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
Making sidelines pay
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.
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Name: Richard Hartwell, MD, PhD.
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."