Case Study: How Cleveland Clinic Provides Care Through Advanced Communications  

By Chris Heim

The most important part of any problem solving or improvement effort you may undertake is making sure you focus on the issues and ideas that will have the biggest affect on your specific goals. There’s never enough time or money available to fix everything, or even to try everything, so for today’s problems, make certain that you’re working on things you can best change with today’s top solutions.

The call center staff and management of Cleveland Clinic felt they could better manage the thousands of calls they receive and messages they transmit every day. As key contributors to their facility’s reputation for patient care, they recognized that the growing volume of voice and data traffic they handle could create unwanted complications in the hospital’s efforts to get crucial information to patients and staff, handle on-call scheduling activities, and manage emergency and medical alerts quickly and accurately.

Cleveland Clinic, located in Cleveland, Ohio, is a nonprofit, multi-specialty, academic medical center that integrates clinical and hospital care with research and education. Founded in 1921, the hospital’s vision is to provide outstanding patient care based on the principles of cooperation, compassion, and innovation.

U.S. News & World Report consistently names Cleveland Clinic as one of the nation’s best in its annual “America’s Best Hospitals” survey. Among the key factors in those rankings are improvements in staff efficiency, as well as excellent patient care, safety, and satisfaction – all significantly influenced by the quality and efficiency of their internal and external communications effectiveness.

Yvonne Parker, manager of Cleveland Clinic Health System (CCHS) Call Centers, wanted to ensure the group had the right tools and processes in place to support the organization’s mission. She led the team in a search for solutions that would enable the call center to eliminate redundant effort and use automation wherever possible to provide exceptional caller service.

Asking the Right Questions: Parker has always admired great thinkers, such as Albert Einstein, who said, “If I had an hour to solve a problem and my life depended on the solution, I would spend the first 55 minutes determining the proper question to ask.  For if I knew the proper question, I could solve the problem in less than five minutes.”  Her communications center team placed their focus on finding the right questions to ask, so they could go to work developing and improving on answers to the organization’s communications challenges.

Their questions included:

  • How do we continue to handle our growing call volume without “breaking the bank?”
  • Can we make on-call scheduling more accurate and efficient?
  • Can we make it easier for internal and external callers to connect with patients, staff, or departments?
  • Can we improve the way we handle directory look-ups and other searches?
  • How can we best deal with emergency or other medical alerts?
  • Can we do all these things without creating a bewildering maze of unrelated, competing systems that don’t “talk” to each other?
  • How do we introduce change without hurting our current success?

The Solution: After evaluating its options, the call center team selected key solutions from a single vendor to provide its communications backbone, which includes an integrated system consisting of operator consoles, online on-call scheduling capabilities, and voice recognition directory technology. Integral to the success of the system is that all applications pull information from a single database to ensure consistency and accuracy, as well as ease-of-use and administration.

The operator consoles direct call center staff through important tasks with easy-to-use screens that include all the information needed to process communications efficiently and effectively with just a few keystrokes. This includes automatic displays of incoming calls, single-button call transfers, conferencing, and speed dialing. Operators can quickly and accurately perform directory searches and code calls, as well as messaging sent to individuals, entire departments, and role-based groups.

Parker’s team added an automated greeting system to help operators minimize voice fatigue with pre-recorded introductory phrases. Operators can use call parking functionality to enable staff to learn the nature of a call prior to accepting it or returning it to the operator group to take a message.

An online directory with on-call scheduling capabilities was included so that any member of the hospital organization with the proper login information can make updates. This helps the clinic maintain accurate, up-to-date contact information and individualized communications preferences. Cleveland Clinic’s departments can also easily perform on-call scheduling tasks without running everything through the call center.

According to Parker, the on-call scheduling application took her primary call center team from paper to automation quickly with minimal stress and provided authorized clerical staff with unlimited immediate and future scheduling capabilities. “The application was an immediate hit with our operators,” she said. “They love that they no longer need to rely on a 15-page, hard-to-update document. It also provides our physicians and other hospital staff with access to needed information via a Web browser with or without operator support. This is a major bonus during low staffing periods and after regular hours.”

Finally, the system provides callers with an automated method of connecting routine phone requests, including directory assistance and messaging, without requiring operator involvement and with more ease of use than touchtone software. Call center staff can spend more time dealing with critical communications tasks, helping to ensure patient care and safety, enhancing staff satisfaction, and reducing the cost of operation.

According to Parker, the technology “has improved dial-zero calls to the operator by 75 percent, and that helps us reach our patient-first productivity goals.”  That is no small thing given the fact that the operators had been processing more than 55,000 dial-zero calls monthly. With ongoing system tuning for new names and phrases, the rate of properly connected calls is kept high, despite changes in staff or frequently requested information.

“Our operators are always prepared to support in-house calls from visitors, nurses, and physicians who need to reach a patient or have other critical needs, added Parker. “But in today’s busy inbound hospital call center, we need to maintain our focus on patient-first productivity, and getting the front door open as rapidly as possible is our primary objective.”

The Right Questions – Better Solutions: “Asking the right questions can simplify call center management,” concluded Parker. “With the right answers in hand, making well-informed choices and investing precious dollars where they’ll have the best effect becomes a much more frequent outcome. In our case, we could show that if we used Amcom Software applications and middleware, we could dramatically improve call center productivity and enhance critical patient care.”  At Cleveland Clinic, that meant the right answers to the right questions could help the call center team continue providing best-in-class service to their customers.

[From the October/November 2010 issue of AnswerStat magazine]