Improve Patient Experience Before, During, and After Care

Improve Patient ExperienceWhen it comes to communicating with patients, nothing beats the immediate connection of text messages. While email and phone calls are increasingly ignored, 90% of text messages are read within three minutes.1

Let’s explore some opportunities to engage with patients via text message throughout their healthcare journey to reduce the cost of outreach and improve the patient experience.

Changing Patient Expectations

The healthcare industry has shifted focus from volume to value, working on the “Triple Aim” of enhancing patient experience (including health and satisfaction), improving the health of populations, and reducing costs.2 Patient satisfaction has become linked to reimbursement at a time when patient expectations for the healthcare experience continue to evolve.

Patients, financially responsible for a sizeable share of their care, are now approaching healthcare encounters with consumer expectations. They expect convenience, personalization, and access to care anytime from anywhere.

Healthcare organizations need new ways to keep patients engaged in their care and to continually assess patient satisfaction. Unfortunately, improving health system performance toward Triple Aim results has led to worrying rates of clinical burnout.

With technology often cited as one of the leading causes of burnout, organizations are now focusing on the “Quadruple Aim,” which includes provider experience and satisfaction.3 The Quadruple Aim recognizes the importance of usability, effective care processes, and improved clinical workflows to achieve Triple Aim results.

Below are some strategies designed with the Quadruple Aim in mind, reducing administrative burden with patient, population, and diagnostic-specific automations to engage with patients before, during, and after care.

Before Care

How a patient experiences their healthcare encounter begins before the patient even steps through your door. From your website and scheduling process to visit preparation and patient intake, patients are looking for a modern, seamless, and informative experience.

Healthcare organizations looking to transform the patient experience should begin by engaging with patients before their scheduled appointments:

  • Care Preparation Instructions – Use procedure-specific pathways to send reminders to start pre-operative instructions.
  • Appointment Reminders – Text patients reminders of dates, times, and locations of upcoming visits, along with detailed wayfinding instructions.
  • Social Determinants of Health (SDOH) Support – Leverage SDOH data to assist patients through barriers, such as sharing coupons for transportation to reduce no-shows. Hennepin Health recently partnered with Lyft to target patients with a history of clinic no-shows, offering them access to a corporate Lyft account to get to their appointments. At the end of a 12-month trial period, no-show rates decreased an aggregate 27%, clinic revenue increased by $270,000, and ROI was 297%.4
  • Patient Intake – Send patients a link to electronic forms to streamline check-in.
  • Real-Time Scheduling Updates – Send status updates to patients to help re-align arrival times when there are scheduling delays.

During Care

The factors that influence a patient’s experience can vary widely based on their reason and length of stay. However, we can follow the broad strokes of the Hospital Consumer Assessment of Healthcare Providers and Systems (HCAHPS) survey to better identify a patient’s perspective on their care experience.

The 18 substantive questions included in the survey focus primarily on communication with doctors, nurses, and staff during care and at the critical point of discharge. Other questions focus mainly on environmental factors such as cleanliness and sound level.5

From enabling fast, efficient communication between clinicians, patients, and family members to facilitating a more comfortable, safe, and convenient care environment, mobile messaging can greatly improve the patient experience during care.

Video Visits

Texting with patients is a quick and easy gateway into scheduled and/or on-demand video visits. PerfectServe’s solution, for example, enables patients to transition from text message to browser-based video visit with the simple touch of a link—no need to download an app or set up a password.

Virtual Waiting Room

A virtual waiting room uses text messages to maintain a safe and comfortable connection with patients during in-person visits by streamlining check-in to help minimize germ exposure and discomfort.

Patient Family Updates

Family members play a crucial role in supporting patients and encouraging them to follow care plans before, during, and after their stay at the hospital. Healthcare organizations are now prioritizing patient families as part of the patient experience. Family members feel more comfortable leaving the waiting room knowing they will receive updates on patient status and return time.

With PerfectServe, care team members can update approved patient family members via secure video, voice, and/or text message. Even a family member who calls into the main hospital call center can quickly get a message to the correct on-call nurse, who can easily respond with one click, masking their personal caller ID.

Read our white paper for more examples of how the right solution can simplify, automate, and strengthen patient and family member encounters.

Integrate Nurse Call, Alert, and Alarm Notifications

Centralize communication across multiple systems onto a single platform to simplify clinical workflow while eliminating extraneous noise. With a solution like PerfectServe’s Clinical Communication & Collaboration (CC&C), nurses can receive alerts on their mobile devices and choose to accept, escalate for assistance, or call back to speak directly with patients.

If a patient pushes the call button for a nonurgent or nonclinical request (such as a water request), the notification can automatically route to a Patient Care Technician, reducing nurse interruptions during care. Patients benefit from reduced noise and faster response times—critical factors in HCAHPS scores.

After Care

Preventable hospital readmissions continue to be top-of-mind, thanks largely to Medicare’s Hospital Readmissions Reduction Program (HRRP) and readmission penalties. HRRP is the “value-based purchasing program that encourages hospitals to improve communication and care coordination to better engage patients and caregivers in discharge plans and, in turn, reduce avoidable readmissions.”6

According to a study published in BMJ Quality & Safety, patients reporting high satisfaction and good provider communication were less likely to be readmitted.7 Decreasing preventable readmissions requires that patients understand and adhere to their care plan, that pain is managed, and that follow-up care is scheduled and attended in less than two weeks.8

Post-Discharge Assessments

Leading hospitals are applying a text-first strategy to monitor treatment, assess pain, and send care plan reminders (such prescription refill reminders). Care teams can use text messages to deliver questions to patients one at a time or all at once with a simple link to a secure web survey.

Frequently checking in both increases patient satisfaction and allows clinicians to escalate concerning responses to secure chat or phone call if needed. PerfectServe’s solution, for example, lets users share a secure chat link that allows patients to discuss more detailed and personal health information.

Park Nicollet Methodist Hospital worked with PerfectServe to launch a text-first follow-up program that included a series of customized questions to assess a patient’s risk for readmission. 70% of questions sent via text message received a response from patients. PerfectServe’s dashboard allowed Park Nicollet to collect and analyze every patient response and nonresponse, segmenting the patient population into risk categories and automatically flagging patients that need immediate follow-up.

Park Nicollet’s results showed that patients who received and responded to text messages were 32% less likely to readmit than those solely contacted by phone (results are risk adjusted to account for the relative complexity of each patient’s conditions).

Patient Satisfaction Surveys

While CMS’ HCAHPS survey has incentivized improvements in patient experience, the response rate from patients has been on the decline.9 Declining response rates could be tied to patients’ perception of the survey’s effectiveness. HCAHPS surveys are administered 2 to 42 days after discharge and often cannot yield the timely data hospitals need to quickly address patient issues.

Given the high impact HCAHPS results have on a hospital’s financial performance, it’s important to seize opportunities to survey patients before the CMS in order to preemptively mitigate issues and improve patient satisfaction. For patient satisfaction surveys to be actionable, they need to be easy and customizable, targeting specific patient populations and encouraging meaningful dialogue.

Deploying surveys via text message is a cost-effective approach to obtaining timely patient insights. With solutions like PerfectServe’s Patient & Family Communication (PFC), surveys can be automatically triggered after healthcare encounters while the experience is fresh on the patient’s mind. Patients who indicate dissatisfaction become a service recovery opportunity. Contacting them to show concern and learn more can inform systemic improvement and change the patient’s impression of the organization.

Deliver an Exceptional Experience

PerfectServe allows hospitals to reach patients and their family members in real time before, during, and after care to better support, assess, and improve the patient experience. Book a demo with a clinical communication specialist to see how we can help you deliver an exceptional patient experience.

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Resources:
1. SMS vs Email and Apps: Customer engagement infograph, VoiceSage, Jun. 14, 2018: voicesage.com/blog/sms-compared-to-email-infograph
2. IHI Triple Aim Initiative, Institute for Healthcare Improvement (IHI): ihi.org/Engage/Initiatives/TripleAim
3. From Triple to Quadruple Aim: Care of the Patient Requires Care of the Provider, The Annals of Family Medicine, T. Bodenheimer, C. Sinsky, Nov. 2014: annfammed.org/content/12/6/573.full
4. Do Rideshare Tools Reduce Transport Barriers, Patient No-Shows?, Xtelligent Healthcare Media, Patient Engagement HIT, S. Heath, Jul. 24, 2018: patientengagementhit.com/news/do-rideshare-tools-reduce-transport-barriers-patient-no-shows
5. The HCAHPS Survey – Frequently Asked Questions, Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS): cms.gov/Medicare/Quality-Initiatives-Patient-Assessment-Instruments/HospitalQualityInits/Downloads/HospitalHCAHPSFactSheet201007.pdf
6. Hospital Readmissions Reduction Program (HRRP), Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS): cms.gov/Medicare/Medicare-Fee-for-Service-Payment/AcuteInpatientPPS/Readmissions-Reduction-Program
7. The association between patient experience factors and likelihood of 30-day readmission: a prospective cohort study, BMJ Quality & Safety, J. Carter et al., 2018: qualitysafety.bmj.com/content/27/9/683
8. Timeliness of Outpatient Follow-up: An Evidence-Based Approach for Planning After Hospital Discharge, The Annals of Family Medicine, C. Jackson, PhD, et al., Mar. 2015: ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4369604
9. HCAHPS Survey Non-Response Bias Impacts Scores, Practice Improvement, Xtelligent Healthcare Media, Patient Engagement HIT, S. Heath, May 1, 2019: patientengagementhit.com/news/hcahps-survey-non-response-bias-impacts-scores-practice-improvement

Fighting Alarm Fatigue for Nurses in 5 Steps

Healthcare, We Have a Problem:

Alarm fatigue is a serious threat to patient safety.

The American Association of Critical-Care Nurses (AACN) defines alarm fatigue as a sensory overload that occurs when clinicians are exposed to an excessive number of alarms, which can result in desensitization to alarm sounds and an increased rate of missed alarms. False alarms are a strong contributor, making up 72-99% of all alarms and numbing care teams to signals meant to indicate patient danger.1

Essentially, devices and processes that were designed to protect and support patients in specific ways have compiled over time to create a cacophony of ever-sounding silos in healthcare. Sadly, the discord cannot be safely silenced. Fortunately, it can be well-orchestrated.

Let’s explore how integrating disparate, noisy alert and alarm systems can help fight alarm fatigue for nurses and care teams.

Where is all the noise coming from?

In short, disconnected legacy systems with outdated hardware and devices combine with overlapping, suboptimal workflows to create the noise fueling alarm fatigue. A few factors that add to the chaos and make it difficult for clinicians to determine the relevance and urgency of alarms include:

  • Nurse Call Systems: Patients sometimes use nurse call for non-clinical requests, such as a glass of water, which could be redirected to another team member.
  • Critical Lab Results: Upon notification, nurses in some settings are responsible for tracking down the appropriate physician to relay critical results, pulling the nurse away from the bedside.
  • Patient Monitoring Devices: It can be difficult to infer the risk level and urgency of various patient device alarms, and to know if other team members are responding or can respond more quickly.

Above are just a few of many systems that can trigger nondescript beeping sounds, which all begin to sound alike and blur together. The result? Just to find out where an alarm is coming from and what it indicates, a nurse has to leave the current task to investigate.

The nurse is forced to assign priority (current task versus potential patient threat) based on assumption in an environment where up to 99% of alarms are false, yet assuming an alarm is false puts a patient at risk. Constant decisions like these in a fast-paced, high-stakes environment contribute to mistakes, alarm fatigue, clinician burnout, patient risk, and many other potential consequences.

5 Steps to Fight Alarm Fatigue:

1. Integrate all alerts and alarms to reduce noise.

To start, put all alerts and alarms in one place that nurses and care teams can check on the go—an integrated app accessible from any device across all locations.

2. Increase mobility to decrease footwork.

For organizations that haven’t already deployed a mobile device strategy for nurses, smartphones will greatly enhance the effectiveness of an integrated solution. Being able to check alerts at the bedside and on the move reduces extra footwork and detours for staff.

3. Use shift schedules to inform smart routing.

The ideal solution should also integrate with shift and on-call schedules across the organization, using schedules to route alerts and alarms directly to the right clinicians. Smart routing like PerfectServe’s Dynamic Intelligent Routing reduces irrelevant noise while using built-in escalation policies to ensure urgent alerts are addressed within set timeframes.

4. Delay nonurgent notifications to reduce interruptions.

The ability to delay nonurgent alerts to be delivered at set intervals can greatly reduce distractions for clinicians during patient care. By minimizing multitasking, nurses and other care team members are able to complete tasks more efficiently and maximize their focus on patients at the bedside.

5. Distinguish alert types by tone to simplify recognition.

Alarm fatigue and decision fatigue often go hand in hand. While most care team members wouldn’t actively choose to ignore an alert, the ability to know in an instant based on sound whether or not an alarm is urgent can help them respond appropriately more quickly.

The Bottom Line:

Excess noise makes it difficult for clinicians to administer safe and timely care. (It also does a number on patient experience, but that’s a topic for another post.) Remove the guesswork for nurses around whether to tune out the noise and focus on the patient at hand or interrupt each encounter to assess the latest (likely false) alarm.

Click below to begin fighting alarm fatigue.

 

Resources:
1. Alarm Fatigue: A Patient Safety Concern, American Association of Critical-Care Nurses (AACN) Advanced Critical Care, Sue Sendelbach, RN, PhD, CCNS and Marjorie Funk, RN, PhD, Oct. 2013: acnjournals.org/aacnacconline/article-abstract/24/4/378/14745/Alarm-FatigueA-Patient-Safety-Concern

Rapid Critical Result Reporting With Clinical Communication Technology

Delays in communicating life-threatening lab or radiology results can lead to unnecessary patient transfers to higher levels of care and longer lengths of stay. In contrast, rapid and accurate communication of critical lab and radiology test results leads to timely clinical interventions, improved treatment outcomes, and prevention of comorbidities.

The Joint Commission’s National Patient Safety Goal 02.03.01 requires that organizations report critical results of tests and diagnostic procedures on a timely basis,1 yet some teams struggle to measure compliance and meet their goals. Even with the increasing number of high-tech tools available to hospitals, it’s not always easy for inpatient and outpatient laboratories to optimize critical value reporting due to several challenges.

For example, delays related to intermediaries and unavailability can affect reporting times. One of the most challenging aspects in an outpatient setting is the volume of unanswered pages and forgotten callbacks from providers, despite the fact that nearly 90% walk around with smartphones in their pockets.2 Compliance issues also tend to result from faulty processes in which the provider that ordered the test is no longer on call—a complication which, in an inpatient setting, requires the nurse to track down the correct covering provider.

To ensure that messages are received by providers that can immediately act upon the information, intelligent systems must be employed. Integration with modern clinical communication and collaboration (CC&C) technology helps organizations ensure that test results are immediately delivered to the appropriate bedside nurse, ordering physician, and/or covering on-call provider. A comprehensive solution will also escalate results within specific timeframes if necessary and document all communication for auditing purposes.

Ensuring Timeliness and Accuracy in the Notification Process

The challenge some organizations face with the timely delivery of test results is ensuring that the correct person is notified. First, the right recipient can be difficult to determine when dealing with an expansive care team and complicated on-call provider coverage. Then, delivery of results can be a challenge due to varying levels of EHR access and adoption, sometimes in addition to technical message transmission issues.

Finally, confirmation that the test results were received and action is being taken is needed to close the communication loop, but various factors can lead to a lack of response from the recipient, such as:

  • An error in reaching a provider who is available to immediately act on the information (e.g. the correct on-call provider, covering physician, assigned nurse, or care team member).
  • Sending a message via EHR to an affiliated provider who does not access the EHR outside the facility (and therefore does not see the message).
  • A delay in message delivery because the recipient is beyond the reach of the hospital’s Wi-Fi and/or cellular coverage.
  • Alarm fatigue and/or confusion caused by a multitude of alert sounds that bombard clinical staff throughout their day.

The right CC&C technology can be very effective for automating protocols like those related to critical result notification to bypass various obstacles.

3 Keys to Success With Your Critical Result Communication Program

1. Guarantee that the correct care team receives the alert.

Your CC&C solution should offer the ability to customize which care team members are notified of which clinical findings. For example, a critical potassium alert might always go to the nurse and the provider, while a critical BUN only alerts the nurse. To inform message routing and ensure the correct team members receive the alert, the solution must rely on comprehensive electronic on-call schedules that incorporate service line, group, and personal coverage details. If multiple scheduling tools are used across the organization, they all must be integrated to inform accurate message delivery.
Additionally, your CC&C technology should integrate with all care team systems that house patient assignments including the EHR, nurse call, ancillary department applications, etc. to ensure that the appropriate patient care team members are alerted to new clinical findings.

2. Ensure that physicians, nurses, and care team members can easily acknowledge, accept, and decline/escalate results.

The improved process will garner greater adoption if all recipients can easily respond to alerts by tapping a button (e.g. “Acknowledge,” “Accept,” or “Decline”/“Escalate”) or selecting a response from a dropdown menu (e.g. “I’m entering an order in the EHR now.”).
The workflow can be further streamlined if the CC&C solution facilitates quick access to the EHR through a link within the result message. Tight application integration enables staff to seamlessly move between applications and functions to access patient context.

3. Build escalation protocols to transmit the critical result to the next-level provider if a response is not received within a certain timeframe.

If a physician, nurse, or care team member is either unavailable (e.g. in a sterile procedure) or inaccessible (e.g. offline; out of Wi-Fi range or cell coverage), the ideal solution will automatically escalate the message to ensure a timely response.

Consistency, a Sign of Success

As your new critical result reporting process reduces workload for staff by automatically delivering results to the correct recipient, an advanced CC&C solution also removes variability caused by the human element. A fully integrated solution will eliminate staff inconsistencies related to reaction times, follow-up with non-responsive individuals, and documentation of event notifications.

Evaluating the Timeliness of Reporting

The Joint Commission’s National Patient Safety Goal for communication of critical results and diagnostic procedures specifies the need to evaluate the timeliness of reporting. In the quest for continuous quality improvement, your CC&C solution should provide real-time dashboards that display acknowledgement status for all critical results and rich reports with auditing capabilities for all critical value communications.

Time stamps and event logs allow organizations to set goals, measure performance against established criteria, identify patterns (e.g. day of week, time of day), and most importantly, support accountability across providers and clinical staff.

“We measured our response time to critical lab alerts across 1,100 results and achieved a 42% improvement in acknowledgment times. The fastest alert read was two seconds, the fastest acknowledgment was 7 seconds, and the median acknowledgment time was one minute, 23 seconds. We’re extremely pleased with the role CC&C has played in our ability to monitor and manage critical result notifications.”

– Robyn Townsend, Assistant Director, Clinical Applications, Hospital for Special Surgery

If you’d like to explore how PerfectServe can help improve your laboratory and diagnostic reporting processes, click below to request a call with a clinical communication specialist.

Resources:

  1. National Patient Safety Goals Effective January 2017: Laboratory Accreditation Program, The Joint Commission, 2017: jointcommission.org/assets/1/6/NPSG_Chapter_LAB_Jan2017.pdf
  2. The Dilemma Surrounding Critical Value Reporting: What Does it Take to Improve Communication? Malone, B., Clinical Laboratory News,2012: AACC.org/publications/cln/articles/2012/december/critical-value-reporting.aspx

Comprehensive Clinical Communication to Support Mother-Baby Care Delivery

Nearly four million babies are born per year in the United States.1 Obstetricians, pediatricians, nurses, case managers, discharge coordinators, and various other providers and care teams work to ensure that mothers and babies have optimal solutions for pregnancy, labor, delivery, and child healthcare.

From preconception to parenthood, PerfectServe’s comprehensive communication solutions can help your practice provide top-notch care at every touchpoint of mother and baby’s healthcare journey. Click the image below to download the infographic.

1Births and Natality, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: cdc.gov/nchs/fastats/births.htm

To learn more about how PerfectServe can support your organization in mother-baby care delivery, contact one of our Clinical Communication Specialists.

Patient Benefits of an Advanced Automated Answering Service Solution

Patient experience is the most important factor when it comes to patient retention at any medical practice. An essential touchpoint to optimize in modern medical practices is to standardize the way your patient calls are handled. The right 24/7 answering service solution can free up valuable provider and staff resources to focus on patient care while reducing unnecessary interruptions and ensuring urgent messages reach the right provider at the right time—every time.

Removing human error and delivering an automated and reliable service for both providers and patients, advanced answering service solutions are being implemented by more and more practices to enhance both patient and provider satisfaction.

Here are just a few key patient benefits of an ideal automated answering service solution:

Less Frustration

Your patients have busy lives but your practice is busy, too. If your practice experiences call volume congestion, your patients still need to be able to reach you without being put on hold. The right answering service solution will differentiate messages based on urgency and use your on-call schedules to accurately route communication to the right provider based on escalation policies set by your practice, speeding time to treatment.

Timely Communication

Efficient practice operations help decrease the time patients spend waiting during appointments and on hold when they call your practice. Automation allows patients to reach your practice at any time, during any circumstances to get the answers and help they need. The best answering service solutions offer smart routing that ensures providers are only interrupted to address urgent requests that require responses in a timely manner.

24/7 Care Access

Although many answering services are only used for after-hours coverage, an automated answering service solution delivers around-the-clock coverage as needed. Just because you don’t see your patients on a 24-hour basis does not mean it shouldn’t be easy for them to manage their appointments and make routine requests such as medication refills whenever they think of them, which might not be during regular office hours. An automated answering service solution can support call volume overflow when the main line at your practice is busy and serve as a 24/7 backup during emergency events when your practice is closed.

Better Onsite Service

Your staff need to be able to do their jobs, but when they face constant interruptions and take on the additional task of call filtering, concentration is broken, efficiency is lost, and providers can become unable to best care for their patients. Implementing the right automated answering service solution can free up your team to focus more on what they do best—patient care.

If providing an excellent patient experience and running an efficient medical practice are priorities for you, an advanced automated answering service solution might be just what the doctor ordered.

Let’s discuss more about how the ideal automated answering service solution can benefit your patients.

 

4 Simple Steps for Reducing Third-Party Vendor Costs

In the era of nonstop mergers and acquisitions, healthcare organizations are taking on immeasurable costs in the form of third-party services. When a health system acquires a private or independent group practice, the health system inherits all the practice’s employed third-party services and systems, including:

  • Electronic Health Record (EHR)
  • Practice Management
  • Revenue Cycle Management
  • Medical Answering Service
  • Security, Maintenance, and More

When healthcare organizations merge, issues with purchased services compound as the health system takes on all existing service contracts from the practices affiliated with the previous organizations. Purchased services represent as much as 20% to 25% of an organization’s annual spend,1 so consolidating services is a valuable opportunity to save on spending.

Standardizing third-party processes and technology can be an untapped source of savings across the healthcare supply chain. To help you identify areas in need of improvement, here are four steps that can help successfully lower your organization’s purchased services costs:

Step One: Mine the data.

For many healthcare organizations, simply gaining visibility into third-party contracts and expenses can be challenging. Contracts are often managed by various people throughout healthcare organizations, or even services outside organizations, such as group purchasing organizations (GPOs).

Start gathering the actualities by creating an inventory of all third-party vendors used throughout your organization, as well as the associated stakeholders and contracts. It’s important to speak with each stakeholder and review each contract thoroughly.

Next, collect all financial data for your vendors. Check with your accounts payable department and take a look at current and past purchase orders. While purchase orders won’t tell the whole story, they are a good place to start to get an idea of total cost. Many third-party vendors have variable costs that make it difficult to get an accurate account of how much they’re really costing. Reviewing your general ledger will help you uncover variable costs.

There are a few key questions to consider when reviewing your service contracts:

  • What rate is this vendor currently charging me and how often?
  • Is there an auto-renewal in place? If so, when?
  • What are the scaling terms and are there fees associated with scaling?
  • Are there termination clauses? If so, what are they?

Place vendors into categories to get a more accurate picture of how much your organization is spending in specific areas. You may find that the individual costs of many of your third-party vendors are relatively small, but when aggregated by category, the numbers compound quickly.

Step Two: Gain Executive Buy-In

Equipped with your data, it’s time to engage your decision makers. Engaging organizational leadership early in the process is a great way to build a case to move forward. Speaking with executives can help you understand the different viewpoints and situational nuances in your organization, which helps you navigate roadblocks and build the business case to make changes.

Step Three: Evaluate Performance

Analyze vendor and service performance in three key areas:

  1. Comparing Spend
  2. Assessing Utilization
  3. Evaluating the Quality and Effectiveness

Some vendors charge hidden or variable fees, so looking at one month’s service charges can be misleading. Look at each vendor’s historical cost, trends, and variability. Then, consider local benchmarks: What prices are other vendors in your area offering for a similar service?

Another important aspect to consider is utilization. Here are a few simple questions that can help you assess your organization’s use of a particular service or vendor:

  • Who is actively using the service/vendor?
  • How is the service/vendor being used?
  • Could the service/vendor be used more efficiently?

Finally, do some digging to find out your staff’s level of satisfaction with the third-party service/vendor:

  • What level of results is the service or provider currently delivering?
  • Are your stakeholders satisfied with the performance?
  • What kinds of performance metrics can the service or vendor provide?
  • Does the service or vendor meet your organization’s performance metric needs?
  • Does the service or vendor make your staff’s job easier?

Step Four: Consider Standardization Options

Completing steps one through three will give you a firm grasp on the types of vendors you have and the services you’re paying for, how they’re being used throughout your organization, and your staff’s readiness to try new solutions.

If you consider replacing multiple similar vendors with a single standardized solution, make sure the solution you select does the following:

  • Addresses all stakeholder needs and goals.
  • Decreases (and if possible, helps to standardize) your organization’s overall spend.
  • Contributes to your organization’s strategic objectives.

When your organization undergoes a merger or acquisition, it’s more important than ever to conduct a high-level review of the spending and operating efficiency of the larger organization. At the end of your evaluation, you should be better prepared to make specific service and vendor selections based on your analysis and your organization’s strategic priorities.


1Vizient, 2020

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.

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

1. Poor Provider Satisfaction

Your providers’ wellbeing is essential to their satisfaction, livelihood, and ability to best care for patients—yet provider burnout is on the rise. Key contributors to burnout include receiving non-urgent calls after hours, getting unnecessary interruptions while caring for patients, and dealing with other communication challenges that interfere with providers’ daily workflows.

Contacting 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 or interrupts their time with a patient for a non-urgent or routine message, it brings down the provider’s satisfaction and makes it more difficult for your practice to retain top talent.

Providers who are unable to work at their best due to unnecessary interruptions and complicated communication workflows 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 they are being heard and cared for, not ignored, yet missed and lost messages are another common issue with medical answering services.

If your answering service loses patient messages, fails to take thorough notes during a call, delays sending urgent messages, or sends messages to the wrong provider, your patients will begin to feel frustrated and undervalued.

3. Negative Impacts on Your Practice’s Reputation

To your patients, your answering service is a representative of your medical practice. Errors and poor patient encounters with live answering service can be harmful, and even detrimental, to your practice’s reputation in providing quality patient care.

It is imperative to ensure that your answering service—which many patients do not know is a third-party service—is delivering the quality of care and experience you want your patients to expect from you. Keeping your patients satisfied and confident in their care is the key to patient retention.

4. Fluctuation of Practice Operating Costs

Your medical answering service may be costing you much more than you originally intended. Many answering services have hidden fees and charges based on call volume and duration, causing practices to spend much more on the service than was budgeted. For a more accurate account of how much your medical answering service is really costing you, look at your month-over-month charges and take note of the fluctuations. Hidden fees can add up quickly when practices don’t pay close attention and consistently follow up on billing.

5. Inability to Support Patients During Emergencies

Healthcare can’t stop when inclement weather, natural disasters, or other emergencies happen. Keeping lines of communication open between your providers and your patients is essential, especially during times of uncertainty. 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 receive or answer your patients’ calls. You can learn more about identifying risk to prepare for unprecedented circumstances from our related blog post and 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 and decide if it’s time to look for another solution that can better protect your medical practice.

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

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

Let’s discuss how your practice can benefit from the right answering service solution.

How much is your answering service costing you?

medical answering service warning

Sometimes, traditional medical answering services come with hidden costs that could be undercutting the success of your practice. Costs associated with human error—such as lost and delayed messages, negative patient interactions, inaccurate symptom descriptions, and more—carry significant risk for your patients and your practice.

Mistakes that were once par for the course with answering services have become largely avoidable in a modern healthcare environment. Since quality communication between patients and providers (before, during, and after business hours) is a fundamental pillar of patient care, it would be wise for any organization using a live medical answering service to ask yourself the following questions:

Are your patients being served a positive experience with your practice?

Any negative encounters with your practice (including over the phone) can begin to erode the trust and positive relationships you have built with your patients. Many patients perceive the answering service as an extension of your practice—not a separate, third-party service. That makes live call agents a contributing factor to your overall patient experience, a factor you have limited control over.

If a patient feels at any time as though their medical needs are not met with the level of urgency they feel is necessary, their trust in your practice quickly dissolves into frustration, fear, and motivation to seek care elsewhere. Whether or not a patient leaving costs you any recurring revenue, word of mouth can impact your organization’s reputation for care quality and, therefore, your ability to bring in new patients.

Is your staff empowered to use their time as efficiently as possible?
It’s tough to assign a dollar amount to the frustration of having to resolve a breakdown in patient care caused by miscommunication. It’s impossible to quantify the impact of anxiety your staff can develop when they feel unable to deliver the best patient care due to issues with the clinical communication process. But if your communication process isn’t optimized to help providers focus on delivering proper patient care, you may wind up calculating costs in terms of turnover and other negative effects of low provider satisfaction and burnout.

Are you legally or financially at risk?

Some unlucky practices have discovered a best-kept secret of certain deceptive answering services: subcontracting. In some cases, live “medical” answering services turn out to be subcontracting their work out to other answering services that don’t always have a medical focus or adhere to HIPAA compliance standards.

Few medical practice leaders would knowingly risk placing subpar answering services between their patients and their providers or practice. In fact, a practice in this situation is at risk for fines and penalties associated with breaches involving PHI and unsecure communications.

Another scenario in which a practice using a live answering service may be at risk includes one where the answering service is referencing an outdated provider shift schedule.

Consider this worst-case scenario A patient, unknowingly suffering from a stroke, calls your practice after hours to report blurred vision and confusion. The medical answering service, operating off of an inaccurate on-call schedule, fails to deliver the patient’s message to the correct on-call provider for another hour. Due to the time-sensitivity of this ailment, your practice could be at risk for a malpractice suit.

An unforeseeable and adverse incident like the one above could become a substantial loss for your practice.

Are you safeguarding your reputation?

Imagine another unfortunate scenarioA critical care surgeon with his own practice routinely performed emergent consults for a local hospital. But then, the hospital stopped calling. They felt the surgeon’s medical answering service was unable to deliver messages in a timely, efficient manner. The hospital now works with other providers instead.

Don’t let the above scenario happen to you. Your credibility and reputation in the healthcare community can be negatively affected if outside consultants and hospitals cannot reach you quickly in times of emergency. The impact of an unreliable reputation can be detrimental to your providers and your practice. It may seem easier to stick to the status quo with a live answering service, but is it worth letting avoidable lapses in communication tarnish your reputation?

Have you uncovered all hidden fees?

Most medical answering services are upfront about their fees, but practice leaders and managers seldom realize how many fee-based events they’re actually being charged for on each single after-hours call or message. Varying types of hidden fee-incurring events include:

  • Taking the call or message.
  • Relaying that message to the right clinician.
  • Relaying the clinician’s instructions back to the patient.
  • Recording and logging the conversation as a whole.
  • Recording and logging each communication.

These events can incur minute fees that can account for an unexpectedly substantial amount of overtime.

What is the real cost of your answering service?

Take a skeptical look at your answering service’s monthly invoice to understand the hard costs. Think through how your current answering service effects patient safety and satisfaction, as well as your providers’ satisfaction. Is your answering service a compliance risk? Can it harm your professional reputation? At the end of the day, these are the costs that put your practice, providers, and patients at risk.

What is the best solution to eliminate the costs and risks of your answering service?

In the age of digital communication, automated tools are commonly used to eliminate human error, simplify communication processes, and streamline accurate connections. These advantages are perhaps most valuable in a clinical environment. An ideal medical answering service solution can sync with the most up-to-date shift schedules, protect providers’ caller IDs, escalate urgent messages, and save non-urgent messages for regular business hours.


Let’s discuss how your practice can benefit from the right answering service solution.

Is your medical practice disaster and emergency proof?

Download the checklist.

It’s easy not to think about unprecedented circumstances and how they could impact your practice … until one occurs. By the time a wildfire, hurricane, earthquake, snowstorm, or pandemic happens, some practices are caught behind the eight ball, trying to frantically plan for remote patient access and communication.

These types of situations put you, your practice, and your patients under tremendous stress, making timely communication between providers and patients more essential than ever. Providers and practice managers need to proactively identify communication risks, create protocols, and employ solutions to minimize risk, so you’re not left scrambling to react at the onset of an emergency.

Open Lines of Patient Communication

When an unforeseen disaster or emergency takes place, it’s important for the lines of communication between your patients and providers to remain open and accessible. Even if your medical practice closes its doors, your communication solution should still be fully functional—routing patient messages, escalating urgent calls, and helping you and your patient base stay connected.

Unfortunately, not every practice communication service is capable of maintaining functionality virtually during a disaster or emergency.

Considerations for Selecting Practice Communication Solutions

When you’re identifying your communication risks and evaluating your current service’s performance, consider the following:

Solution Infrastructure

Does your solution have a protocol for extended power outages or office closures? Are there backup protocols in place to prevent lost or delayed messages?

If the answer to either question is “No,” your patients won’t have any way of reaching the right on-call provider during a disaster or emergency. Damage to communication infrastructure is common during disasters. Power outages can affect landline phone service, especially if you depend on broadband connections, like VoIP (Voice over Internet Protocol).

In the event of a forced office closure, how would your medical answering service contact your providers? A practice communication solution that is cloud-based enables providers and patients to connect quickly regardless of location, outages, or facility closures.

Automated Routing and Escalation Capabilities

What happens when your medical answering service can’t take your overflow, after-hours, or overnight calls and messages due to closure? What happens if the on-call provider is unable to answer their phone?

Make sure the solution you choose offers rerouting and escalation policies for urgent messages when notifications are not answered. Look for 24/7 automated call and message forwarding that doesn’t rely on middlemen, so your patients can always reach the right providers in times of need.

Remote Patient Monitoring and Communication

If your practice is forced to close during a natural disaster, how will your providers manage patients with a chronic illness or conditions? During widespread illnesses, how will your practice mitigate risks of infection?

Search for solutions that enable providers to send two-way provider-to-patient text messages tailored to each patient’s unique circumstance. Look for the ability to:

  • Broadcast messages to patients during community-wide disasters and emergencies.
  • Assess symptom severity and gauge pain levels.
  • Initiate patient phone and video screenings.
  • Send details on how to access care.
  • Prescribe new treatment plans.
  • Share best practices for staying safe, proactive, and healthy.

To help ensure your practice can avoid interruption of essential functions and services during unexpected events, we’ve created a Medical Practice Disaster & Emergency Preparedness Checklist.

 

Create a plan to stay connected with patients in critical moments.