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Can You Outsource Your Call Center?

Having an answering service is essential for the typical medical practice. But what about your regular call center? Do your front desk personnel answer the phone? Do you have a dedicated receptionist? Or a formal call center?

Outsourcing services seem to be on the rise and medical practices are beginning to realize some cost savings just like other businesses. The trade-off of course can be the perception of less personalized service. Some functions which can be outsourced include:

  • Marketing
  • Information Technology (IT)
  • Facilities services
  • Nursing and Nurse Anesthetist services
  • Medical Billing
  • Call center
  • Am I leaving any others out?

Your call center functions can be complex, depending on your practice situation. But some things are fairly universal: If you work with any practice management consultants, one of the first things they will recommend that you do is stop having your front desk/check-in personnel answer the phone. This makes a bad first impression on patients and treats them like a mere distraction. Small practices may disagree with this and insist that they don’t have enough staff to segregate the functions of check-in and answering the phone. But these consultants will stress the importance of good internal marketing and giving new patients a memorable positive experience.

The person designated to answer the phone can:

  • Answer incoming calls, make appointments or triage clinical problems
  • Call patients to remind them of their upcoming appointments or testing
  • Enter new patient information into the computer
  • Perform transcription functions

An alternative to having a live person make appointment reminders is an automated reminder system. These typically use a computer that makes calls a patient and then presents them with a touch-tone menu for either confirming an appointment or canceling it. We have tried both ways – live and computerized – and still haven’t decided which way is best. The automated system can save you staff-hours. On the other hand, beware if you have a predominantly geriatric patient population: many older patients don’t like dealing with a computer and would rather deal with a live person. As far as outsourcing the answering of your inbound calls, this depends on the size of your practice, the volume of patients you see, and the number of providers, among other things.


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  1. The transition from front desk handling all calls to outsourcing can be a big step. We’re taking baby steps. First we analysed the call volume and timing – over 300 calls per day to the front desk, weighted slightly to the morning. We then had all inbound calls handled by our Admin office for the first hour each day. That took the pressure off the front desk during the initial rush of patients and reminded the Admin team of the scope and scale of the phone calls we receive. That initiative grew into employing a new part-time Receptionist to create enough capacity for an experienced Receptionist to handle all calls for the morning (the Phone Handling assignment is actually now staffed on rotation so that all Receptionists do a chunk of time on the phones). As well as handling calls they do scanning, open mail, and other tasks which used to be done by the front desk – and used to cause the Reception staff to turn their backs on the patients. Next step? Maybe extend the Phone Handling to a full shift but we are also working on giving patients remote access to their own records and to make appointments. Hopefully that should ease the number of phone calls.

    • Mark, thanks. Great points to consider. By the time I joined our group, we already had a dedicated in-house call center. Since we have multiple locations, the call center is centralized and can transfer calls between offices. But I think your advice is more appropriate for most medical practices. The key point as you say is to avoid having your front desk turn their backs to the patients but instead to give them their full attention.

  2. I work at an FQHC and would have to agree. It is horrible when you have the front desk person handling the incoming calls. Not only does the party on the phone feel as if you are not truly focused on their problems but the person whose being checked in also feels neglected.

  3. Great post. I have been using a telephone answering service for my business for years. It has been a very rewarding experience that has allowed me to grow my business by focusing on the day to day without having to be overly concerned with every phone call. I would highly suggest it for any size business.

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