Virtual Assistants (or “VA’s”) are real people who accomplish tasks on your behalf without needing to be physically nearby. They tend to be cost effective for a number of reasons, from having multiple individuals share a single virtual assistant to the lower prevailing wages at the VA’s locality. VA’s may be based in another state or in another country, enabled by technologies that allow collaboration across multiple locations.
Virtual Assistants have been known to take your calls and organize your calendar, book your flight or call a taxi for you.
They may also be assigned to do administrative tasks like invoicing, billing or message handling. VA’s may be “tasked-based”, that is, they are measured and paid according to the tasks they accomplish; or “time-based”, which requires them to accomplish a number of tasks within a pre-defined time period. Virtual Assistants can be more specialized for some industries, like Virtual Medical Assistants (VMA) for the healthcare industry.
For small businesses, virtual assistants are associated with cost savings. For example, they can handle mundane tasks like calling customer service with a 45-minute hold time. They also help make administration much simpler from the point of view of HR and IT management.
However, virtual assistants have a greater potential of impacting your business beyond basic cost management. VA’s, being more autonomous and carrying near zero footprint in terms of space and computing, add a new dimension to the dynamics of your operations. Here are a few benefits of having virtual assistants:
Virtual Assistance service is scalable and flexible. This allows you to grow quickly or shrink as quickly depending on your business growth or seasonality.
A dental office started a big promotion and wasn’t sure how much growth will result from it. It wanted to be ready to handle the added business right away but was reluctant to hire new employees (and allocate office equipment and space) in case it doesn’t work out. They took in a virtual assistant for a three-month period to manage risks.
Another facility had their virtual assistant start work at 6am on Mondays to clear the faxes and make Monday mornings a little more organized for the staff.
Virtual Assistants quite likely are operating from a different time zone and can be flexible. Sometimes, all it takes is a phone call to add or change schedules.
Virtual Assistants can give you time to spend growing your business. A real estate broker spends many hours every day filling up forms, maintaining MLS postings and database research. She has great ideas to reach out to new buyers to take advantage of a short summer peak in an exemplary school district. But between the paperwork, the research and her desire to answer to all incoming phone calls, she never had time to really design that new mailer and update her mailing list. A virtual assistant handled the administrative work and gave her an extra three hours a day to successfully close a few more deals.
Virtual Assistants can give your people more time for provide superior customer service. A medical clinic took in Virtual Medical Assistants to process the 100+ daily fax messages they receive, as well as verify and pre-certify insurance. As a result, its regular staff could take most patient calls, dramatically shorten response time for prescription refill requests as well as a calls for advising laboratory results. Referring Physicians were impressed with the quick turnaround of results and clinical notes. They’ve also received exceptional patient feedback.
This is important because a common comment on physician review sites like Vitals.com, Healthgrades.com and RateMD.com is “(Physician’s name) is great but his/her service needs to improve”. Often this results from the backlog that the regular staff has struggled to catch up with. Medical facilities are expected to provide both a positive “patient experience” and a positive “referral experience” amid the alphabet soup of statutory and commercial requirements.
Virtual Assistants can support and encourage automation. A medium-sized medical facility was implementing a new Electronic Medical Records system and needed to scan their physical Patient Charts composed of 300,000 sheets of paper. Each page must be properly organized, indexed and electronically attached to the appropriate folder in the patient’s file. They employed high speed scanners and let virtual medical assistants handle the indexing while their staff focused on batch scanning and subsequent quality checks.
Another facility needed to regularly assemble a report from a physical pile of documents in the correct order as part of documentation requirements to get paid for their procedures. Instead of pulling, rearranging and returning physical sheets of paper, the entire stack was scanned as a single PDF file, which the Virtual Assistant would then rearrange electronically so the exact document was submitted quickly while eliminating paper handling.
Virtual Assistants can come with advanced degrees or skill sets that go beyond their usual assignments. Faced with the October 1st deadline for ICD-10-CM implementation last year, one facility learned that their Virtual Medical Assistant previously worked in a call center that provided billing services to New Zealand. Since New Zealand has been using ICD-10 for years, the VMA was already experienced with ICD-10 and made their preparation easier.
Another virtual medical assistant had previous Facebook marketing experience and eventually created and maintained the Facebook page for the facility, including content management.
In summary, while Virtual Assistants can serve as part of a stop gap or a cost management initiative, they can also be a piece of a larger business strategy. They have been proven to free up time, money and bring in additional skills. The real challenge is how to use these additional resources to build your business.