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.

Safeguarding security: 4 tactics for secure clinical communication and collaboration

I had the honor of speaking at the 2016 Becker’s Hospital Review Annual CIO/HIT + Revenue Cycle Summit, discussing the elements needed to truly secure clinical communications with some of the best minds in the healthcare world. With a number of recent high profile news stories announcing ransomware attacks in hospitals and health systems, security and the ability to secure clinical information is top of mind for many.

Those who oversee organizational data and IT systems recognize the importance of securing communication channels containing ePHI as they build a unified communications strategy. While security and regulatory mandates are essential elements of a clinical communication strategy, to create a truly successful strategy, the needs of those who provide care: physicians, nurses, therapists and others on the care team – in any setting – at any time – must be addressed flawlessly and securely.

To do so, there a few tactics to keep in mind:

Understand what the HIPAA Security Rule actually states

There’s been a lot of confusion in the industry when it comes to HIPAA compliance and communication. I often notice that many organizations think this is all about secure text messaging, which is incomplete. The Security Rule never speaks to a particular technology or communications modality, application or device. It is technology neutral.

HIPAA compliance is about the system of physical, administrative and technical safeguards that your organization puts in place to to ensure the confidentiality, integrity and availability of all ePHI it creates, receives, maintains or transmits. Because of this, there is no such thing as a HIPAA-compliant app.

Understand care team dynamics 

Care team members are mobile and they employ workflows to receive communication based upon situational variables such as origin, purpose, urgency, day, time, call schedules, patient and more. The variables determine who should be contacted and how to do so for every communications event.

For this reason, third parties (hospital switchboards and answering services) and disparate technologies are used in organizations’ clinical communication processes. Understanding this variety of technologies and actors is key to accurately assessing your organization’s compliance risk. And, coming up with strategies to effectively address that risk is key.

Secure text messaging is essential, but it’s not sufficient

While secure messaging is an essential component of your overall strategy, it’s not sufficient because:

  1. it requires the sender to always know who it is they need to reach—by name.
  2. it requires the recipient to always be available to other care team members 24/7.

These requirements are inconsistent with the complexity inherent in communication workflows that enable time-sensitive care delivery processes, because they don’t address the situational variables I described above.

Secure messaging is only one piece of what should be a much larger communications strategy—one that should address clinician workflows and multi-modal communications channels for all care team members.

Your goal should be to enable more effective care team collaboration 

Organizations often focus on achieving HIPAA-compliance. This is a flawed objective. The focus should be on achieving more effective care team collaboration. If this is done effectively, achieving HIPAA-compliance will come along for the ride.

Six essential capabilities 

An effective secure clinical communications and collaboration strategy will include the following six elements.

  1. It will facilitate communication-driven workflows that enable time-sensitive care delivery processes. An example of a communications-driven workflow is stroke diagnosis and treatment. When a patient with stroke symptoms presents in the ED, one of the first things the ED physician does is initiate a communications workflow to contact the neurologist covering that ED at that moment in time, while simultaneously notifying and mobilizing a stroke team to complete a CT scan to determine if it is safe to administer tPA, the drug that arrests the stroke. Time is critical. Healthcare is chock full of these kinds of workflows, executed every day in every hospital by the hundreds and thousands.
  1. It will provide technology that automatically identifies and provides an immediate connection to the right care team member for any given clinical situation—this is nursing’s greatest need! Your strategy should be to bypass third parties and eliminate all the manual tools and processes used to figure out who’s in what role right now given the situation at hand. Ignoring this need means you won’t achieve adoption, which means your organization will still be at risk.
  1. It should extend beyond any department and the four walls of the hospital. It should enable cross-organizational communication workflows. This is increasingly important under value-based care where care team members must collaborate across interdependent organizations to deliver better care.
  1. It should secure the creation, transmission and access of ePHI across all communication modalities—not just text messaging. Enough said!
  1. It should integrate with your other clinical systems to leverage the data within those systems to facilitate new communication workflows. This is key to enabling “real-time healthcare.”
  1. It should provide analytics to monitor your communication processes and continuously improve those processes over time.

With these capabilities in place, secure clinical communication simply becomes another positive result of implementing a broader care team collaboration strategy, designed to address clinical efficiency and improve patient care delivery.

Schedule a Demo

 

Physician Engagement:
What It Is & Why It’s Important

Physician Engagement Definition | Measuring Physician Engagement | Improving Physician Engagement | Physician Engagement Best Practices

In healthcare, the impact of workforce engagement has similarities with other industries such as productivity, turnover, and financial performance. However, physician engagement also impacts the health, safety, and well-being of patients. The good news is clinical communication and collaboration solutions can address those common denominators and support key stakeholders.

What is Physician Engagement?

Engaged physicians take greater care of their patients, reduce medical costs, and are more efficient than their unengaged counterparts. The Health Care Advisory Board states that creating organizational alignment is one of the most challenging initiatives, but the most crucial to success—impacting cost, quality, and experience initiatives.


PHYSICIAN ENGAGEMENT DEFINITION
A strategy that focuses on streamlining communication, building relationships, and aligning physicians with the values, vision and mission of their organization and with other healthcare stakeholders to continuously improve care and the patient experience.


 

Why is Physician Engagement Important?

Physician engagement is critical for a successful patient care experience. When physicians feel a lack of association, it manifests itself in ways ranging from physician burnout to a poor patient experience.

Engaged physicians are 26% more productive than those less engaged, adding an average of $460,000 in additional patient revenue per year.

Physician employment does not automatically equal engagement. Communication and collaboration skills are a must-have regardless of the number of employed physicians. High levels of physician engagement have been correlated to increased productivity, the generation of more referrals, expanded influence amongst peers and medical staff, and a greater inclination to driving organizational strategy and change.


BENEFITS OF PHYSICIAN ENGAGEMENT
  Reduced referral leakage.
  Increased in-network referrals.
  Higher engagement of patient population.
•  Improved patient care delivery.
  Enriched physician development and performance.
  Decreased burnout and turnover rates.



Effective engagement strategies require a multifaceted approach. One that includes retention, clinical and cultural fit, onboarding, benefits, leadership development, formal recognition, and physician burnout.

 

Measuring Physician Engagement

Surveys

Consistently measure and invite physicians to share their needs and challenges to gauge physician sentiment and identify gaps within care teams and workflows.


Run monthly engagement surveys for insights into how physicians perceive your organization and its services. Using that information, closely examine the factors that contribute positively or negatively to engagement and create a plan to improve physician’s everyday experience.


 

Scorecards

Help physicians understand what is expected of them in a transparent way while measuring productivity and performance metrics.


“We feel transparency is extremely important in order to change behavior. The scorecard gives a comparison of provider to provider within the same specialty. And then it’s a provider to their individual practice. And then it’s that provider to the network.”

 Travis Turner, Mary Washington Healthcare


 

Dashboards & Reporting

Employ platforms that enable your organization to visualize sufficient, real-time data that drives organizational initiatives and empowers physicians to have the autonomy to course-correct quality to improve care delivery.


Develop an in-house practice transformation dashboard to show overall movement of your practice through the phases of your organizational initiatives. Here’s an example of a dashboard used in the special report Practice Transformation Analytics Dashboard for Clinician Engagement, published by Annals of Family Medicine.

physician-engagement-dashboard


 

Accountability Tools

Implementing a solution that provides your organization and physicians to practice accountability enables both personal, peer-to-peer, and clinical autonomy. Solutions that use read receipts, automatic escalations, and self-managed scheduling can foster opportunities for meaningful dialogue and potentially reduce burnout.

There are hundreds of ways to slice your data. Look back to your guiding questions to determine the most important KPIs for your organization’s unique goals and priorities.


Check out this snippet from our webinar with Mid-Atlantic Nephrology Associates to learn how they utilize our Tracking and Reporting capabilities for transparency and accountability across their organization.

 

Mid-Atlantic Nephrology Associates reduced operational costs by over $9k by modernizing practice communication for a network of more than 52 facilities, 50 providers, and 1,700 patients.

Improving Physician Engagement

Provide Pathways to Influence

Create physician-led channels to the executive suite to share their voice in decision-making to reframe the narrative of physicians being personnel, to being partners, by creating a forum for open dialogue between executives and physicians.


Invite physicians to join in leadership by developing a roundtable discussion. This fosters an environment where physicians know their voice is heard, helps identify leadership opportunities, and shows commitment to invest in formal and informal opportunities to develop physician leaders.


 

Launch a ‘North-Star’ Initiative

Workflows and systemic factors are universal and aren’t limited to one group of care providers. By demonstrating the intent of how multiple initiatives interconnect, it streamlines the number of things physicians are asked to do on top of their patient care routines. As an example, Figure 1 shows how the factors and behaviors that build a safer culture, drive positive outcomes.


physician-engagement-strategy-northstar

Note: Figure adapted from Bisbey et al. (2019)


 

Create a Data Strategy

Data should be used and not simply collected. An effective way to drive physician engagement is to build a comprehensive data strategy that improves transparency and helps physicians understand the objectives their organization is driving.


North Memorial Healthcare adopted an enterprise data warehouse (EDW) with visualization capabilities to enable physicians to get near real-time answers to their clinical quality improvement questions. The physicians could then see how their decisions affected length of stay (LOS) and how specific changes in clinical processes would improve LOS. By accessing the data, it was easier to convince physicians to make the needed changes.


 

Form Leadership Development Programs

Physician relationships with staff, background, outlook, and training are different from hospital leaders. This can create challenges in how rapidly physicians are able to respond to marketplace and regulatory change. Adopt intentional leadership development programs for physicians who are not only formal leaders but also informal leaders.


 

•  Hold annual leadership summits with executives and c-suite.
•  Establish physician champions to present peer-selected awards.
•  Kick off meetings with peer-recognized moments of excellence.


 

How Does Technology Improve Physician Engagement?

Physicians are trained to be patient care providers, not data-entry administrators.

Physician engagement in technology is critical for the future of care delivery, and physicians are eager for solutions that streamline clinical practice, allow more face-to-face time with patients and improve outcomes. The secret is to improving physician engagement in technology adoption is to illustrate why the technology is needed, involve physicians in the selection and implementation process, and provide data to show the benefit.

While there is apprehension about the impact of technology on payment, liability and quality of care, achieving more balance in providers day-to-day is possible with the right solution. When looking for a clinical communication and collaboration platform, look for solutions that have considered end-users in the build of their user interface and capabilities, interoperability across technology, and the capabilities to streamline workflows to increase operational efficiency.

In an environment that is inherently high stress, recognizing physician needs can empower them to implement new technologies. As a result, this can improve satisfaction levels, assist in making better care decisions, and support patient engagement and satisfaction levels.

Find out how the right solution can support your physician engagement strategy.