How Medical Group Practices Can Thrive With a Doctor Answering Service in the Age of the Affordable Care Act

Despite the extension, the recent approach of the Affordable Care Act signup deadline revealed the challenges in communicating with millions of new patients entering the healthcare continuum. This is likely just the canary in the coalmine for busy medical group practices that have yet to prepare for the patient influx that is surely coming in 2014. Consequently, having a doctor’s answering service with deep experience in healthcare/patient caller communications in 2014 is likely to be one of the key differences between outcomes of practice efficiency and chaos.

Regardless of whether a medical group practice is composed of general practitioners, specialists, or both, efficiency starts and ends with patient communications. For the patient, each encounter by phone whether it is the first or the fiftieth, must be immediate, informed, compassionate and convenient in addition to fulfilling their diverse needs.

If your medical group practice is like most, a small army of front and back office staff with specific responsibilities are regularly enlisted in answering the phone. Despite this, most practices are unable to meet the first-ring standard that is necessary for an efficient and positive encounter.

Many estimate that phone calls to physician practices have increased by as much as 50 percent in the last five years. Even with multiple people beyond the practice receptionist handling calls for appointments, prescription refill requests, concerns from sick patients, billing issues, and the health reform law itself, medical group practices will be unlikelyto be able to keep up.

While hiring and training additional staff is both too costly and of little benefit in the short term, the simple act of activating a doctor answering service brings immediate convenience and efficiency via live customer service 24 hours a day. This seamless adjunct to the practice communication team can have a profound effect in several different ways.

In the first place, this enables first ring pickup efficiency during peak hours and low staffing times such as lunch, absences, and vacation. This is in addition to providing patient convenience via access to the office 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Patient convenience and satisfaction is also increased through the ability of a doctor answering service to send appointment reminders via the patients preferred mode of communication such as instant message, email, text message or by telephone.

Having a skilled and efficient doctors answering service cuts costs by eliminating the need for hiring additional staff or keeping patient satisfaction and practice efficiency at peak levels while integrating that new medical receptionist. The service is a fraction of the cost of hiring, training and paying someone (in both salary and benefits) to answer patient calls.

When using a service with deep experience in healthcare and specific types of medical practices, the medical group only needs to provide specific protocols to ensure that the patient always feels as if they are dealing directly with the medical group. Highly advanced and HIPAA compliant technology ensures that the live agent, or if requested, a messaging system component of the doctors answering service asks specific questions that are based on the caller’s specific needs.

This allows the system and the live representative to match the responses to the medical practice’s provided protocols. Messages can be sent to multiple email addresses, text to cell phones or even accessed anytime by Web-based applications that house the caller information in HIPAA compliant secure portals for extended periods of time.

As medical group practices face the patient influx triggered by the ACA, there are numerous changes that must take place to ensure patient satisfaction as well as office efficiency and a positive staff working environment.The use of a doctor answering service can improve practice efficiency, patient and employee satisfaction, and the bottom line so that practices thrive rather than succumb to chaos and inefficiency in 2014.