I’ve always been a complete techtard, but nothing has reminded me of this fact more than my trying to understand phone systems. I’ve read over various brochures and online resources, and I’m still not quite able to fully grasp the concept of all the different types of phone systems and their myriad of features.
Based on my pricing research, I originally had aimed to spend less than $3,000 for a PBX (private branch exchange) phone system, which is a system that allows you to share a single phone number over multiple extensions in your office. Apparently, these estimates were for traditional legacy PBX systems, which work on soon-to-be obsolete mechanical and electrical platforms.
Instead, I ended up getting a 8-trunk/extension hybrid IP PBX system with computer telephony integration (CTI) for a little over $5,000 installed. I’m still not sure if I spent my money wisely, but this is what I got. So, an IP PBX system connects to phone lines through voice over internet protocol (VoIP), which means that all your phone calls go through the internet. A hybrid IP has the capability to connect phone lines through analog, digital, and VoIP. As a medical practice, at this point, you should not get a stand alone IP PBX because a good number of insurance companies still process electronic claims through a dial-up modem, which requires an analog line.
Computer telephony integration (CTI) is technology that merges computers and telephone systems. Essentially, the phone system, fax, e-mail, and internet all get channeled through a central desktop computer. With CTI, I’ll be able to see and manage all calls on a computer screen, and to possibly pull up patient information automatically based on the incoming phone number. That sounds pretty cool, but I’m not sure if my practice management system has that capability. Some other features include auto attendant, unlimited voicemail, a unified message system that sends all fax/e-mail/voicemail messages to one location, and remote call forwarding. Also, I’ve read online that IP PBX systems tend to have easier administrative requirements since most services can be configured on an internet browser. I hear that installation and maintenance is more convenient and cheaper as well because there is no need to set up additional wiring, cabling, or patch panels (whatever that means).
One thing I did really want was remote call forwarding. With this feature, I would be able to take all calls to my office from my cell phone. My office number will slowly begin to appear on insurance company directories, and I don’t want to miss those rare phone calls from potential patients looking for an eye doctor.
One concern have with all this technology is the possibilty of the phone lines going down if the system crashes. My phone company and IT guy told me that it almost never happens, but I can’t help but have my reservations. We’ll see.
Howie’s addendum: I got a SBX IP system installed in my office with three phone lines and a fax line. There’s always the option to add on more later. The total cost was just under $2000. I got the name of my phone guy from another ophthalmologist in my area. I use our local Cox service for phone and internet. Be sure to charge your phone bill to the Chase Ink cash card for 5% back.
Some folks on our google group use Nextiva or Ring Central VoIP. While at the beginning some folks were having problems with connectivity and router issues, you could always forward calls to your cell phone if the lines are down. I took a survey and there didn’t seem to be a huge cost differential between what I am paying Cox vs Nextiva or Ring central with internet, so I never bothered switching. My monthly fees for four lines and internet are about $225 per month.
And if you’re wondering, most of us ophthalmologists don’t use an answering service. My office phone free has a emergency mailbox that rings my cell phone. To my horror, I found it sometimes didn’t work properly so I leave my google voice number on the recording as a alternative way of reaching me. When you phone back you can then use the doximity dialer app to mask your cell phone caller ID and actually make it look like you’re phoning back from your office number. Don’t forget to document all calls in the chart for medicolegal purposes!
Read our next post for more information about phone plans.