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Is your answering service disaster-proof?
It’s tempting to think natural and manmade disasters can’t happen here.
Until they happen here.
By the time a wildfire, flood, earthquake, snowstorm or explosion happens, it’s too late to make a plan. Disasters put your community under tremendous stress, especially its healthcare infrastructure.
Fortunately, healthcare doesn’t stop for disasters.
While hospital emergency departments become the frontlines during a disaster, physician practices play an important role, too.
Timely communication between providers and patients plays an essential role in preventing exacerbation of illness during these times of emotional stress and resource challenges.
Physicians and practice managers have to identify communications risks and create policies to minimize those risks.
Open lines of communication
When an emergency happens, your first line of defense is your answering service.
Even if your office doors are closed, your answering service can still take your patient’s messages, route emergency calls and help you stay in contact with your most vulnerable patients.
Unfortunately, not every answering service is capable of helping you virtually operate your office during a disaster.
Pitfalls of human-centric answering services
Human-centric medical answering services and call centers aren’t immune to disasters, especially if they’re provided locally.
If you’re having trouble opening your practice, it’s a safe bet that operators from your local answering service are having trouble, too.
The answering service’s call center could be damaged during the wildfire, snowstorm or flood. And if the roads are out, the operators might not be able to get to their office to field your calls.Alternatively, your human-centric answering service might be located in another city and state entirely. It could experience an unforeseen disaster that makes it impossible for them to operate.
Suddenly, your answering service isn’t taking your overflow and overnight calls. Your in-office receptionist is overwhelmed and can’t keep up with your call volume.
Considerations for a 21st-century answering service
When you’re identifying your communications risks and evaluating your current answering service’s performance, consider the following:
Power outages are common. That’s why many companies use backup generators to offset temporary outages. Unfortunately, in the case of a natural disaster, the power could be out for days or even weeks.
Does your human-centric answering service have a protocol for an extended power outage? Are there back-up protocols in place to prevent failure?
If the answer to either of those questions is “no,” your patients won’t have any way of reaching the right on-call provider during a disaster.
Call and message routing
Even if your answering service doesn’t lose power during a disaster, what happens if your on-call provider can’t answer his or her phone?
Make sure your answering service has a plan for routing emergency messages when the on-call provider doesn’t answer. There should always be a protocol in place for automatic message escalation.
Damage to communication infrastructure is common during disasters. Power outages, for example, can affect landline phone service, especially if you depend on broadband connections, like Voice over Internet Protocol.
If a wildfire, hurricane or some other kind of disaster compromises your landline phone and internet connection, how would your answering service contact your physicians?
No matter who you are or where you live, the chances are, a disaster will happen eventually. Make sure your practice is ready for the inevitable.
We’ve created a disaster and emergency communications checklist to help you identify risk so that you can start building a contingency plan to help you continue to provide support to your patients in critical moments.