Musings of a Dinosaur

A Family Doctor in solo private practice; I may be going the way of the dinosaur, but I'm not dead yet.

Saturday, September 08, 2007

Just Answer the Damn Phone

"You have reached the number you dialed. Please listen carefully as our prompts have recently changed."

UroStream has a recent post about the frustrations of dealing with the ubiquitous Automated Telephone Answering Systems that seem to have invaded businesses large and small. Not only do I agree completely with the sentiments expressed, I would go one step farther and claim that in the context of solo physicians' offices, those systems are not only annoying but an unnecessary waste of time and money.

Here's the thing: however many options, menu trees and voicemail systems you have, YOU'RE GOING TO HAVE TO PICK UP THE PHONE EVENTUALLY! Why the hell would you want to piss people off before you've even had the chance to say hello? Despite the advertising spiel by the vendors of Automated Telephone Answering Systems, they don't really allow you better control over when you pick up the phone. They merely create that illusion by putting callers on hold for you automatically, albeit with lots of other bells and whistles (read: things to drive callers stark raving mad) first.

Why bother?

Call my office. A person picks up the phone and listens to what you want. If there's another line ringing or on hold, or a patient checking in or out, or for whatever reason we can't help you right that instant, you'll be asked to hold. But at least we know who you are and what you want. If you're just asking for the fax number or office hours or if we're taking new patients, it's far easier to give you your quick answer and say good-bye than to put you through the nonsense of an Automated Telephone Answering System. Cheaper, too. Because we know who you are and what you want, the next person who picks up the phone is usually going to be able to help you more quickly.

I've run across far too many SOLO offices who use Automated Telephone Answering Systems, and the only reason I can think of is that they think they're supposed to. As far as I'm concerned, they're just putting on airs; trying to exude an air of "We're such important people we can't be bothered talking with you, just like all those other big doctor groups in town." It's just stupid.

Pick up the damn phone already.


At Sat Sep 08, 08:03:00 PM, Blogger make mine trauma said...

You are soooo right! There is no correct prompt for me to enter on the automated system when I call in for codes and charges on a case that I have assisted on. The prompts are geared towards patients so "billing questions" gets me a patient rep. who doesn't understand what I do or want because I am supposed to be either the patient or the patient's spouse to enter this prompt. I ultimately have to "Enter 1 if you are a Doctor or hospital." And I always feel like such a poser!

The bigger evil.....automated VOICE prompts!!


At Sat Sep 08, 08:46:00 PM, Blogger Hygeian said...

Some people have phone phobia. At one hospital I worked at, we spent a couple of hours one day in training getting soon to be unit secretaries (oops, I mean CLERKS!) to actually pick up the phone.

My point is, I think people are afraid they might not know what to say, afraid every call will be that family member who is livid that mom wasn't discharged today, or that dad's meds got changed without a word to his primary care. But you get over it.

At Sat Sep 08, 09:27:00 PM, Blogger Zany Mom said...


I agree with MMT. Voice prompts are the worst. And when you have laryngitis, they don't work well (had that happen with the phone company during a move).

My fave was one where I was getting ticked off at the machine so I swore at it (one of those where zero is not an option). It immediately sent me to a human!

At Sun Sep 09, 12:20:00 AM, Blogger ERnursey said...

The inventor of the phone tree should be burned at the stake.

At Sun Sep 09, 12:13:00 PM, Blogger Lynn Price said...

You be speakin' to da choir, sistah. If you call our office, we freaking pick up the phone...even when people who speak zero English inundate our lines looking for the Mexican boob clinic. How I wish they'd change their number.

At Sun Sep 09, 03:22:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I agree 100%.
Every time I call my doc, I get so frustrated with their phone system I want to change. I adore my doc and have been seeing him for over 20 years, but I hate calling his office.

Also, it's not just the voicemail but what they say. Here is an example: "If you are calling for test results, this mailbox is answered between 2 and 3 pm. If it is before 2 pm, your call will be returned today. If it is after 3 pm, your call will be returned tomorrow." Of course, my call is 10 am, and the return call comes two days later!

I also love this message in the mailbox "If you are calling for a renewal of your prescription, this means you need to come in for a checkup. Please call back and schedule an appointment."

Grind teeth, hang up and scream!!!

At Mon Sep 10, 02:35:00 PM, Blogger Bookhorde said...

What I really hate are the phones with the voice recognition systems. "Please say your *super secret identity number* now. I'm sorry, I could not understand that. Let's try again." Then your kid yells for you in the background and the next thing you know they're telling you you've confirmed some transaction you never wanted.

At Mon Sep 10, 05:45:00 PM, Blogger James Taylor said...

Of course part of the problem is that the systems are extremely dumb and think that every one who calls should get the same menu of choices. Why? Surely if you know who someone is (and most of these automated systems get the phone number which you could match to patients) then the system could be much more helpful? If it didn't recognize your phone number, straight to a person who can help or information about hours/location if after hours. If a patient with an upcoming appointment, perhaps a message confirming the appointment and asking if they would like to cancel or move it. If a patient with regular prescriptions, perhaps automated options for renewing etc.
While a person works best if you can find someone who knows what they are doing, some companies find the economics of automated systems compelling. But stupid automated systems are not the answer....
Check out this post for some thoughts on the whole
"gethuman" thing.
James Taylor
The EDM blog
My ebizQ blog
Author of Smart (Enough) Systems

At Mon Nov 05, 06:25:00 PM, Blogger Unknown said...

I work in a solo Doc office. Automated phone systems are the key to an efficient office. In theory "just pick up the phone" works... in reality when "Mrs Smith" calls for the 10th time asking why the Doctor hasn't called her back (she just called 15 minutes ago) and you have "Mr Smith" on another line telling you about his enlarged prostate, and the other 4 lines are ALREADY on hold, and you have two people to pick up, triage and schedule, "just pick up the phone" can't work because now nobody is getting through. We sill have live people scheduling, but our 2 nurse practioners, 3 MA's and biller have voice mail. We have an independant pharmacy line. We don't write our appointments in a book either..


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