Unlocking the Potential of Your Answering Service: More Than a Cost Center


For the majority of health systems today, after-hours services are viewed passively as a mandatory cost of doing business. In other words, it’s always been the case that clinics will get calls outside of normal operating hours, and some system has to be in place to handle that communication. But that’s about as far as anyone expects an answering service’s capabilities to go—it’s strictly a cost center to monitor or a basic box to check, not an asset that can be leveraged to advance strategic priorities.

This is a dated perspective that significantly undersells the potential of your answering service to bring repeatable quality, efficiency, and ease of use to important communication and collaboration processes that are executed many times a day throughout clinics within your health system. With modern technology and a more holistic enterprise approach (as opposed to a clinic-by-clinic approach), it’s possible to transform your answering service into a real strategic asset that consistently delivers results using a sustainable and more scalable cost model.

This means you can use technology to build an intuitive and tightly connected communication web across all of your practices that benefits patients, providers, and supporting staff while serving as an enabler of strategic growth.

What’s Wrong with the Current State?

Considering the accelerated pace of clinic acquisitions in recent years, it’s not uncommon for health systems to be faced with an array of answering service vendors. This adds up to unpredictable costs, variable quality and reliability, siloed communication, and other negative downstream implications. What about the disparate, disconnected ambulatory sites that don’t live on the same system? How can critical alerts, scans, and chart updates be sent in a timely manner for the hospitalist? The complexity only grows with each merger or practice acquisition.

But even if your system only uses a couple different services, or perhaps just one service with limited or dated capabilities, you’re still missing out on the benefits of a single-solution approach that uses modern technology. Healthcare technology has advanced far too much in the past decade to settle for solutions—whether powered by humans or tech—that create more problems than they solve.

Answering service effectiveness is also based far too often on what we’ll call 20th century metrics. Think about the complexity of care delivery: A patient might engage with multiple sites and multiple providers throughout your system over the course of time, and depending on your virtual care strategy, they may even engage with you from the comfort of their home. An answering service aimed at supporting and facilitating this kind of patient journey should be focused on workflow benefits, clinical benefits, and patient experience rather than hold times, dropped calls, or personnel concerns about background checks and the daily moods of operators who aren’t on your payroll.

A Future-Proof Approach

The table below contrasts these two perspectives of the answering service—one as a “set it and forget it” cost center with limited opportunities for strategic impact, the other as a strategic asset enabled by modern technology that can enhance care, reduce costs, and automate common workflows.

Typical Answering Service ModelFuture-Focused Model
ScopeServices are fully outsourcedStaff collaborate with vendor to build, customize, and automate workflows
Minimally acceptable service quality at the lowest costOptimal service, low (and predictable) cost
ExpectationsAnswer phones to avoid disastersEnhance care and aid providers
ReliabilityProne to error, especially when live agents are involvedFunctions as designed with accurate and repeatable processes
ScalabilityNot scalable, dated/limited technologyScalable, poised for growth
Better performance requires micromanagement of operatorsBetter performance requires simple workflow tweaks, easily standardized across all sites
Quality ControlLittle ability to control quality of operators and decisionsHighly controllable and customizable
Patient ImpactPatient outcomes are unclear and hard to trackAll activity is fully trackable, including care decisions and outcomes
KPIs20th century process KPIs21st century process AND outcome KPIs

The ultimate goal here is to convert something that’s traditionally seen as a “table stakes” support service with limited potential into a real strategic asset for the entire health system. It may seem implausible because of the way the answering service has traditionally been handled, but it’s not. We can show you how.

The Importance of Shared Goals

The key to accomplishing this shift is goal alignment, and that’s why you should ask yourself a simple question: What does your answering service vendor care about most? How closely do their priorities align with our health system priorities?

The provider of these more robust capabilities should certainly perform well on the historically tracked operator performance measures like hold times and dropped calls, but they should also be driven by shared goals that form the basis of your partnership: clinical quality, speed to care, patient experience, provider experience, and financial performance, among other examples. Legacy answering service vendors mean well, but it will be tough for them to support the latter group of goals effectively.

PerfectServe Practice Communication: A Better Answering Service Formula

PerfectServe exists because its founder wanted to fix the problems associated with a manual, human-centric approach to handling inbound patient communication. His wife was a nurse who managed calls and messages for a private practice, and his experience in the telecommunication industry showed him that the process could be vastly improved with thoughtfully designed technology.

We have teams of clinicians and clinical workflow & communication experts who help to design our products and roadmaps. Informed by more than 25 years of experience and deep knowledge of the unique needs of healthcare organizations both large and small, their express purpose is to build technology that tamps down burnout and care team toil by optimizing medical staff workflows.

PerfectServe currently counts more than 500 hospitals and 30,000 medical practices as customers, so rest assured that no workflow, no protocol, no org chart is too complicated for our technology to navigate. We bring as many as 20 practices live with our answering service each week, and at the same time we may be working with a 20-site health system to replace their current answering service vendor after two outages caused corresponding upticks in ED visits. While we haven’t literally seen it all, we’ve seen a lot, and we’re always prepared to work with customers to try something new.

And while we can help you outperform on the traditional after-hours metrics we mentioned before—things like wait times and dropped calls—our service actually allows your leaders to “retire” this dashboard as the sole indicator of effectiveness to broaden their focus on higher-level, mission-critical performance metrics that impact the entire organization.

Telling the Full Answering Service Story

If we tried to break down all of the ways a modern answering service solution would benefit your health system in a single blog, we’d lose you in a wall of text. That’s why we’ve broken this up into a more digestible, multi-part series aimed at challenging current answering service perspectives. With this series, we’ll demonstrate how taking a tech-focused, enterprise approach to your answering service will benefit patients, providers, and the health system at large. Stay tuned for more!

If we’ve already piqued your interest, you’re always welcome to contact us to get a conversation started. You can also browse the site to read more about our medical answering service. If you’re an existing PerfectServe customer and want to discuss our answering service solution in greater depth, click here.

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