If you think the number of phone calls to your practice has risen dramatically over the past few years, you're not alone.
With patients' out-of-pocket costs becoming more prohibitive, "People are really trying to avoid going to the doctor if at all possible," Mary Pat Whaley, president of consultancy Manage my Practice, told the Wall Street Journal.
Thus, call volume to practices has increased 25 percent to 50 percent since 2008, Whaley estimated, with most of the callers seeking diagnosis or other free medical advice.
This trend challenges practices in three ways:
- Finances--Patient phone calls are generally unreimbursed by insurance, and can cost practices $15 to $20 each. Surescripts estimates prescription renewal calls alone cost $10,000 a year, according to the WSJ article.
- Customer service--The Affordable Care Act is pushing more health systems to tie physician payments to quality and patient satisfaction scores--and phone service represents a key element of how patients evaluate doctors and practices.
- Malpractice liability--Telephone triage errors are a leading cause of medical malpractice settlements, doctors told WSJ, adding that many practices still keep track of phone calls using Post-it notes. "That's where patients slip through the cracks--people don't get called back because the typical system physicians use is sticky notes," Peter Polack, a Florida ophthalmologist and surgeon, told the newspaper.
Solutions to these problems include technological tools, including online triage programs, as well as an industrywide movement toward reimbursing doctors for more of the time they spend on the phone.
For example, this month the Center for Medicare & Medicaid proposed new regulations that would allow reimbursement to doctors who receive calls from Medicare patients with chronic conditions, Fox News Radio noted.