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How to Choose a Medical Answering Service in 2024
Andrew Charles

By: Andrew Charles on February 27th, 2024

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How to Choose a Medical Answering Service in 2024

Healthcare | Shopping for an Answering Service

If you’re in healthcare, you already know how important using a medical answering service is. But, when choosing one, what exactly should you be looking for?

We know it can be daunting picking a medical answering service. There’s so many terms to learn, pros and cons, and worst of all - conflicting opinions.

As seasoned medical communication specialists, we believe in cutting out the fluff so that you can get just the facts and decide for yourself what’s right for your practice.

So, here’s a list of questions for you to think about when considering getting a physician answering service:

  1. Are they HIPAA Compliant?
  2. Do They Actively Audit Their HIPAA Compliance?
  3. Is Healthcare their Primary Business?
  4. Are They Familiar with Your Specialty?
  5. Is Their Technology HIPAA Compliant?

Once you've gone through this list, we hope you'll have all the tools you need to pick the medical answering service that's just right for your practice.


1. Are They HIPAA Compliant?

First and foremost, are they HIPAA compliant? When you evaluate a medical answering service, your top priority should be ensuring HIPAA compliance. Patient privacy and data security are non-negotiable. Look for services that commit to secure data transmission and storage. This means that your patients’ sensitive information will be handled with the utmost care, meeting all regulatory requirements.


2. Do They Conduct Independent HIPAA Audits and have Business Associates Agreements?

So, is HIPAA compliance a sticker any business can slap on their product? No.

But a business being HIPAA compliant does not make it entirely secure either. Your peace of mind comes from knowing that the service undergoes annual independent HIPAA audits. Here, a third-party auditor goes through the business procedures to make sure that everything is up to par with HIPAA guidelines. These audits validate compliance and ensure that the service maintains the highest standards.

We spoke to Rob Van Buskirk of  VanRein Compliance, a third-party HIPAA compliance auditor, about what goes into these audits. He was kind enough to provide a list what are the factors that play a role in whether a company can pass or fail a HIPAA compliance audit:

  • Employee Training: Adequate training of staff on HIPAA regulations is essential. Failure to educate employees on privacy and security policies can lead to violations.
  • Access Control: Ensuring that only authorized personnel have access to patient information. Unauthorized access or sharing of PHI can result in severe penalties.
  • Secure Communication Channels: Using secure channels for communication, such as encrypted emails and messaging platforms, to prevent interception of PHI.
  • Data Encryption: Encrypting patient information during transmission and storage helps protect it from unauthorized access. Lack of encryption can lead to data breaches.
  • Business Associate Agreements (BAAs): Ensuring that appropriate BAAs are in place with any third-party vendors or subcontractors who handle PHI on behalf of the medical answering service.


3. Is Healthcare the Answering Service’s Primary Business?

There are plenty of call centers, but not all of them are qualified to take a medical practice’s calls. And of the ones that are qualified, an even smaller amount actually take medical answering calls as their primary business.

Why is this important?

Because when the answering service routinely serves the healthcare industry:

Their staff are routinely trained to take medical service calls and are familiar with them. They deal with it day in and day out, so nothing would come as a surprise to them. If they weren’t so familiar they might not understand the terms, escalations necessary, or how to deal with a panicked patient.

HIPAA compliance is at the forefront of the answering service’s mind. If they are routinely serving medical practices, they would have to make sure that they strongly adhere to the HIPAA guidelines. This may not be the case if they had medical practices as the minority of their clients.


4. Is the Medical Answering Service Familiar with Your Specialty?

Your practice has unique needs, and the answering service you choose should understand them. Consider whether the service has experience working with your specific specialty—whether it’s cardiology, oncology, or any other field. Understanding the nuances of different consults is crucial.

Beyond basic familiarity, you want a service that truly understands the intricacies of your specialty. For instance, if you work in cardiology or neurology, the answering service should understand the urgency of certain calls during the Golden Hour—that critical window when immediate intervention can save lives. This way, the call center agents will know how to escalate the situation appropriately. Otherwise, extra time may be spent with agents referring to those you have on-call with the appropriate steps to take, which eats up your time and money.


5. Is Their Technology HIPAA Compliant?

In today’s digital age, technology plays a pivotal role. When evaluating technological services, consider those that offer:

  • Secure Texting: The ability to send messages via secure text ensures real-time communication. Whether it’s relaying urgent patient information or coordinating with other healthcare providers, this feature keeps you connected.
  • Web Portal Access: Having real-time access to patient inquiries through a web portal allows for prompt responses. You can efficiently manage appointments, address patient concerns, and stay informed—all while maintaining HIPAA compliance.
  • Encryption At Rest: This means that patient health information is safeguarded while it resides within the answering service’s systems. So, if it happens to go missing, the data canot be stolen without the appropriate key.

Which Medical Answering Service is Right for Me?

We hope you are now empowered to have more boldness in your decision for which medical answering service you need for your practice.

Knowing how to choose a medical answering service for your organization is the first hurdle. However, knowing which are the best medical answering services and how much answering services are going to cost you is your next hurdle.

In conclusion, we invite you to explore the medical answering services in the industry with this list of questions in mind. If you are curious about what medical answering services we offer, with nearly a century of experience in handling medical calls, we would be glad to work with your healthcare practice. Reach out to us today and discover how our services can enhance your medical practice’s communication.

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