Technology Solutions for Managing After-Hours Calls

As many clinicians can attest, patient care isn’t always confined to normal business hours. Thus, a reliable after-hours communications service is critical, and new software and technology are addressing this need.

Traditionally, many practices have relied on an answering service to field patient calls after hours. These services hire live operators to answer calls, who then message or page the on-call physician. Sometimes these types of calls include complicated explanations, which can result in inaccurate or incomplete messages.

Terry Edwards, the president and chief executive officer of PerfectServe, a clinical communications platform, recommends using a reliable system that routes calls based on patient needs. “The strength of the PerfectServe platform is being able to develop algorithms that automatically identify and route a communication to the appropriate provider for any given clinical situation,” Edwards explains.

Many electronic health record vendors offer after-hours call management, but their functionality and reliability can vary. If you are not satisfied with your existing service, ask your colleagues what they are using or approach your local Medical Group Management Association for recommendations.

Rhonda Granja, a health care consultant based in Charlotte, NC, encourages physicians to thoroughly research vendors before signing a contract. Consider whether you are more comfortable with a person taking calls or with a company that automatically routes calls. Then, ask for references, find out whether the service stores information on a secure server, and request a trial period.

Because patient health information is shared with the vendors managing these after-hours services, Granja advises doctors to review Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) regulations regarding patient communication. Protecting your practice—and your patient’s health information—against HIPAA violations should be a top priority when considering a new vendor. In fact, even your telecommunications providers should be HIPAA compliant, Granja says. Ask new vendors to sign a business associate agreement to ensure that they will appropriately safeguard health information.

Above all, make sure that your potential new service actually does what it needs to do—effectively manage your patients’ after-hours calls.