Neurosurgeon automates answering service

Tired of playing the phone tag associated with traditional answering services, this doctor developed his own automated system that he is now offering to other practices.

By Pamela Lewis Dolan — Posted Jan. 14, 2008

Print  |   Email  |   Respond  |   Reprints  |   Like Facebook  |   Share Twitter  |   Tweet Linkedin

Making sidelines pay

Business Pitch

Doctors who branched out beyond running their practice tell why they did it, how they did it, and what you should know before you do it.
» Other installments

Name: Richard Hartwell, MD, PhD.

Specialty: Neurosurgery.

Location: Toms River, N.J.

Company: Coastal Data Access, LLC. It developed an automated device that answers the physician's phone line when the office is closed for lunch, nights and weekends. It answers on the second ring, gets caller ID information, then dispatches the call to the location of the user's choice, such as another phone, an alphanumeric pager or a cell phone via voice or text message.

Annual revenue: "Not yet made money on it because that was never my interest," said Dr. Hartwell. He developed the system for use in his own practice 10 years ago and never marketed it to others until recently. He has 10 clients.

Why he started the business: Dr. Hartwell said he realized the old way of taking messages was very inefficient. Patients would call and either wait 15 minutes for someone to answer or give a message to the answering service, which would call the physician, who would then have to track down the patient.

"By obtaining caller ID info, we know who called. And if it's a patient, they leave a voice mail about their problem and we are alerted that the patient has called immediately," said Dr. Hartwell. "We can listen to their voice and their problem and to the tone of their voice. We can decide to call back immediately or at a better time when we can talk longer and give them the time they need."

The system also does not require another person, "so inefficiency and rudeness is eliminated."

Why he continues to practice: "Because neurosurgery is what I do for the joy of helping people and for the challenge. This device is only to help me do it better."

Words of wisdom: No two patients are alike in their medical disorders or their needs and expectations, so physicians do innovative things with each patient they see, Dr. Hartwell said. Physicians should recognize that about themselves and find ways to share those innovations. "It often doesn't require large corporations to do major changes in patient care."

Back to top



Read story

Confronting bias against obese patients

Medical educators are starting to raise awareness about how weight-related stigma can impair patient-physician communication and the treatment of obesity. Read story

Read story


American Medical News is ceasing publication after 55 years of serving physicians by keeping them informed of their rapidly changing profession. Read story

Read story

Policing medical practice employees after work

Doctors can try to regulate staff actions outside the office, but they must watch what they try to stamp out and how they do it. Read story

Read story

Diabetes prevention: Set on a course for lifestyle change

The YMCA's evidence-based program is helping prediabetic patients eat right, get active and lose weight. Read story

Read story

Medicaid's muddled preventive care picture

The health system reform law promises no-cost coverage of a lengthy list of screenings and other prevention services, but some beneficiaries still might miss out. Read story

Read story

How to get tax breaks for your medical practice

Federal, state and local governments offer doctors incentives because practices are recognized as economic engines. But physicians must know how and where to find them. Read story

Read story

Advance pay ACOs: A down payment on Medicare's future

Accountable care organizations that pay doctors up-front bring practice improvements, but it's unclear yet if program actuaries will see a return on investment. Read story

Read story

Physician liability: Your team, your legal risk

When health care team members drop the ball, it's often doctors who end up in court. How can physicians improve such care and avoid risks? Read story

  • Stay informed
  • Twitter
  • Facebook
  • RSS
  • LinkedIn