Making a Good First Impression with Your Voice Mail or Answering Service

Answering Machine

posted by Kathy Everitt on Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Your telephone/answering service is an extension of your practice. With that in mind, a frequently overlooked risk area is how your patients are able to respond when you're busy or unavailable after hours.

A review of your voice message/answering service presents an excellent opportunity for you to get a glimpse of the patients’ perspective of the office. What are your patients hearing? What is their impression of your office? 

If you are using an answering machine, include:

  • The name of the practice
    • If the practice’s name does not include the healthcare professional’s name, add that to your message so the caller might hear: “This is the natural health practice of Dr. Jones.”
  • Directions to call 911 if the call is an emergency or of an urgent nature.
  • Hours of practice operation and when messages will be returned.
  • Specific, clear instructions and parameters for contacting you after hours.
    • Repeat the after-hours number slowly to allow the caller to write the number down.

If you are using a call distribution/routing system, in addition to the above:

  • Provide directions on how to reach a particular area, such as billing. 
  • Limit the number of options. Too many choices could leave the patient feeling lost.

 If you are using an answering service:

  • Periodically review your protocols (at least annually).
  • Make sure the service identifies itself as your answering service.
    • For example: “This is Dr. Jones’ answering service.”
  • Call the service periodically to confirm they are representing your practice accurately.
  • Call your office both during the day and after hours.
    • This will reveal the manner and efficiency of the answering service and your staff.
    • Make sure the service does not assess whether the healthcare provider should be contacted—this should be the patient’s determination.
  • Conduct a test call and review the service’s reports to verify it was received. (This helps ensure you are receiving all calls.)
  • Be sure all calls include the caller’s name and phone number—even if the caller opts to call you back later rather than have the service contact you.
    • Your staff can follow up with the caller to determine if the situation was addressed or needs immediate attention.
  • Document all calls immediately upon return to the office.
    • Calls received during the evening can be directed to a voice messaging system to record the conversation, date, time, etc. Or use a form to consistently capture all pertinent information.
  • Retain the answering service’s log of messages based on your state guidelines for retaining records. (Visit your professional association or consult your practice attorney.)

It's better to be safe than sorry, so keep these things in mind. Additionally, as a policyholder, you can call NCMIC's Claims Advice Hotline at 800-952-9935 with any questions about this topic. We're always here to help!

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  3. naturopathic
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About The Author

Kathy Everitt

Kathy brings with her more than 30 years of professional liability experience to NCMIC, encompassing underwriting, sales management, as well as risk management consultation services for healthcare professionals. She has earned her CPHRM designation and, as a licensed property/casualty agent, Kath ... read more

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