5 Warning Signs Your Answering Service Might Be Hurting Your Practice


Medical answering services are essential to modern practices for triaging patient calls, delivering urgent messages at night, and allowing receptionists to focus on imperative tasks during business hours. An effective answering service solution can help practice managers, providers, and staff improve the overall patient experience and increase patient satisfaction.

Unfortunately, some medical answering services are susceptible to manual errors and environmental challenges. Routing mistakes and connectivity issues can negatively impact both patient and provider satisfaction.

Eight out of nine patients or consumers use the phone as the primary channel with which to contact their healthcare provider, which translates into 12-16 million phone calls per year for a $10 billion health system. – Adam Silverman, MD1

Here are five warning signs your medical answering service might be negatively impacting your practice:

1. Poor Provider Satisfaction

With provider burnout on the rise, providers’ wellbeing is essential to their satisfaction, livelihood, and ability to provide quality care for patients. Key contributors to burnout include receiving non-urgent calls after hours, getting unnecessary interruptions, and dealing with other technical communication challenges. All interfere with a provider’s daily workflow.

Contacting medical providers at the wrong time is a common mistake. When the answering service makes an error and contacts your provider at midnight on their Saturday off, it annoys the physician. Even when a physician is working, these interruptions for non-urgent messages can detract from time with patients, which brings down provider satisfaction and makes it more difficult for your practice to retain top talent.

When unable to work at optimal performance, some physicians may experience burnout and decide to leave your practice. Losing providers reduces patient satisfaction, lowers revenue, and increases your recruitment and onboarding costs.

2. Declining Patient Experience

It’s important to let patients know you care about them. Even so, missed, ignored, and lost messages are a common issue with most medical answering services. Are there clear prompts and accurate call routing systems for your medical practice?

If agents for your answering service lose patient messages, fail to take thorough notes during a call, delay sending urgent messages, or send messages to the wrong provider, your patients will begin to feel frustrated and undervalued. If the call is not directed to the right provider at the right time, patient readmission rates may start to increase, and follow-up treatments can rack up more clinical practice expenses.

3. Negative Impacts on Your Practice’s Reputation

To patients, your answering service represents the “face” of the medical practice—so much so that errors and poor patient encounters with live answering service agents can be detrimental to your practice’s reputation. This could result in one-star online reviews and a reduction in valuable word-of-mouth referrals from patients.

It is imperative to ensure your answering service—which many patients do not know is a third-party service—is delivering the quality of care and experience your patients deserve from you. If they get clear instructions about their prescription refill, office hours, and who to contact for a specific medical question, they won’t be left in the dark. Keeping your patients satisfied and confident with their care improves patient retention rates.

4. Fluctuation of Practice Operating Costs

Your medical answering service may be costing you much more than you originally intended. Many answering services have fluctuating fees and charges based on call volume and duration, causing practices to spend more on the service than was budgeted. 

For a more accurate account of how much your medical answering service costs, look at your month-over-month charges and take note of the changes. Hidden fees can add up quickly when practices don’t pay close attention and consistently follow up on billing. 

One idea is to compare pricing with various vendors. Do they have hidden surcharges based on volume? Are there flat-rate pricing plans for the medical answering service? 

5. Inability to Support Patients During Emergencies

Healthcare doesn’t stop when inclement weather, natural disasters, or other emergencies happen. Keeping lines of communication open between your providers and your patients is essential during times of crisis. Your medical answering service must be available and connected to take patient calls and route messages correctly and quickly at all times.

If your medical answering service depends on live operators, a natural disaster or similar emergency could make it impossible for agents to respond to patient calls and messages. What happens to your practice if the Wi-Fi goes down or cell service is unavailable? You can learn more about identifying risks to prepare for unprecedented circumstances in our Medical Practice Disaster & Emergency Preparedness Checklist.

Not all medical answering services provide the same level of service and support.

Use the factors above to assess your current medical answering service vendor. With the next annual or monthly budget analysis, maybe it’s time to ask the question: Is it time to shop around and compare options?

Consider how an automated medical answering service solution can help strengthen your practice.

Instead of inadvertently pushing providers and patients away with frustrating or inefficient processes, think about the systems and workflows you can automate for your practice. Your staff and patients will appreciate an approach that respects their time and ensures a high-quality experience in every circumstance. 

The right answering service solution will provide a consistent patient experience, reliable connectivity, accurate message routing, and appropriate escalation while eliminating variable costs and supporting work-life balance for your providers.

Let’s discuss how your practice can benefit from PerfectServe’s medical answering service solution.

1Silverman, A. (2021, April 18). Infusing call centers with strong human connections. MedCityNews. https://medcitynews.com/2021/04/infusing-call-centers-with-strong-human-connections/

Ready to see us in action?