Get the facts before deciding on automated answering system

August 10, 2012

Have your patients been telling you that your phone line is always busy? Find out what you need to know before making a decision about automated answering system.

Q: My small practice has been receiving an increasing number of complaints from patients who say they get a busy signal when they call. Should I consider automated phone-answering system?

A: Menu-driven voicemail systems are right in the proper setting, such as an airline's reservations system. But most small medical practices will want-and need-to provide more personalized service. New patients don't come to you through your front door. They come through your telephone. You can spend lots of money on complex systems to try to cope with too many calls coming at the wrong times, or you can try some simple changes for free. But first you need to gather the proper data.

Before jumping to conclusions based on anecdotal evidence about your phone service, collect the facts. Every practice should take a snapshot view of its phone service about twice a year. You only need to know a few facts: how many calls you receive, when you get them, and how many you don't get because your lines were tied up. You can usually get your local phone company to answer the last question. You can ask them to monitor your line usage and prepare a lost-call report on an hour-by-hour basis over a representative number of days. This report will tell you how many calls received busy signals. Once you have these data, you can begin thinking about whether your existing phone system really is a problem.

Bee is with Practice Performance Group, La Jolla, Califorinia, and is a Medical Economics editorial consultant.