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Answering Machine Message Etiquette for Your Practice

While it is not ideal to let any patient reach your voicemail, there will be moments the office phone goes unanswered. It is important to have a clear voicemail message to do your best to connect with your patients.

While it is not ideal to let any patient reach your voicemail, there will be moments the office phone goes unanswered. It is important to have a clear voicemail message to do your best to connect with your patients. The goal of the voicemail message should be to give the patient a good impression of the practice and to get them to leave a message.

If you are using an answering machine, include the following basic statements:

  • Identity the office which has been reached i.e. the name of the practice
    • If the practice’s name does not include the healthcare professional’s name, add that to your message so the caller might hear: “Center (Medical, Dental or Natural Health) Practice, the office of Dr. Jones”
  • Directions to call 911 if the call is of an emergency or urgent nature.
  • Practice hours of operation and when messages will be reviewed.
  • Specific, clear instructions and parameters for and how to contact the healthcare provider after hours.
    • Repeat the number slowly so the caller can write it down and confirm it.

If you are using a call distribution/routing system, the basic recommendations are similar to using an answering machine with the addition to:

  • Directions on how to reach a particular department such as billing, a nurse or the practice manager. 
    • Limit the options for the caller; too many options could leave the patient lost.
    • Combining two departments on one extension can increase confusion for the patient, such as including the billing department with the practice manager.

If you are using an answering service during the day or after hours:

  • Periodically review your protocols for your answering service (at least annually).
  • The service should identify themselves as your answering service.
    • For example: “This is Dr. Jones’ answering service.”
  • Call the service periodically to confirm they are representing your practice accurately.
  • Call your office both during the day and after hours.
    • This will reveal the manner and efficiency of the answering service and your staff.
    • Make sure the service does not assess whether the healthcare provider should be contacted – this is the patient’s determination.
  • Review the reports received from the service to confirm a test call was received (this will demonstrate that you are receiving all calls.)
  • Be sure all calls include the caller name and phone number, even if the caller elects to call back the following day rather than have the service contact you.
    • Your staff can follow up with the caller to determine if the situation which necessitated the call was addressed or if it needs immediate attention.
  • Documentation of all calls taken by the healthcare provider should be done immediately upon returning to the office.
    • Calls received during the evening can be called into a voice recording messaging system for ease of remembering the conversation, date, time, etc. or use a form to consistently capture all pertinent information
  • Retain the answering service log of messages based on your state guidelines for retaining records (visit your professional association or consult your business attorney)

For a sample of an automated telephone message, visit the suggestions provided by the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ).

For futher questions on answering machine etiquette, contact Professional Solutions Insurance Company today.

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