Mental health answering service operator

Answering Service for Therapists and Psychiatrists: Insights for Handling for Daytime and After-Hours Calls

Are you a mental health practitioner struggling with a busy office and a phone that never stops ringing? Do you worry about missing calls after office hours or how to make your clinic operate more efficiently? Read on to learn how an answering service for healthcare providers in the mental health specialty could be the answer to your problems. 

The Unique Office Needs of Mental Health Practitioners

Practitioners in the mental health field certainly have unique office needs compared to other types of businesses, even those in the healthcare sector. Outside of the hospital setting, they typically don’t require nurses to take vital signs at the start of appointments or technicians to perform diagnostic tests. In many offices these days, patients even check themselves in and simply have a seat in the waiting room until their practitioner is available.

Telehealth is another easy option for mental health providers because of the aforementioned conditions. Formerly used primarily in more rural areas to improve patient access, online appointments became the norm during the pandemic, accounting for one-third of mental health visits.

However, as lean as counselors, psychologists, and psychiatrists keep their office staffing, they still need some basic services. And these services have special requirements, which may vary with the type of mental health practice in question. There are also other concerns particular to mental health providers, which we discuss below.

Image representing mental health care, self care, and self love with woman holding piece of paper with a heart on it over face

Different types of practices

Mental health practices encompass a huge range of specialties and training, and these affect the service needs of the individual practitioners. For example, a family counseling service may have normal 9-to-5 hours, with very little patient communication outside their normal office times. But a psychiatrist who treats more complex illnesses and prescribes medications may receive after-hours calls every night and weekend. They likely have more emergency situations that arise with patients too, which can be related to medical diagnoses as well as to issues with prescriptions (side effects, dosing questions, medication withdrawal symptoms, pharmacy shortages, etc.).

Phone answering during office hours

Virtually every mental health provider needs to have their phone answered while they are in office hours seeing patients. It’s disruptive to clinical appointments to take calls, and when patients are paying hourly, it detracts from the office time they’ve paid for.

Calls come in for multiple reasons:

  • New patient inquiries
  • Referrals or questions from other practitioners
  • Appointment scheduling, rescheduling, and cancellations
  • Inquiries about office hours, locations, and directions
  • Patient questions about medications
  • Pharmacy and insurance carrier questions
  • Emergency scenarios

Larger psychology clinics may also have their own employees calling in sick or late. As healthcare professionals prepare for new waves of Covid outbreaks, this is likely to be an ongoing concern.

After-hours questions and emergencies

Some clinical specialties tend to observe more routine hours than others. However, among those in the outpatient setting, mental health practitioners tend to have a great number of after-hours calls, as noted above. New evidence shows that rates of suicide increase between midnight and 4 a.m.

Whether it’s a patient who’s found themselves out of a vital medication or a life-and-death emergency, psychiatrists and therapists often receive urgent phone calls after the office has closed. Mental health practitioners may also be phoned by professional colleagues in the ER or psychiatric ward pertaining to patient emergencies and hospital admissions.

While some larger clinics typically have an on-call rotation system, those providers with smaller offices and solo practices may have to answer calls no matter where they are or what they’re doing, including teaching or rounding at the hospital. And even on-call doctors can be briefly unavailable when they are showering, in transit, and the like.

Budget concerns

Everyone is feeling the pinch of the economy lately, with inflation and higher interest rates. Mental health practices are not immune from budget worries and need to make the most of their revenue. The average cost to hire an entry-level medical receptionist in the US is $14 per hour, although that figure goes up in large urban areas.

That number doesn’t include the cost of the hiring process itself, nor does it include paying for temporary workers during vacations and paid time off. If you practice at multiple locations, as many people do these days, you may have to hire several people to cover each clinic, which adds to the expense and reduces profit margins.

HIPAA and confidentiality

Patient privacy laws as dictated by HIPAA and professional accreditation is a prime concern for mental health care practitioners. While most folks don’t worry too much about who knows they have a sore throat or swollen ankle, they don’t want information about depression, addiction, eating disorders, or anxiety to become public, as there is a stigma around these and other mental health conditions.

Anyone dealing with calls, messages, and documentation for mental health care providers needs to understand HIPAA compliance and the consequences of violation. Failure to follow proper HIPAA protocols can lead to fines, lawsuits, and even loss of license.

Healthcare provider burnout

Psychiatrists are more prone to experience burnout than other types of physicians, due to a long list of stresses, including:

  • Violence and suicide in patients
  • Difficulty admitting serious cases to inpatient facilities
  • Professional demands
  • Lack of ability to affect real change
  • Conflicting responsibilities between employers and patients
  • Isolation

Since the onset of the pandemic and an increase in societal tension throughout the US, there has been much more reporting about all kinds of mental health care providers – not only psychiatrists – feeling overwhelmed, caused by:

  • Large increases in patient volume and longer hours
  • Patient chief complaints becoming more serious, including family Covid death, long Covid symptoms, racial discrimination, disenfranchisement, etc.
  • The practicalities of following public health measures to prevent the spread of disease
  • Reemergence from isolation measures in 2021 and 2022
  • Economic issues, including patients losing employment and insurance coverage
  • Disparities in care based largely on socioeconomic differences
  • Healthcare systems in general being stressed to the brink of collapse
  • Poor work-life balance

To help with these concerns and with other issues raised above, many mental health practices turn to an answering service to lighten the load and help their clinics run more smoothly for everyone involved.

Therapist consoling patient

How an Answering Service for Therapists and Psychiatrists Helps Your Business Run More Smoothly

A doctor answering service that understands the needs of mental health practitioners can go a long way in addressing all of the office problems listed here. They can answer the phone whether you are in the office seeing patients or away from the clinic after hours.

Patients experiencing an emergency will always have a live voice to talk to, rather than voicemail, which helps ensure they get the care they need. Calls can be forwarded to a practitioner if need be, or messages can be recorded for review later if the issue isn’t a critical one.

The benefits of using an answering service for psychiatrists and therapists include:

  • No missed calls from patients, colleagues, pharmacies, or insurance companies
  • No interruptions for scheduling or non-urgent matters when in session with a patient
  • Increased client satisfaction and reduced frustration that could lead to negative actions or self-harm
  • Better work-life balance when after-hours calls are triaged and the office workload is reduced
  • Savings over hiring an in-house phone operator or receptionist – you could work 100% remotely if you so desire

Absent Answer Can Customize Answering Services for Your Practice

If you’re looking for an answering service for your mental health practice, Absent Answer should be at the top of your list. We have been providing telephone answering services and much more since 1985, including being an answering service for psychiatrists, counselors, and psychologists.

At Absent Answer, we offer many advantages beyond simply answering phones and taking messages:

  • Staff are HIPAA trained and certified. All electronic safeguards have been implemented to protect patient confidentiality.
  • Our operators are completely US-based.
  • We’re available 24/7, 365 days a year. Whether you need full-time phone coverage, after-hours answering, or someone to fill in during overflow periods and staff outages, we can handle it for you. Want call forwarding when you’re teaching classes or in session? Just ask.
  • Your client dashboard gives you real-time access to messages and call recordings, as well as searches and custom reports.
  • Absent Answer customizes all services exclusively to your practice, as per your requirements. We can use different scripts and instructions for each practitioner too, depending on their role in the office.
  • We can work with your on-call schedule or dispatch providers as well, so the right person is notified and sent to help in emergency scenarios.

Over the years, our healthcare clients have found our many services have helped them become more economical and orderly. As well as live telephone answering for mental health professionals, we also provide:

We use month-to-month service agreements, so you’re not locked into a contract. You can easily make changes as needed or add services for busy times of the year or growth spurts.

If you’re ready to learn more about how Absent Answer can make your life as a practitioner better while also providing the best care possible for your patients, we’d like to talk to you. Call us at (888) 414-2405, or reach out online to inquire about pricing.

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