Choosing a medical answering service may seem easy and intuitive. However, there are several important features to look for when considering different vendors. As a respected physician or medical facility, it’s critical to ensure an answering service can meet regulatory requirements, discern between emergencies and non-emergencies, and provide multiple secure options for message alerts.
The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act or HIPAA applies to all medical practices, hospitals, and physicians. Yet, not every medical answering service is certified as being HIPAA compliant. Choose one that ensures that patients’ privacy and the integrity of the information in their health records is maintained. This not only ensures the practice is meeting the requirements of the law, but also helps maintain trust between the practice and the patients.
If your practice is entering into an agreement with an answering service, this means that HIPAA requirements also extend to the service as an external vendor. Check the contract or agreement to ensure that the vendors are not only aware of HIPAA, but are prepared to comply with all of its stipulations. An external vendor that is not able to meet these stipulations can put your practice at risk for violations and erode patient trust.
Emergencies vs. Non-emergencies
A comprehensive answering service should be able to provide both appointment scheduling and emergency dispatch options. Appointment scheduling features should also incorporate real-time access to the practice’s existing calendar and physician availability. Likewise, emergency dispatch features should put the facility or physician at ease. Employees of the answering service, who are trained in recognizing an emergency situation, can help ensure these requests are sent to someone who is on-call or who is available to meet the patients’ needs. See if you can obtain testimonials from current clients about how the service handles emergency versus non-emergency requests from patients.
Message Options and Security
Does your current answering service offer a secure online interface that allows you to check your messages or alerts? Does the service provide a mobile app that you can access and receive alerts from while you’re away from the office? These are additional features that can help ensure access to patient information is kept secure, while also allowing 24/7 access to requests. Ask to see a demonstration of the service’s online platform and alert options before you enter into a long-term agreement.
Choosing a medical answering service doesn’t have to be overwhelming, but it does require some thought. Evaluate what features each vendor can offer in light of the costs. Top features to look for include HIPAA compliance, proper message handling, and secure message alert options.