Table of Contents
The medical sector is not devoid of such changes either. Gone are the days when people used to queue up outside the doctor’s clinic just to clear a small query. Now, the patient expects direct access to the doctor via a phone call.
A structured phone system can bring down the chaos by a substantial amount, allowing your entire practice to be patient-focused. What’s more, this phone system can also help reduce costs involved in hiring full-time resources. When a new patient calls the clinic, they will form their first impression of the doctor’s professionalism and demeanor on the phone. Therefore, a phone system also adds to the brand value of a medical business.
This is an extremely sensitive area of service, and even a small act of negligence can result in fatal consequences. So, a phone service for a medical office should be purchased keeping in mind numerous factors. It is a good idea to start by understanding the needs of the patients and the requirements of the office.
Before starting to scout for vendors, there are several crucial questions that you, as the decision-maker and practitioner, should ask yourself. This will help you avoid feeling lost amidst the plethora of options available in the market. Knowing your requirements can help narrow down on fewer options. Some questions to focus on are:
- Is the medical practice going to expand anytime in the future?
- Is there going to be an increase in the number of people directly or indirectly handling the phone service?
- Are you going to open new clinics that would increase the influx of patient calls and queries?
- How many extensions should the phone service cater to? Are there fax machines and other equipment that need to be interconnected?
- On an average, what is the volume of calls that the service should be able to sustain and what is its capacity to handle unanticipated extra calls?
- Should the focus be on inbound or outbound calls?
- Is the clinic or hospital staff capable of technical training to use the phone system?
- What is the extent of automation that you’d need in a phone service? Would it include a voice mailbox, number of categories a patient can choose from, option to know the test results by entering patient ID, etc?
These are just some of the details that should be thought of before seeking phone service vendors. Depending on the nature of the medical office, whether it’s a large-scale chain of clinics or an individual doctor’s practice, the scope of requirements will also differ.
While deciding what features you need in the phone service, the medical practitioners need to keep the patients’ convenience as the top priority. The service provided by the phone system should make it easier for the patients to reach the doctor/staff without unnecessary complications.
Some basic and advanced features that a phone system should offer the medical office are:
- Automated Voice Message: This automated recorded message directs the caller to the correct extension and the relevant staff.
- Scalability: The phone system should have the capacity to add more lines and extensions as and when the office expands.
- Patient Care: An option for patients to enter their ID and get their prescription refills; transferring the call to a voice mailbox in case the lines are busy or forward the call to an answering machine.
- Handling Multiple Offices: In case the medical office is spread over several locations, the phone system should be able to manage multiple servers.
- Combine Different Modes: Sync emails, voice messages, fax, video conferences through a single system. Intercom facility is also one of the most basic features.
- Admin Tasks: The person handling the phone should be able to transfer calls to mobile numbers, dial extensions, page concerned doctors or add people to the call without hassles.
These are a just a few features that a phone service for a medical office should be able to offer. The requirements of the office further customize the features and services of the system, like the ability to line up calls when the extensions are all busy, etc.
The entire healthcare sector has to adhere to the terms of HIPAA, the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act. The daily activities of the medical offices also come under the radar of HIPAA, including the phone systems used in the office.
Whatever phone service or other means of communication the medical office uses, there is a probability of mismanaging patient data and records. Whether it’s a hospital or a small clinic, if it collects or simply deals with any patient information, it has to comply with the HIPAA standards.
HIPAA requires patient information to be dealt with care. The information must be treated as sensitive and confidential. Therefore, your phone system should be secure enough to transfer any such information over voice calls. To make sure your phone system is HIPAA conforming, here are some points you should look out for.
- The phone system shouldn’t be accessible by just anyone. There should be strict access control to refrain important information from leaking out.
- The records should be regularly audited to ensure that they are maintained properly and no data is misplaced.
- The location of the phone system must be secure and the staff using the service must be trained in handling the information.
- Security must be ensured in case of cloud-hosting phone services.
There are severe consequences in case the medical office is not HIPAA compliant; there are several categories under which the practitioner can be penalized.
Depending on the budget and requirements, you can choose between a landline phone system managed by a local vendor and a VoIP (voice over internet protocol) phone system that is managed over the internet. You can also choose a hybrid of landline and VoIP.
Landline phones are traditional systems managed by a local or a regional service provider. Even though they are going extinct by a substantial measure due to technologically advanced phone systems, landlines have had a long-standing value.
The service provider installs the hardware on the premises, connecting the extensions which then allow features like call forwarding and transfers. They need proper maintenance by an IT staff and thus require a considerable amount of investment – both in time and in money.
Landlines do offer reliability in terms of security and have been used for decades now by giant corporations that have the capacity to manage them. However, with the advent of newer phone systems and the internet boom, they are becoming more and more difficult to find.
VoIP phone systems are gaining popularity due to their ease of use. They use the internet to offer a number of services like auto answering, recording voice messages, call forwarding, prescription-refills, call queues and many more. VoIP phone systems allow multiple locations to use the same line and can connect with the remote attending staff as well.
The next thing to consider while choosing a VoIP phone system, though, is where the service will be hosted – on premises or on cloud. On-premises hosting requires the medical office to handle everything on their own, from buying the necessary equipment to maintaining a technical team that ensures the servers are up and running smoothly at all times. Large hospitals with a huge staff and budget are likely to install on-premises VoIP systems since they offer better security.
Cloud hosting eliminates all hassles to self-management; no separate hardware or equipment needs to be installed and the service provider manages everything on their end for a fee. Cloud-based hosting makes it easier to use updated features and the office does not need to spend on a technical staff to manage the systems. The only con is that the control of the servers lies with the service provider, therefore, the medical office cannot have a pulse on their running.
For a small-scale clinic or a chain of clinics in multiple locations, a VoIP phone system makes more sense for better convenience at a lower price.
The budget for a phone system for a medical office will largely be decided by taking into account the overhead expenses of the office. This includes the cost of running the office and staff salaries. A live answering machine will definitely lower the total amount spent as employee overheads.
The price of a phone system depends on the number of features it is offering, whether it’s a landline-based service or a cloud-hosted VoIP, the number of extensions and locations it caters to. The overall cost of purchase includes the initial purchase price as well as the cost of maintaining the phone system.
A brand new phone system can fall in the range of $5000-$10,000 considering the services the practice needs it to perform. For the VoIP phone systems, the cost is calculated per user and can go as low as $18-$20 per user per month. Therefore, if you are purchasing the system that will have 5 users, the total annual cost would be approximately $1200.
The initial installation cost is usually high for new phone systems. If you are a small medical practice that cannot spare extra personnel to manage the system, a cloud-based VoIP phone system is the best bet since it does not require any in-office maintenance and also costs less as no additional hardware needs to be purchased.
As a medical or healthcare practitioner, choosing the right mode of communication is a strenuous task. Therefore, rely on your research before venturing into the market. Once you know what your hospital or clinic needs, finalizing a phone system for your medical office, one that is HIPAA compliant and enables you to care better for your patients, will not seem so intimidating.