Answering service replacement boosts physician and patient satisfaction with added benefit of cost savings

Who’s representing your practice — both to your patients and your staff — after hours? How well are they conducting business on your behalf? It’s a question practice leaders must ask themselves, because the answer hits home on three different fronts: staff satisfaction, patient experience and overhead costs.

Answering service mistakes have become status quo for the healthcare industry— especially in small practice settings. There must be a process in place for patients to communicate with staff in the off-hours, and the most common solution has been the traditional answering service— staffed by human beings who, unfortunately, do inevitably make mistakes. Mistakes like delaying the delivery of urgent messages, urgently delivering non-emergent messages and even losing patient messages. This service, which is fraught with opportunity to negatively impact physician and patient satisfaction levels, is also notoriously expensive.

Southwest Cancer Center, a small medical practice in Orlando, specializes in comprehensive cancer treatment and care for 75-100 patients per day. For over five years they employed a traditional after-hours answering service that, unfortunately, came with all the traditional frustrations as well.

“We experienced a lot of issues with the answering service reaching out to our physicians after-hours and over the weekends with non-urgent messages. Our front desk staff was routinely getting yelled at by patients who were frustrated about the lack of response they had received,” said Cara Bertone, practice manager at Southwest Cancer Center. “We weren’t happy, and we were looking around at other options.”

The physicians at Southwest Cancer Center began using PerfectServe four years ago as a way to communicate and coordinate patient care with interdisciplinary providers from two partner hospitals in the area.

In 2016, when Bertone discovered that PerfectServe had the capabilities to automate many of the manual functions of the answering service that were causing the most frustration among patients and providers, she jumped at the chance to learn more.

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Improve clinical communications throughout complex practices

“Before PerfectServe, we had a typical answering service. They were satisfactory—but they weren’t innovating.”

That’s Matt West, chief operating officer of Premier Surgical Associates. Premier is eastern Tennessee’s largest surgical provider, and its 28 physicians perform more than 15,000 general, vascular, bariatric and oncology surgical procedures a year and see upwards of 1,000 patients in office visits each week.

“We perform surgeries at almost every major hospital in the area,” says West. “When our physicians are on call, they may be covering for more than one hospital. Or they may be on call for both general and vascular patients. And each doctor wants to decide how he is reached and how calls are handled. At the same time, we need our communications to be efficient, secure and compliant.”

West notes that few physicians look forward to their time spent on call, yet all recognize the vital need for rapid and clear communications between doctors and patients after normal hours. They weren’t happy with the old system, and they were letting West know.

“As our complexity grew, so did dissatisfaction with the status quo answering service,” recalls West. “The wrong messages were often delivered to the wrong doctor—and not necessarily by the most HIPAA-compliant method. Then the doctor who received the message would have to track down the doctor on call to forward it. And I’d hear from a frustrated doctor the next day: ‘Why am I getting these messages?’”

The information provided about the calls was also seriously limited. West describes a typical morning at Premier: “The answering service would send us a fax or email listing calls from the night before, but without any detail on what transpired. The staff would have to scramble to find the doctor and confirm what had happened: ‘What did you do with that patient? Was there a consult? Do we need to follow up?’”

Even more urgent was the need to ensure compliance with HIPAA regulations and reduce Premier’s risk of a security breach. “I’m also the privacy officer,” notes West. “First and foremost, we wanted to address that risk.”

When West began evaluating vendors, he knew it wouldn’t be easy. Premier’s unique workflow couldn’t be forced into a one-size-fits-all offering: “There are a lot of idiosyncrasies to our organization. A generic solution wouldn’t have worked.”

Find out how PerfectServe works seamlessly with Premiere’s complex needs to ensure surgeons get the most up to date and accurate patient information, when and how they need it.

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Complicated physician call schedules simplified

Summit Medical Group, a consortium of more than 220 doctors with independent offices across a 13-county area of greater Knoxville, Tennessee, needed a better solution to its traditional, human-centric answering service.

Coming on board as site manager of Summit’s Farragut, Tennessee, location, Sairy Martocci knew the answer — PerfectServe.

“I thought, if I’m ever in an office and need to change call service, I’m going to use PerfectServe. They know how to run an answering service.”

The Farragut location is a four-physician office providing internal medicine for patients age 14 and up. The practice also has three full-time and one part-time nurse practitioners, and averages 600-700 patients a week from Farragut and nearby communities, including many older patients and retirees.

The four doctors in the Farragut office share on-call duties with seven doctors from three other Summit offices. That’s where things get complicated.

Since each office operates independently, office hours vary among locations, as do the holidays each office observes.

“We had an after-hours call service that took the calls and sent a text message to the doctor’s cell phone,” Sairy explains. “It was a human, manual process, and very antiquated. What makes it challenging is that one of the offices we share calls with is open from 7:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m., while we’re open from 8:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. So that office takes its own calls between 4:00 and 5:00; then it rolls over to the answering service shared jointly with our office.”

But what kept happening, Sairy says, is that the calls between 4:00 and 5:00 — both emergency and nonemergency— were constantly misrouted to the Farragut office.

“It was constant, and a huge challenge,” she recalls. “My doctors would get calls when they weren’t on call, and ask me, ‘Why am I getting this?’ It would usually happen right around the time we were leaving. Luckily it didn’t happen at 3:00 a.m. very often.”

Sairy spent a lot of time working with the answering service to figure out why the errors kept occurring. However, the vendor was never able to explain or, more importantly, resolve the situation.

Find out how Summit solved the challenge

Streamlined contacts, process transparency and HIPAA compliance at half the cost

IPC/Senior Care of Colorado is a hospitalist practice specializing in geriatric patients. Around 50 practitioners care for patients in more than 100 facilities, which include primary care clinics, hospitals and medical centers, skilled nursing facilities, long-term care facilities, independent living residences and short-term rehab centers.

Before PerfectServe, contact between triage nurses, clinicians and client facilities was time-consuming and complex, often taking an hour or more to complete the cycle. Also, relaying the information through a third party increased the potential for miscommunication. Protected health information (PHI) was not always locked down.

With PerfectServe, staff in all the client locations are able to contact practitioners directly, single number and be assured that they will reach the right practitioner. Each clinician decides how to accept his or her own contacts. Emergency calls go through the triage station so that they can be addressed immediately.

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