Patients are the heart of your practice, but if you can’t connect with them when they call, you risk losing their trust and their business.

That’s why finding the very best answering service available is vital for doctors across the spectrum, from family practices to high-level specialists. But, before you start shopping for medical answering services, you should have an idea what duties you’d like your new telephone partners to perform so you can quickly compare offerings between companies.

Answering service companies can fulfill a variety of vital functions for doctors, including:

Appointment setting. Whether as a supplement to your existing appointment setting team or as a stand-alone unit, using an answering service company to handle your appointment setting means that your patients won’t have to endure long wait times simply to change an appointment or cancel one because they’re sick or have had an unforeseen emergency.

Many answering services use appointment-setting software that will interface with your existing systems so the integration is quick and painless. That way, both your in-house staff and your telephone answering team can update the calendar in real time, virtually eliminating double-bookings.

After-hours call answering. Unfortunately, your patients don’t always have questions or concerns during business hours — sometimes they even experience very frightening symptoms that demand your expertise during the middle of the night. Instead of being constantly on call, hiring an answering service can help restore your sanity and your evenings. Most of your after-hours callers simply want reassurance that they’re really ok or can wait for their regular appointment — a limited few really need to speak to you.

Overflow call answering. Your staff is awesome, but even it can’t predict call volumes all the time. Sometimes your patients all call at once and the phone lines are slammed, then everybody gets put on hold until the backlog can be cleared. Unfortunately, new patients might not all be willing to wait, and others will call elsewhere in frustration. Overflow call answering is a great way to increase patient satisfaction and retention. Instead of having to hold, calls that can’t be answered automatically roll over to your answering service and are handled by your crack answering service team.

Disaster recovery. When natural disasters strike, your patients worry about how they’re going to refill their life-saving medications and what they’re supposed to do about their appointments. If you don’t have a plan in place beforehand, communicating with these nervous patients in the days and weeks following a major storm, earthquake or landslide can be difficult or impossible.

This is one of the most overlooked benefits of having an answering service company on your team — they can take the calls you can’t and give your patients your disaster recovery instructions. With the help of your telephone answering service team, your appointments will be rescheduled and your patient messages will reach you no matter where you happen to be.

Along with being able to provide you with great services compatible with your practice, the best answering services for doctors are serious about HIPAA compliance. After all, how they handle patient data will reflect directly on you — and you may be responsible for any violations. Always ask an answering service if they handle other medical practices and about their HIPAA training and security policies before signing any contracts or sharing any patient health information.