While not every doctor’s office or clinic will accept emergency calls after hours, a vast majority of physicians build this into the services they provide for their patients. Most clinics also have some way for patients to leave general information calls as well, and rolling both emergency call options and general messages into a cost effective system can be a challenge.
Both of these types of calls have to be answered by some type of physician answering service option. The two options for any medical facility, clinic, or office to choose between is a live operator system or a virtual service that allows patients to record messages in both emergency and non-emergency situations.
Choosing between the two means taking a closer look at the pros and cons of each and then deciding which offers the greatest advantages for both medical staff as well as patients.
Live Operator/Call Center
For years, the live operator or call center model of a physician answering service has been considered the gold standard. However, with increased costs, decreased specialization at the call centers and more regulation in the form of HIPPA these services are now very pricey and not as reliable.
There are additional issues to consider as well. Often these live operator services have a higher rate of emergency calls, elevating even basic calls to emergency status when trying to understand the information provided by the patient. In addition, many of the lower cost live operator centers do not train staff in HIPPA compliance, leaving the medical clinic or facility liable if there is a breach in confidentiality.
With live operators, there is always the risk of a missed call or a missed message relay. While this is common, they can and do happen, often leaving doctors unaware of medical emergencies. Even in a best case scenario where the patient was just calling in to schedule an appointment it makes the medical facility look incompetent or uncaring.
With a virtual physician answering service, the problems with the live operator systems are eliminated completely. As the patient will select an emergency or non-emergency call, actual emergency call numbers tend to decrease, which means doctors on-call are more attuned to the significance of getting an on-call message.
Secondly, the patient leaves the specific information for the doctor to hear in either the emergency or non-emergency case. This prevents any missed or dropped messages, any failure to relay the message or incorrect interpretations of what the patient said.
Of course, it is easy to verify that a virtual system is fully HIPPA compliant. Once this is done there is no need to continue to verify as the system itself is secure, safe and fully compliant, removing concerns in leaving messages.