There’s nothing more frustrating for both you and your callers than for you to be unable to answer the phone when they call your healthcare or medical practice.

Whether you’re busy with in-office patients or making important calls on another line, when the main number rings and rings, it’s hard to not imagine that one of your patients needs you urgently. This is why so many medical offices hire a physician answering service to help with their phone calls. Not only will your callers get the help they need right away, you can be sure that any emergency situations will be patched directly to you (or to whomever you designate) without delay.

Making the decision to hire a physician answering service is just the first step, though. Not every physician answering service is the same — that’s where knowing what makes a great physician answering service comes in handy.

Here are a few of the most important characteristics you’ll want from your new medical answering service company:

Daytime Flexibility. A busy physician’s office can quickly spiral into chaos when the phone won’t stop ringing and the waiting room is filling up. Having the option to turn your calls over to your answering service at any time is a great feature for physicians with unpredictable schedules. Taking overflow calls is another way that a physician answering service can help ease the burden on your regular staff.

Late Night Availability. You simply cannot be on call all the time – and if your answering service will take late night calls, you don’t have to be. By leaving detailed information on how to tell when a patient is experiencing an emergency, you’ll be able to breathe a little easier after hours. Late night availability means that your callers get the attention they’re seeking and you get the rest you deserve.

Appointment Scheduling. Plenty of patients call throughout the day trying to make, change or cancel appointments. Unfortunately, this routine type of caller takes attention away from patients who need you immediately, but what can you do? Physician answering services that offer appointment scheduling can take over your telephone appointment scheduling, freeing up your front desk employees. Using software that integrates with your own appointment scheduling programs, your physician answering service and your regular staff can both book appointments without there ever being a problem with double-booking.

Tight Data Security. Data security is paramount for a physician’s office. HIPAA violations can be serious, even if they’re made by someone you hire, like an answering service. By carefully evaluating your potential physician answering services and asking lots of questions about data security and HIPAA compliance, you can be confident that both your patients’ health data and your practice are protected. A physician answering service that handles lots of medical offices and regularly provides HIPAA training for their employees is one that you can trust with your business’s future.

Hiring a physician answering service can create a beautiful partnership that results in happier patients and a feeling of control over your workload. When you’re interviewing potential answering services, make sure that they can handle whatever sort of surprises your day might throw at you and that they’re serious about health data security and you’ll quickly find a company you can work with long-term.