Cost Effectiveness of Live Service and Automation
One of the most significant ways patients formulate opinions about the quality of their care is through their interactions with doctors’ via the telephone.
While automation seems to have permeated every aspect of our society today, including the physician’s office, according to market surveys, callers are more likely to do business when a live person answers the phone.
Callers who reach an automated message instead of a live attendant may become irritated at the often long and complicated instructions. Some may end up in “voice mail jail”, a phrase used to describe what happens when callers are unable to get through without calling back or forced to spend an inordinate amount of time, thus increasing their anxiety, trying to get through.
While automated attendants and voice mail do have their advantages, totally automated attendants are still not the preferred method most callers wish to experience.
Disadvantages of Total Automation
A totally automated system is not ideal, for many reasons:
- Without a live operator to screen emergencies, a physician may frequently be paged for non-emergent situations.
- Calls are not documented on paper, leaving physicians more vulnerable to professional liability situations and without a system of documented quality control. If a call did not go through, there is no reliable back-up procedure.
- Total automation may aggravate callers.
- Flexibility regarding changing or updating instructions is lacking
Combining Automation With Live
Although total automation has its disadvantages, partially automated systems may definitely have a place in a physician’s practice. Since it is estimated that 60% of calls made to a doctor’s office are non emergencies, staff time and expense can be saved by using voice mail which can be translated into an email for the majority of messages.
There are a variety of ways a physician can tailor his or her answering system: totally automated, totally live, or a combination of both.
Significant expense can be saved while preserving quality by using a combination of automation and live phone answering service, whereby routine calls are answered by voice mail with the option of reaching a live operator for emergencies. For many physicians, a combination of both automated and live service provides more responsiveness to patients and a more professional emergency dispatching program.
With an option, known as Instant Operator Access, a caller would reach an automated message and have the option of pressing O to speak with a live operator. If “0” is pressed, live operators answer promptly and, in the event of an emergency, follow the physician’s exact instructions as they appear on a computer screen. The operator can also page the doctor or cross-connect to the office or any location the doctor specifies. Emergency procedures can also be repeated until the emergency message has been received.
This system provides reliable handling of emergencies. Plus, every call is documented on the computer, which provides liability protection and quality control.
Because the needs of every practice and the preferences of every physician may vary, most tele-messaging companies offer a wide range of services to suit a variety of situations.
While live and automated systems each has its benefits, perhaps combining both is a way to take advantage of technology without leaving a sterile impression. A combination of voice mail and live services is a cost-effective way to be more responsive to patients as well as accountable and professional in handling emergencies.