Medical answering services can’t be just good, they have to be great in order to provide the level of service that their customers demand.

Not only do the best healthcare answering services comfort patients in their times of need, they do so without putting their data at risk or exposing the healthcare provider to a potential HIPAA violation, which can be both costly and embarrassing.

It’s clear that your medical office can’t do without an answering service that’s absolutely top-notch, but how can you tell if your favorite contender is really the best?

These three traits can help you sort the good healthcare answering services from the truly great ones:

Patients are their top priority. The patient experience is everything — patients need to be able to reach a person after hours and on weekends or make an appointment even at a time when the phones are normally jammed. Ask your medical answering service what its hold times are like as well as how many rings it takes to reach an operator, on average. Short wait times are great, provided that the patients are being handled compassionately. You could ask to listen to some sample calls before committing.

Nothing’s more serious than data security. Data security should be at the heart of any healthcare answering service’s business. After all, as a HIPAA Business Associate, anything less from your answering service exposes your practice to fines of up to $50,000 from the Department of Health and Human Services, even if you weren’t aware of the problem and had no way to know there was an issue.

Instead of risking it, focus your efforts on companies that keep up with data security by constantly following HIPAA updates, including HITECH-related rules that strictly regulate how patient data can be transmitted electronically. For example, neither emails nor text messages should contain patient information, but they can contain notifications that ask you to log into a secure portal to collect your messages. If your answering service offers a mobile app, you’ll need to know that it is 100 percent HIPAA compliant and does not store data on your phone. Smartphones aren’t considered secured devices under HIPAA.

Continual training to improve performance across the board. It’s true that anyone can pick up the phone and call themselves an answering service company, but the best healthcare answering services put a great deal of time and effort into becoming and remaining the best. That means they dedicate time to training their employees not only in basic customer care, but also HIPAA compliance, as well as the particulars related to your office. Any good answering service will log these trainings, so you’ll be able to easily see just how often and how thoroughly employees are trained before getting on the phone to assist your patients.

You only ever want the best for your patients, from their health to their healthcare answering service. It’ll pay to look for these three traits in an answering service partner, both in customer care and in vital data security for HIPAA protected information.