The Power of Provider Schedule Visibility

Provider schedule visibility—or lack thereof—has broad impacts on various aspects of patient care. Two top areas that can be improved by making schedules more visible are patient safety and provider satisfaction.

Patient Safety

A review from the Joint Commission reveals that communication failures are at the root of over 70% of sentinel events.1 Often, lapses in clinical communication are caused by the inability of care team members to locate and contact the correct provider, a problem exacerbated by siloed and outdated scheduling systems. If different department call schedules are accessed in different locations across the organization and providers are expected to go through different processes for each department, dangerous delays in communication are inevitable.

A study by the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality refers to the time care team members spend attempting—but failing—to contact the correct provider as “problematic time.” According to the study, many communication events include time spent searching for information, identifying the appropriate provider, or searching for accurate contact information.

On average, problematic time consisted of 10-40% of total communication time.1 To eliminate problematic time, schedules must make it easy to quickly locate and contact the correct provider.

“To be able to see who is the surgeon that’s going to be taking this case, who’s the radiologist on call, who’s the infectious disease provider on call—all at a glance—that just has huge value to an organization for patient safety and workflow efficiency.”

– Dr. Corey Joekel, Chief Medical Information Officer, Children’s Hospital & Medical Center Omaha, Optimized Provider Scheduling Client

Smart organizations improve speed to care and reduce medical errors with one digital scheduling solution that offers the latest schedules and provider contact information for all departments at the touch of a button. An accessible solution also integrates real-time schedules with other essential systems, like the EHR, call center software, and clinical communication and collaboration (CC&C) solutions.

Modern provider schedules that are centralized, easily visible, and always up to date make connecting with the right provider much quicker and easier, eliminating delays and streamlining patient care.

Provider Satisfaction

Inefficient and varying processes for locating the on-call provider can be a huge source of dissatisfaction for physicians, care team members, and administrators, contributing to increased turnover.1 A lack of schedule transparency is a frustrating issue that inhibits your staff’s perception of shift fairness, impedes their ability to collaborate quickly, and brings down their overall satisfaction at work. It’s easy to understand why…

A provider who cannot access a full view of the schedule is more likely to get the misconception that a coworker is getting “better” shifts than one who can easily pull up the full team schedule. Perceived unfairness leads to frustration, friction, and dissatisfaction. As provider dissatisfaction spreads, schedulers become overwhelmed with schedule complaints and shift change requests. In the absence of a scheduling solution that is easy to access, edit, and share, schedule changes increasingly pull schedulers away from other important tasks.

The vicious cycle repeats itself in teams that lack schedule visibility, leading to burnout and turnover.

With the cost to replace a physician ranging from $500,000-1 million2, healthcare organizations stand to lose thousands, even millions, of dollars annually in turnover.

Investing in better provider scheduling can save big money in the long run.

Better Scheduling Transparency Improves Healthcare

Ensuring provider shift and on-call schedules are easily accessible across your organization can dramatically increase both patient safety and provider satisfaction by improving healthcare operations.

Want proof? Optimized Provider Scheduling powered by Lightning Bolt helped UK Healthcare’s Hospitalist Department decrease the time to contact the on-call provider by 86.5%.

Contact one of our Clinical Scheduling Specialists today to learn how Optimized Provider Scheduling can drive results for your organization.

  1. Improving Patient Safety Through Provider Communication Strategy Enhancements, Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, Dingley C., et al., Advances in Patient Safety: New Directions and Alternative Approaches – Vol. 3, Aug. 2008: ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK43663/
  2. Please don’t go: ways to reduce physician turnover, Medical Group Management Association (MGMA), Sep. 20, 2018: mgma.com/data/data-stories/please-don-t-go-ways-to-reduce-physician-turnover#:~:text=According%20to%20Christine%20Sinsky%2C%20MD,costs%20by%20reducing%20physician%20turnover

Manage Patient Surge with Advanced Provider Scheduling

Patient Surge: Meet Demand with Optimized Provider Scheduling

A key part of any emergency preparedness plan is ensuring patients have access to the care they need—when they need it! During any widespread emergency or disaster, every healthcare organization—whether it’s a small local practice or a large health system—must ensure it has the tools in place to meet unexpected patient surge. One of the most important tools for responding to rising patient demand during a crisis: an advanced provider scheduling solution.

Ensure Patient Access by Responding in Real Time

Unpredictable circumstances call for quick responses. An advanced provider scheduling solution enables an organization of any size to respond to unexpected patient surge in real time. Let’s walk through an example.

A natural disaster occurs near Central Hospital, a medium-sized acute care facility. The emergency department is not adequately staffed to meet the increase in patient demand. The department’s administrator launches the scheduling solution and sends a communication to all the department providers not already working to request additional coverage. When providers accept, they are immediately added to the schedule so they can report to the emergency department to provide coverage. The ability to make these quick changes might mean that a patient who otherwise would have had to wait longer due to overwhelmed clinical staff can now get the urgent care they need at the right time.

In addition to providing administrators the ability to communicate with clinical staff, an advanced scheduling solution also enables providers to easily communicate with administrators if emergency circumstances prevent them from being able to cover a shift. Instead of sending emails back and forth to colleagues and administrators trying to find shift coverage, providers can simply send a shift swap request to all available colleagues from the mobile application in less than a minute. When a colleague accepts the request, the change is reflected in real time for all team members to see.

Increase Visibility Across Locations and Departments

In a crisis, visibility into who is working where is key. Without a centralized scheduling solution, healthcare organizations lack both a single source of truth for evaluating staffing needs across locations/departments and the ability to quickly enact staffing changes.

For a hospital, enhanced visibility allows administrators and clinical leaders to ensure adequate staffing across several departments. For example, at a northern California hospital preparing for seasonal wildfires, administrators can evaluate coverage to ensure contingent departments, like the emergency department and the burn unit, have an adequate number of scheduled providers to respond to incoming wildfire injuries.

This level of visibility also enables health systems and multi-site group practices to evaluate staffing needs across all in-network locations in order to meet patient demand. For example—a multi-site group pediatric practice may offer weekend visits with exclusive hours at a specific practice location during flu season; with enhanced visibility administrators can predict weekend shift coverage needs and equitably allocate the appropriate amount of clinical staff to that specific location based on patient demand.

Enhance Communication & Collaboration Workflows

Particularly for a hospital or health system, improved schedule transparency not only allows leaders to make informed staffing decisions, but also empowers care teams to better communicate and collaborate. Collaboration between different specialty departments or providers across locations is essential during an emergency response.

For example:

During a surge in patient admission to the hospitalist department, an administrator makes a request for additional hospitalist coverage. As additional coverage is required, it is essential the coverage updates to the schedule are accessible to all care team members in real time, assuring your team the right messages are delivered to the right provider at the right time. With a scheduling solution, you ensure schedule changes are visible in real time, so your staff can easily contact the correct providers quickly—launching a call, text, or email to a provider directly from the application.

Ensure Ample Coverage in Any Crisis with an Agile Scheduling Solution—Launched in Just 48 Hours

The benefits of a scheduling solution for emergency preparedness are wide-ranging, but scheduling solutions can take up to three months to implement. Need an immediate scheduling solution to prepare your organization for patient surge? Learn more about our Rapid Surge Scheduling solution which is ready to launch just 48 hours.

Optimized Scheduling Drives Hospitalist Satisfaction

31% of hospitalists are not satisfied with their schedules.

Today’s Hospitalist 2019 Career & Compensation Survey reveals that hospitalists are unsatisfied with their schedules, citing a lack of flexibility, inability to take vacation, and inequitable distributions of shifts like weekend and call.1 Other top complaints included burnout, administrative tasks, and an overwhelming patient census.

One root cause of these issues? Ineffective provider scheduling.

Learn how optimized scheduling can increase hospitalist satisfaction at your organization by incorporating provider preferences, simplifying scheduling workflows, and aligning provider supply with patient demand. Click the image below to download the infographic.

To learn more about how PerfectServe can support better hospitalist scheduling at your organization, click below to contact one of our Scheduling Specialists.

 

 

1. Today’s Hospitalist 2019 Career & Compensation Survey: todayshospitalist.com/salary-survey-results/

How Virtual Waiting Rooms Protect Patients, Staff, and Productivity

How Virtual Waiting Rooms Protect Patients, Staff, and Productivity

A traditional waiting room can be a melting pot for germs and bacteria. Learn how a virtual waiting room protects patients and staff by reducing their risk of exposure to infection. Possible side effects: more pleasant patient-provider encounters, increased patient and provider satisfaction, better adherence to social distancing best practices, and improved overall outcomes.

May 2020, 90% of patients globally reported that the quality of care was as good or better with the recent surge in virtual care than care quality before COVID-19.1

What is a “virtual waiting room”?

If you’ve been out to eat at a restaurant in the past few years, you may have noticed a change in the experience of waiting for a table. Rather than asking you to stay within earshot while you wait, today’s hostess will likely request your cell phone number and offer to text you when your table is ready.

The text-to-table process makes the entire experience feel more personal, comfortable, and customer-centric. That’s because waiting is less unpleasant when you are free to do what you want—where you want—until the moment your turn arrives. Now, the same experience has become essential in healthcare to minimize patient discomfort and protect public safety with social distancing.

A virtual waiting room (aka mobile waiting room, zero-contact waiting room, or curbside check-in) is a service that allows patients to check in using their mobile phone and notifies them through a direct text message when it is their turn to be seen by the doctor.

An ideal virtual waiting room serves two essential purposes:

  1. Giving in-person patients the freedom to wait for their turn privately in their car or wherever they choose, rather than being confined to a stuffy, crowded waiting room and risking exposure to new germs and potential illness.
  2. Facilitating a smooth check-in process for telehealth visits.

Both purposes improve the patient experience and encourage healthy practices.

Why are virtual waiting rooms essential for in-person patient visits?

31% of patients say they are uncomfortable visiting a doctor’s office and 42% are uncomfortable visiting a hospital.2

Traditional waiting rooms that require patients to touch shared surfaces and breathe shared air are both uncomfortable and unsafe in the current environment. Virtual waiting rooms serve the important health purpose of enabling social distancing, and they also enhance the patient experience.

Unlike a traditional waiting room, a virtual waiting room reduces the risk of patients (and staff) associating your organization with frustrating factors beyond your control, which may include pesky sounds, smells, other people, and even boredom. As demand rises for a safer, more comfortable healthcare experience, virtual waiting rooms are the key to getting patients in the door while increasing their odds of leaving satisfied.

How can virtual waiting rooms apply to video visits?

Ideally, the same virtual solution used to help manage in-person patient visits can be adapted to also queue up video visits, allowing providers and patients to indicate when they are ready.

What’s the best way to implement a virtual waiting room?

In short, work with what you’ve got. If you have a patient engagement solution that can also facilitate a virtual waiting room and video visits, talk to your vendor about the next steps for launching a virtual waiting room.

If you do not have a solution for two-way texting or video visits with patients, or if you are looking for a replacement/upgrade to your current system, focus on finding a solution that can do the following:

  • Automated Appointment Reminders to Patients
  • Pre-Appointment and Pre-Arrival Instructions to Patients
  • Patient Arrival Notification via Simple Text
  • Entry Notification and Office Navigation Guidance
  • HIPAA-Compliant Video Connection
  • Scheduled and On-the-Fly Video Visits
  • Connect Without Requiring App Downloads or Passwords
  • Caller ID Protection for Providers
  • 24/7 Connection

Here’s a streamlined patient experience with an organization using all of the above capabilities:

Key Benefits of an Integrated Virtual Waiting Room

Virtual waiting rooms are extremely beneficial to patients, staff, and organizations that implement them, especially when they are integrated with other patient engagement solutions, such as video visits and HIPAA-compliant messaging.

Some of the top benefits include:

  • Patient Protection and Safety
  • Increased Patient Satisfaction
  • Reduced Frustration for Patients and Staff
  • Efficient Patient Intake
  • Reduced No-Shows

 

Get Started Now to See Benefits Sooner

Give your patients a safer, easier solution for maintaining their healthcare with a user-friendly, integrated virtual waiting room. To see how it works, click below.

Resources:

  1. Virtual care here to stay, PharmaTimes, Brad Michel, Jul. 21, 2020: pharmatimes.com/web_exclusives/Virtual_care_here_to_stay_1345204
  2. Breakdown of Changes in Consumers’ Health Care Behavior During COVID-19—INFOGRAPHIC, Alliance of Community Health Plans (ACHP), May 21, 2020: achp.org/research-breakdown-of-changes-in-consumers-health-care-behavior-during-covid-19

Engaging Millennial Parents to Increase Well-Child Visits

Scheduling well-child visits can be problematic for young parents. Many don’t know how often to bring in their children or understand the importance of regularly scheduled visits. Regular visits are particularly critical during the first three years of a child’s life to track growth and development, help prevent illness, and allow early intervention when necessary for optimal outcomes.

Text message reminders have become an expected touchpoint for dental appointments, vet visits, car maintenance, and various other services for today’s consumer. But some providers have been slow to engage parents via text to help keep their children on track with recommended care plans.

Millennials, who are accustomed to checking their text messages regularly throughout the day, respond positively to businesses that reach out to them via text. Young parents want the efficiency and convenience of smartphone messaging in most aspects of their lives, including appointment reminders.

See how Park Nicollet utilized PerfectServe’s Patient & Family Communication functionality to launch a text message appointment reminder program helping new parents more closely adhere to the recommended well-child visit schedule.

Constructing the Program

In 2016, Park Nicollet, part of HealthPartners, a nonprofit healthcare system based in Minnesota, launched a text-message-based reminder program to proactively support young parents in scheduling well-child visits from infancy to late childhood. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends six visits in the first 15 months (Health Plan Employers Data and Information Set [HEDIS] measure), which fits into the broad scope of 12 recommended well-child visits by age three.

To promote parents’ adherence to the advised schedule, our team set five goals aligned with best practices from AAP’s Bright Futures initiative:

  1. Keep children on time for well-child visits.
  2. Prevent missed visits and gaps in care.
  3. Improve the patient and parent experience.
  4. Support Bright Futures—recall and reminder system.
  5. Improve the HEDIS measure.

A program was launched using an algorithm based on birth dates to send text messages at appropriate intervals to parents of children aged two months to 36 months. Instead of waiting to reach out until after appointments were overdue, preemptive texts encouraged parents to schedule before the next well visit, offering a direct link for parents to easily schedule an appointment. The seamless and automatic process allowed Park Nicollet to reclaim precious staff time that was previously used to manage reminders.

Program Structure

Birth to Three Years

A SMS text message is sent to the child’s family or primary caregiver 30 days prior to the next well-child visit,
based on the child’s date of birth. Then, text reminders are only sent if an appointment is not scheduled in the appropriate timeframe.

Three to 10 Years

A text message is sent to the child’s family or primary caregiver two weeks prior to the next well-child visit, based on the date of the child’s last well-child visit. Then, a text reminder is only sent if an appointment is not scheduled in the appropriate timeframe.

Launching the Program

Launching the program with a small patient population (birth to three years) enabled Park Nicollet to see results quickly; early results showed that the text outreach was positive. Patient satisfaction increased among parents, who loved the ease and convenience of the program. Prior to the texting program, patients were seen an average of one month after their recommended well visit. Only three to six months after initiating the text reminder program, the one-month average gap was cut in half, meaning patients were seen closer to AAP recommendations.

Implementing the program on a smaller scale provided an opportunity to identify and address problems before expanding to the larger population. The biggest challenge involved parental consent and whether to design an opt-in or opt-out program. Park Nicollet defaulted to an opt-in program, requiring parents to provide consent to start receiving text reminders. Eventually, this obstacle overcome by training frontline staff to have parents sign consent forms, but the face-to-face process limited enrollment to the parents who were already making and keeping appointments.

Efficient enrollment and expansion required automation and updating of the electronic health record (EHR). Following the EHR integration, enrollment consent was captured in the EHR and parents didn’t need to be present in the office if they had consented to text messaging as their preferred appointment reminder.

With enterprise-wide expansion of PerfectServe’s Patient & Family Communication to all HealthPartners facilities in 2017, the automated process increased enrollment by over 35,000 and increased well-child visits by 10%. Based on the last reported 12-month period, enterprise-wide enrollment has over 79,000 active patients, which includes HealthPartners and Park Nicollet, and over 43,000 enrolled patients for Park Nicollet alone (see Table 1).

Table 1

Development and Expansion

With expansion of the program to Park Nicollet’s entire clinic care group in 2019, they began using text reminders for well visits for children up to age 10. Future initiatives with the program for Park Nicollet included incorporating additional languages (a sizable subset of HealthPartners patients is non-native-English speaking). In addition, increased enrollment of the millennial population presented opportunities to address various patient population needs—such as:

  • Reminders for flu vaccines and other immunizations.
  • Health metrics monitoring.
  • Checks for postpartum depression.

A Roadmap for Getting Started

Leveraging technology with a trusted and experienced partner enabled the team at Park Nicollet to create a program that worked for patients’ families. Following a digital roadmap, PerfectServe and Park Nicollet worked together to build reports derived from actionable, engaging, timely, and relevant data. Based on these insights, here are five recommendations for implementing a successful texting program:

  1. Partner with a solution that has proven expertise with EMR systems and experience providing reliable, secure communication to patients and their family.
  2. Engage a project champion to guide project design, implementation, effectiveness, expansion, and quality assurance.
  3. Assemble a multidisciplinary team—mobile communication technology partner, EMR vendor, physicians, quality improvement specialists, health information management (HIM), compliance and legal experts, growth strategists, and frontline managers—and solicit input from all stakeholders.
  4. Launch a scaled down program with a small population to identify and address problems before expanding to a larger patient population.
  5. Initiate the process with a mindset of patience. Avoid trying to implement the program hastily and without forethought. This endeavor demands careful preparation to ensure success.

PerfectServe’s Patient & Family Communication solution gives providers a simple and elegant way to engage directly with patients. From sharing directions to your office before an appointment to checking in with patients post-discharge, text messaging is a quick, effective, and easily automated way to stay connected with any patient population—most of all millennials.

Learn more about how PerfectServe supports patient-provider communication by contacting one of our Clinical Communication Specialists below.

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.