Tuesday, September 02, 2008

The case against an answering service.

Have you ever called a doctor, perhaps for yourself or your child, and experienced the following:

Ring ring ring. . .ring ring ring...ring ring ring. . ."please hold". . .hold hold hold. . .hold hold hold. . .hold hold hold. . .hold hold hold.

"Hello, doctors' service."

"Yes I need to talk to the doctor, my child has 107 fever."

"What is your number, he'll call you back."

First of all, what is this "Doctors' service"? Dr Who? Can it be any more impersonal? And second of all I find the whole thing so annoying as a patient.

I have learned over the years that doctor's answering services are no longer an essential element to practice. I am going to make the case, a balanced case, against answering services for doctors.
  1. Barriers: Services place barriers between you and established as well as new patients, neither of which is good for the practice. In addition, answering services place barriers between you and referring doctors; never a good thing.
  2. Control: Unless you own the service, you have no control over the voice at the end of the line.
  3. Impersonal: Services tend to be bland, rather than unique. You are looking for unique.
  4. Obsolete: With current technological alternatives, there simply is no longer a need.
  5. Annoying: I find them annoying, since they only take messages. This gets me to my next critique:
  6. Purposeless: Most of them only take messages and either contact the doctor immediately or send a message to the office next business day, but they don't actually do anything. (some top-end services do function as extensions of your business)
  7. A Waste of Time: How many times have you called a service and it has taken 5, 10, or even 20 minutes just to get through. No thanks.
  8. Expensive: Price varies per package, but it can really add up. Plus, you still need all your other communication tools.
Here are some of the positive elements of a service:
  1. Professional: Many people, especially baby boomers and older, equate doctors with answering services and find it "unprofessional" for a doctor not to have one.
  2. Barriers: Sometimes I think it would be nice to have a barrier placed between me and, for example, an irate patient or one who simply decides at midnight to cancel an appointment.
  3. Reliable: You will never miss a phone call with a service.
  4. Human: Sometimes it is nice to have a human element or to give the appearance that you have a big staff.
  5. Cost effective: Some of the better services can function as an extension of your own staff and behave in a seamless manner that gives the impression that you are larger than you are in reality at a price that is affordable, though not cheap.
So, as in anything, there are pros and cons to having an answering service. But for us small guys who are tech savvy, I don't see the utility of an answering service.

At least not a standard one and at least not yet.

The IU.