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In short, disconnected legacy systems with outdated hardware and devices combine with overlapping, suboptimal workflows to create the noise fueling alarm fatigue.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

10-Point Checklist:
Deploying Shared Devices for Nurses

Checklist Deploying Nurse Devices


B
elow is a summary of an article published in Becker’s Hospital Review July 9, 2018.1

In a 2018 survey, 72% of respondents reported using a program that provides nurses with devices.

Smartphones equip nurses and other clinical staff with always-available communication and clinical applications that help speed up care delivery. Connected nurses more easily communicate and collaborate with care team members on patient-centered care.

Mobile devices for nurses must be rigorously tested and validated. Purchasing the wrong devices for thousands of team members without testing them in real life can have disastrous consequences. On the other hand, choosing the right devices can launch an integrated delivery network for care team collaboration and quality patient care.

Here is a 10-point checklist of best practices for planning and implementing a mobile device strategy for nursing teams:

1. Consider device usability.

Make sure the devices you put into your nurses’ hands are well received. Form factor, battery life, and performance all play into device acceptance. Any shortcomings can negatively impact adoption.

2. Verify compatibility between the device and your applications.

The most obvious application to consider is the mobile app for your EHR, but there are other apps you should also test. Create a role-by-role application inventory to guide your app testing.

3. Consider the durability of the device in three key areas.

    1. Drop Endurance: Only consider devices that pass repeated four-foot drops.
    2. Liquid Tolerance: Whether it be a sink, toilet, or any other liquid landing, care team devices need to survive getting wet to function reliably.
    3. Sanitization Survival: Good infection control practices require regular device disinfection. How well will the devices handle your facility’s sanitization agents?

4. Test the reliability of the device on your wireless network.

Not all devices seamlessly transition between wireless access points throughout a hospital. As more access points are added to improve coverage, the frequency of network issues may increase, which is one of the most common contributors to device failures.

5. Validate the voice quality of the device.

In most cases, the device is used primarily as a phone. Test the voice quality of the device when paired with your wireless network and PBX.

6. Ensure your device will support a secure operating system.

Note the operating system shipped with the device and future plans for the course of the device’s lifecycle. Specifically, ensure the device will always run an operating system that continues to receive security patches from the vendor. Avoid an end-of-life operating system.

7. Purchase during the first half of the device lifecycle.

Make sure the devices you deploy have enough horsepower to last at least three years. Purchasing devices early in the lifecycle will help maximize usable life. Purchasing too late in the lifecycle leads to performance complaints long before the devices are planned to retire.

8. Plan organizational change for device deployment.

Change can be hard, but a thoughtful plan makes all the difference. Carefully consider your training program, communication plan, and your “change champions” to help evangelize the update.

9. Consider the manageability of the devices.

Use a mobile device management (MDM) solution to deploy and manage your devices. If you don’t currently have one, bundle your MDM decision in with device selection. Do not try to deploy devices enterprise wide without an MDM.

10. Pilot the device in real-world situations.

Proper device evaluation goes beyond hands-on sessions in training rooms. Once you have narrowed your devices down to a short list, test them in the environments in which they will be used. Most clinical users move around a lot. Plan to have care team members in various roles use the devices in their everyday workflows to identify strengths and weaknesses.

Getting your mobile device strategy right is crucial in supporting nurse collaboration with care team members. Connect with one of our clinical communication specialists to talk current recommendations for your nurse devices and related strategies.

To explore how an integrated clinical communication and collaboration (CC&C) solution can complete and enhance your device strategy, click below for a PerfectServe demo.

Real-Time Data Entry for Better Patient Care

Real-Time Data Entry Header

It has always been recommended that charting take place as near to the care event as practical, with the key word being “practical.” In reality, clinicians and nurses often stay after shifts to do their charting because entry is not seamless during patient care.

The more time that passes between the health event and the data entry, the less detailed the data input becomes and the greater its risk of containing errors. Delayed data entry impacts patient outcomes and creates unnecessary administrative overhead.

Benefits of Real-Time Data Entry

“Real-time electronic data is a potential treasure trove of insights, which can be analysed to improve patient care and use nurses’ time more effectively.”
– Helen Glenister, Chief Operating Officer (COO) of The Learning Clinic1

Real-time data entry has been shown to improve patient care (particularly the identification of patients who may be deteriorating), free up more direct-care time for nurses and clinicians, and help hospitals better deploy staff and resources.

According to a study published in Nursing Times, the availability of up-to-date data can help nurses and clinicians spot patterns in data that indicate a patient is deteriorating or may have an infection.1 While some data points may automatically feed into the EHR, vital observational data from nurses and doctors are not automatically entered.

Timely electronic recording of all clinical data—including observations, assessments, and actions—gives the overall picture of a patient and provides a clear data trail in the event of a complaint or incident investigation. Real-time documentation and order entry during rounding also helps speed up care and minimize future interruptions.2

The benefits of real-time data entry are well known, but challenging to achieve in some hospitals.

Challenges to Real-Time Data Entry

Siloed technology systems, device mobility limitations, and logistical issues in some EHRs can be the biggest barriers to real-time charting.

“One nurse believes that since going live, EHRs have added 3 hours to a
12-hour shift.” – Laura A. Stokowski, RN, MS3

In order to chart data that is accurate, actionable, and timely, the care team must be supported with an integrated solution that allows for simplified real-time charting in the EHR/EMR.

How to Achieve Real-Time EHR Data Entry

Healthcare IT integration can be very complex, but the right technology can integrate disparate IT, clinical, telecom, and EMR/EHR systems to allow information to flow freely. The result is a cohesive, integrated communication ecosystem that ensures the right information is available at the right time to support quality patient-centered care.

An ideal solution will support real-time charting with:

  • Intelligent field mapping to reduce duplicate data entry.
  • Voice-to-text capability to speed up and simplify data entry.
  • An easy and elegant interface with all information available on a single platform; no switching between apps.
  • Easy transfer of clinical notes for rapid documentation.
  • Immediate delivery of critical lab and test results to the right clinician with date, time, recipient, delivery status, and read status auto-recorded to the EMR in accordance with Joint Commission requirements.

Next Steps for Getting Started

Explore how your team can combine real-time EHR data entry with seamless care coordination in one integrated solution by speaking with a clinical communication specialist.

 

Resources:
1. How real-time data can improve patient care, Nursing Times, Sep. 21, 2015: nursingtimes.net/clinical-archive/patient-safety/how-real-time-data-can-improve-patient-care-21-09-2015/

2. How Hospitalists Can Improve Efficiency on Inpatient Wards, The Hospitalist, Rajesh Chandra, MD, FHM, et. al., May 2014: the-hospitalist.org/hospitalist/article/126231/how-hospitalists-can-improve-efficiency-inpatient-wards

3. Electronic Nursing Documentation: Charting New Territory, Medscape, Sep. 12, 2013: medscape.com/viewarticle/810573

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.

Managing the surprisingly troublesome impact of real-time healthcare on clinical decision-making

We live in an age of instant gratification. From the texts we send friends and family to the orders we place on Amazon.com, we’ve come to expect immediate results: instant responses, next-day shipping, etc.

The idea of immediacy in healthcare communications is not new. In fact, in 2015, healthcare analyst Gartner outlined a vision for what it dubbed the “real-time health system”—a landscape where healthcare professionals will be constantly aware of what’s happening within their systems and with their patients.

As a person living in the digital age, you’ve probably experienced real-time awareness in other parts of your life: the repetitive dings of received text messages, the intermittent beeps of calendar alerts, the near-constant hum as your smartphone vibrates over and over to let you know your mother, children and cousins have uploaded photos to Facebook, Instagram and Snapchat. In fact, as I’m typing this piece, I’ve heard alerts for two personal text messages that I’ve yet to look at (the temptation is maddening), four work-related emails (that I did have to stop and look at), a notification that someone commented on a thread I replied to on Facebook and more.

While there’s definitely a benefit to each of us knowing what’s happening in our expanded universe in real time—and we can easily draw a direct line to the benefits that doctors, nurses and patients would experience if they could communicate instantaneously while coordinating care—the influx of information is simply overwhelming.

And when alarm fatigue sets in, important messages get missed, the communication cycle breaks down and what was once a valuable resource becomes a liability. Overwhelmed and inundated clinicians cannot optimally use their invaluable expertise to make effective clinical decisions that deliver great health outcomes.

Aggregating, analyzing and managing the distribution of clinical information

Managing the flow of data and alert fatigue is a real challenge that clinicians and the IT teams that support them need to understand. Clinicians need “just the facts, ma’am,” so to speak, and they need to know which set of facts pertain directly to them and the patients for whom they are caring. Receiving more than enough information is not always a good thing, especially when the situation calls for fast thinking and quick decisions.

Investments made in technologies implemented over the past several years have enabled healthcare as an industry to generate very large amounts of digitized clinical information. The challenge is to aggregate this patient data in real time to generate new knowledge about a patient and distribute it in a way that does not inundate the clinician recipients with unnecessary information. Physicians and nurses should receive information they need in order to act in that moment. Everything else is noise.


Learn how a care team communication solution can enable your clinical integration strategy. Get a demo.


Implementing communication-driven workflows

Once new knowledge is made available and deemed relevant to a given clinical situation, it’s important to enable workflows that drive this information to the right care team members, who can take action in that moment. Hospital-based communication workflows must encompass all modalities, adhere to strict security mandates and facilitate reliable exchanges among clinicians across boundaries (e.g., acute, pre-acute and post-acute care settings). This kind of clinical integration is the future of healthcare communications.

If clinicians are inundated with unnecessary information, messages and alerts, combined with a communication workflow that creates barriers to a) finding the right care team member to contact, b) finding the contact method that the clinician prefers and c) knowing whether the intended recipient received the message, the workflow is flawed and is inhibiting the decision-making that leads to higher standards of patient care.

Leveraging clinical expertise

The personal judgment of experienced healthcare professionals is irreplaceable in effective, real-time decision-making. Technological advances are no doubt improving healthcare, but human intuition can never be replaced by a new device or software. However, that intuition can be inhibited by technologies if they are not strategically implemented and managed. In this sense, real-time healthcare could, ironically, be eroding quality.

To truly leverage the hundreds of collective years of clinical expertise housed in the minds of your hospital’s medical staff—the expertise that yields great outcomes—you must remove the barriers to effective communication. Collecting patient data in real time is an important part of that. But analyzing and aggregating that data into digestible, valuable pieces of information that can be easily shared and collaborated on is the follow-through that is often overlooked.

The gravitation toward instant gratification isn’t going away. And it’s important to understand that the concept doesn’t apply simply to generating patient data as healthcare events are occurring, but also to the ability to extract the significant portions and begin collaborating with the broader care team to interpret the data and derive a plan to deliver high-value care.

Schedule a Demo