How Much Does an Answering Service Cost?

If you are any way affiliated with a healthcare or medical organization, you know that you have to answer your phones 24 hours a day, which doesn’t even let up on the holidays. Your patients trust you for their continued medical care which places a tremendous amount of pressure on you and your staff.

Depending on your organization, the added cost of hiring additional staff to ensure the phones are answered 24/7 can be very expensive. Consider that, in most cases, you will need staff on average 16 hours per weekday beyond regular office hours. Then upon hiring new staff, you have to contend with them coming to work late or taking days off due to illness or personal issues. So, in all cases, more than one person would have to be hired for full coverage.

Therefore, the most affordable solution would be to outsource to a medical answering service. On average, the cost of hiring a medical answering service is only a fraction of hiring new staff for after-hours phone answering and triaging. In addition, the medical answering service is also required to manage employment issues internally without increasing any pressure on your staff.

How Do Answering Services Charge?

When deciding to go with a medical answering machine service, you need to factor in the following pricing alternatives and decide what works best for your company when considering all options properly. Please do not make the fundamental assumption that all answering services are the same, they are not. But as a start, the following should be reviewed;

1. Flat Rate Pricing:

Most companies that have never used a medical answering service may at first run across a service offering flat-rate pricing. There may be times when an organization may only receive a few calls per month, when a flat-rate pricing system may make sense, however for the majority of healthcare organizations, the call volume and complexity of the call situations will not accurately qualify flat-rate structures.  

Flat-rate pricing, while attractive at first is generally reserved for low-volume organizations because with a high volume of calls, the quality suffers tremendously. In addition, this pricing model may also be offered by call centers located outside of the United States which could present additional cultural barriers for you and your patients.

2. Per Minute Pricing:

It’s easy enough as you pay for a specific quantity of minutes every month. This is generally the plan that most people have difficulty with because there are always hidden costs that go with per-minute pricing. Unlike the flat rate and being charged on actual calls, per minute rates may even charge for voicemail and administrative time. So, hidden fees or reduced rates will add up, making most customers feel as if they’ve been put in a position where they’re “nickel and dimed”. Also, be aware that a 10-minute call is charged at 10 minutes and some unscrupulous answering services may train their agents to purposefully slow down which adversely increases billable talk time. So, there really is no incentive for the answering service to maintain agent efficiency \because their inefficiencies and associated costs are passed onto your organization.

3. Per Unit Pricing:

Per unit is similar to per-minute pricing, consumption-based, except it gives you much more latitude and visibility in a pricing model. Typically, a unit is defined as specific events, such as an inbound or outbound call, email, or fax. This pricing model gives transparency to usage which can help your organization optimize communications flow and staffing situations.

This also forces the answering service to train their employees in an efficient manner while assuming some financial risk. In this pricing scenario, a 10-minute call is not charged as 10 minutes but rather one unit, therefore, the answering service agents must be trained within the context of handling difficult callers otherwise the answering service’s costs and quality may be affected. However, this pricing model is the most transparent and cost-efficient for any organization.

4. Costs Associated With HIPAA Compliance:

The costs in order to maintain HIPAA compliance are also variable depending upon the medical answering service. Some services utilize Tiger Text, Onpage, Gmail, or other HIPAA-compliant SMS solutions all of which have additional costs that are sometimes hidden. However, a true HIPAA-compliant medical answering service, such as PatientCalls, has developed its own secure SMS platform which is free of charge, while the other solutions mentioned can be as expensive as $10-$15 per doctor, per month so your monthly recurring fees for HIPAA compliancy can become expensive.

Ultimately, there is always going to be the question of cost versus value and quality. You have to determine what cost you are willing to spend in order to support the required quality of patient care as well as personnel after-hours’ quality of life.

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