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After-hours Call Centers
Telephone Answering Services
Reputation is important. A list of recommended providers can often be obtained from a local professional society or affiliate hospital and augmented with recommendations from colleagues.
Before contacting a prospective call center or telephone service, prepare a set of written policies that list your practice office hours and location, the usual sign-in and sign-out times of covering doctors, backup telephone numbers for each covering doctor, the usual procedure for retrieving non-urgent messages (e.g. calling-in every 90 minutes), the practice's preferred hospital for emergencies, and procedures to follow if a covering physician cannot be reached. This list should be used to discuss specific practice concerns and how they will be managed by that service. It can also be left on file for reference if that service is chosen.
It is preferred that a service or center will fax or transmit a copy of each telephone encounter to the office when it opens the following morning. This list should be reviewed promptly to determine whether follow-up calls are needed. The log can then be maintained for office use and pertinent data can be entered into a patient's chart.
The chosen service or center must be HIPAA compliant and agree to sign an appropriate agreement of confidentiality. Other topics for discussion should include the number of call-screeners available; the usual waiting time before calls are answered; and contingency plans in the event of computer or telephone failure. Projected monthly charges based on the usual practice call volume should be reviewed at the time of this discussion.