text messaging has come under scrutiny due to policies and regulations that it does not adhere to.
The healthcare industry is currently aware of this scrutiny as it has been brought up by JCAHO, which recently weighed in on the issue of physician and licensed independent practitioners using text messages to transmit orders for patients, hospitals or any other healthcare setting. JCAHO stated that the use of text messaging in healthcare environments is unacceptable due to its violations of the HIPAA Security and Privacy regulations that every healthcare professional is expected to adhere to.
These strict HIPAA guidelines include having unique user identifications, a method to authenticate the user’s ID and a secure way of transferring and storing the confidential messages. Text messaging does not adhere to any of these guidelines and therefore should not be used by physicians, practitioners or hospitals.
A solution that these individuals and organizations can count on that is similar to text messaging but adheres to all HIPAA guidelines is OnPage by Onset Technology. OnPage, a mobile pager application that provides messaging allows physicians the same convenience of using their smartphone, but with the reliability and security of a HIPAA approved solution.
OnPage adheres to all HIPAA guidelines by using unique user identifications called OnPage IDs which are unique to each individual user. OnPage then authenticates each unique ID with a password known only by the individual user. When a message is transferred, OnPage encrypts the message and then stores it safely and securely.
In addition, if there is any need for future referencing of a text message, it must be held in a way that is both secure and accessible to the physician. Medical answering services can accommodate all of these needs in a highly streamlined way.
How a Medical Answering Service Can Make Text Messaging Safe and Viable for Physicians
By using a skilled and HIPAA compliant medical phone answering service, physicians can lessen the burden of the office staff at a multi-physician practice where their hands are often full dealing with patient appointments for the medical staff seeing patients at the practice. An ideal answer is to route all of a physician’s calls through a medical answering service, skilled in working with medical practices when they are away from the practice or otherwise engaged. This ensures that all calls will be answered by a live voice that understands how the practice works and has experience in dealing with patient calls.
While they can take messages for the lowest priority calls for the physician, other calls can be routed directly to the physician’s smartphone or digital device whether that is as a text message, voice message, or email. This ensures that the physician will receive all of their priority calls regardless of the time or where they are while relieving the burden from the office staff. This is particularly important after regular practice hours.
Regardless of it being a voice, text, or email message, medical answering services are able to provide the security encryption necessary for keeping the information private so that only the physician can access the messages. In addition, the HIPAA-compliant phone answering service has the technology infrastructure to retain a copy of the messages in their various forms for an extended period of time.
This ensures that if they are needed further for download to an EHR or for other references by the physician they are available and secure for the legally required amount of time. The physician can be assured that the message is secure and that it can be deleted from the physician’s phone. This is a necessary safeguard to potential loss or theft of the phone or digital device, which can put the patient’s privacy at risk.
Having a phone answering service with call agents and technology infrastructure that is geared toward working with medical professionals allows a streamlined way to verify who received the message, audit the message, monitor the message, and safely and securely archive it in a system that is password-protected and encrypted.
How Much Does A Physician Pay For An Answering Service Per Month?
Physician answering services vary in cost depending on the plan for your services, such as pay as you go, or by the hour. Other physician answering service features like secure text messages, appointment scheduling, enhanced call reporting and other integrations will add to the price. Contact Anserve today to request a quote for physician answering services.
How a Doctor Answering Service Can Keep Patients Informed
Today, more and more people are entering the healthcare continuum due to a variety of reasons including recent healthcare legislation and an aging baby boomer population, among others. Consequently, physician practices must work smarter rather than harder at providing a level of care and communication that fully meets patient needs. A great way to improve patient care interactions and communication is to partner with a quality doctor’s answering service provider that delivers proactive outbound communication to better maintain the care continuum.
By effectively using a doctor answering service, physicians can facilitate better health management through educational and service-oriented communication that drives patient accountability for better health and patient satisfaction outcomes. One of the primary ways that a doctor’s answering service can be more effective is by helping patients to find a physician and get access to care with services such as appointment scheduling.
Coordinating this with their online presence via live chat and/or email scheduling can broaden options to maximize patient convenience. This two-pronged phone and web communication approach via a doctor’s answering service can be expanded to include patient appointment reminders that are either live or recorded. These and other solutions make it more likely that patients will accept greater responsibility for their own well-being.
Follow-up calls after a patient visit can provide them with reminders about medication or treatment protocols as well as providing an opportunity to field any questions about their care. These follow-up calls can be helpful not only for patients with a medical issue that will resolve over time but also for patients living with chronic illnesses. Without this type of follow-up, the latter type of patient can be in greater health danger due to treatment or medication non-compliance.
Another important use of a medical answering service is to provide information on educational events and classes. This can include everything from nutrition and fitness classes, to smoking cessation seminars.
Effective communication solutions via a doctor’s answering service such as patient outreach as well as clinical and non-clinical post-hospital discharge calls are great examples of follow-up solutions that maintain the care continuum. Not only will this easy access to care and information provide patients with potentially better health outcomes, but it will also reduce the chance of them switching to another physician, or worse still, delaying or foregoing care.
Why Pharmacists Need a Physician Answering Service?
Many states now have legislation allowing pharmacists to administer shots and treatment for the flu. During the flu season, pharmacists become the go-to resources for those in search of information regarding the flu and flu treatment. Will they be able to handle the call volume? Physicians answering services are available and ready to help pharmacists communicate more effectively with patients in need of information during flu season.
Which states allow Pharmacists to Administer Flu Shots?
Pharmacists are medical professionals who are highly trained in safe and effective drug use, and they are well qualified to administer vaccines like flu shots to the public. Over the past two decades, attitudes about pharmacist-administered immunizations have evolved. In 1995, a mere nine states allowed pharmacists to give vaccines to the public. Today, all 50 states, the District of Columbia, and Puerto Rico permit pharmacists to administer immunizations. State laws vary widely in the authority given to pharmacists, but advancements regarding regulations and scope of practice for pharmacists have increased the kind and number of immunizations across all age groups.
What Types of Questions are Most Asked Regarding Flu Shot and Flu Treatment?
Frequently asked questions about flu shots and treatments, the effectiveness of the shot, the availability of the shot, and practical questions about the shot administration. Following your script, our medical answering service representatives at Anserve can answer frequently asked questions like these about flu shots:
- Does it hurt?
- What are the side effects?
- How long will the shot protect me?
- When is the ideal time to get vaccinated?
- Why is it important to get vaccinated?
- How effective is this season’s vaccine?
- Can I still get the flu if I get vaccinated?
- Where can I get the flu shot?
- How much of the vaccine will be available this year?
- Does age affect the kind of flu shot you get?
- How do I protect my loved ones who aren’t able to be vaccinated?
- Why are there multiple flu shots?
- Can people with egg allergies get a flu shot?
- How long does it take for the flu shot to work?
How To Improve Pharmacist Communication With Patients?
Pharmacists get an influx in customer service inquiries during flu season because the public has many questions regarding the flu vaccine and other treatments. They may not be able to answer these fast-paced calls as they come in due to a limited number of pharmacists and phones available at one time. For these pharmacists, a medical answering service could be a great benefit. A physician answering service from Anserve helps pharmacists communicate with patients by responding quickly to phone calls and messages. A surprising majority of patients who call pharmacists (75%) do not leave messages. That’s why a physician answering service is so important. During flu season, it’s imperative patients have access to the information they need regarding the flu shot and flu treatments. Anserve provides this customer service with a live physician answering service 24 hours a day, 7 days a week with highly-trained agents who are HIPAA compliant. Anserve gives you total control over the information patients receive by allowing you to dictate the script live agents deliver to callers. Additionally, Anserve provides Enhanced Voicemail Options which allow pharmacists to update greetings in accordance with emergencies. A pharmacy is a busy place, especially in the flu season. Anserve physician answering service can help pharmacists increase productivity and manage call volume to free up time and focus on each patient.
Medical Answering Service Can Increase Patient Accountability
The increasing focus on maintaining wellness as an antecedent to the continuing role of treatment has had a major effect on patient accountability. This has had a discernible impact on how physicians and the healthcare continuum as a whole utilize the doctor’s answering service to communicate with patient populations. The question becomes, can practices fully utilize these services as a way to increase patient accountability by making it easier for both patient and provider to fulfill their roles in achieving ongoing health outcomes?
Increasingly, insurance providers (both independent and federally based) are demanding quantifiable outcomes as the basis for remuneration in both procedurally-based encounters as well as wellness-based encounters between patients and providers. While this can be empowering for the patient, it still falls to the practice to provide the direct means of facilitating patient accountability. This is where full utilization of a doctor answering service can be of the greatest benefit.
The two–way communication for all physician/patient encounters cannot start and end with internal staff in all cases. This is due to the increasing patient loads and increased demands of personal interaction and quicker response from their healthcare providers. Without this level of communication, outcomes-based payment suffers as well as the response from patient populations that are quick to seek a more responsive healthcare provider.
For instance, scheduling and follow-up calls for appointments must be anticipatory, responsive, and informational in order to begin the process of patient accountability. Internal staff cannot handle all incoming calls for appointments as well as outgoing calls for reminders for patient appointments in an efficient manner without support. This is where Anserve’s physician answering service can help.
While the recorded message and automated callback system have traditionally played a role, live interactions will always result in fewer missed appointments. This is because speaking directly with a patient or even leaving a live voice message on their smartphone encourages them to meet appointments or reschedule immediately.
When this happens, practices can keep schedules full while ensuring that all patient visits are productive in terms of wellness checks and procedural visits. The result is most often a positive effect on the bottom line that charging fees for missed appointments cannot match. This can only be done effectively and in all cases with the support of a well-directed doctor’s answering service.
Practices and healthcare providers must make it simple and immediate for patients to schedule appointments and receive reminders via their preferred communication channel such as phone or online chat.. This makes it easier for them to fulfill their obligation in terms of accountability for their own part of the journey to desired health outcomes.
The success of wellness maintenance for patients is predicated on patient understanding of the options and advance notice to fit them into their personal schedules. This can mean providing information for healthy lifestyle practices promotions such as smoking cessation, fitness, and nutrition classes. It doesn’t matter if the practice is sponsoring the wellness endeavor or it is provided by a third party, patients will only take part if they are informed and provided with options.
Adding this to the list of calls for internal staff is not only burdensome but impossible to facilitate quickly and accurately. Once again, utilizing doctor answering services from Anserve to pick up the slack can be a big part of ensuring quantifiable wellness outcomes. In all of these scenarios, patients are empowered to take a more active part in their health while simultaneously helping them to be more accountable for their health.
The personal interaction facilitated by a doctor’s answering service will always yield more information than just an automated system. As patients demand more personalized care and human interaction, a highly trained call center agent that can accurately represent the practice and appear to be part of the staff can make this achievable for growing patient populations. This ultimately leads to higher patient retention, increased patient responsiveness, better patient/physician communication and a much healthier bottom line.