Healthcare Call Centers Make Sense

By Mark Dwyer

Long hidden in back offices or basements, the healthcare call center is recognized today as an integral component of an organization’s success. It is now valued as a cost-effective tool to increase customer loyalty and boost patient revenue.

The value of healthcare call centers: Bill Woodson, director of marketing products for Solucient comments, “Hospitals need to realize that the contact center can be a huge and powerful way to interact with the community and to bring patients in the door. It is a primary touch point for a hospital.”  Solucient conducted a four-year, 25-hospital study in which it measured the value of the medical call center and found four primary results. Call centers were able to:

  • Drive revenue and profitability
  • Build patient loyalty
  • Support Customer Relationship Management (CRM) initiatives
  • Attract customers from the hospital’s target markets

In fact, the Solucient study found that call centers deliver a 3:1 return on investment when used strategically throughout the organization. This is significant.

The framework of a well-structured call center: A successful call center is one that leverages its capabilities across multiple hospital departments and the organization’s website. As the call center staff members come to learn the nuances of each department, they become increasingly more valuable to the organization. The fact that the weight management director has also overcome obesity, that the Lamaze instructor delivered twins last year, and that the director of your senior program has just celebrated her 70th birthday are all examples of personalized information that can be used to make a meaningful connection and successfully position the hospital in the eyes of the caller.

What’s more, the successful call center takes full advantage of each caller interaction. Up selling and cross-referral are among the benefits best managed by in-house call centers. Used for years in other industries, the practice of cross-referring callers to additional programs and services is only now becoming common in healthcare call centers. This can significantly increase patient loyalty and boost revenues.

For example, when the pregnant mom calls to see an obstetrician, the call center can cross-refer her to Lamaze classes, pre-natal exercise classes, and sibling programs, as appropriate, as well as pre-registering her for delivery. By performing this cross-referral process, each interaction with the caller is maximized, yielding greater return for the organization. “By the time the patient sees the doctor, the relationship is accelerated and the patient is more willing to give the ‘other services’ a try,” says Russell Coile, senior strategist at Health Solutions & Strategies Inc.

In addition, the best call centers today also exploit the capabilities of the Internet. Through use of the hospital’s website, the call center can develop relationships with callers, helping them to research health concerns, look for physicians, and enroll in classes. “Every web page should have a button that says ‘I would like to talk to a person about this problem’,” says Coile. “And that button should be linked to the contact center.”

Added benefits of an in-house call center: Call center staff that can offer local callers directions around town, within the caller’s “comfort zone,” greatly enhance the call experience. Knowing that the closest available facility to the caller may be beyond a perceived boundary such as a river or heavily traveled railroad tracks, allows the in-house call center staff to refer callers to facilities better situated to meet their needs. Doing so enhances the personalized relationship with the caller.

It is also important that the call center have the ability to make last minute corrections to information in the database. If a class is moved from the hospital to an off-site location, the customer-focused call center staff should place outbound calls to all registrants advising them of the location change. This seemingly minor task pays significant dividends in strengthening patient/hospital relationships.

What about ongoing updates to the physician profiles? Physician profiles must be updated regularly to enable callers to be referred to physicians best able to meet their needs. Referring callers to physicians who no longer accept their insurance plans not only frustrates the caller, it also creates unnecessary calls for the busy physician office staff.

Finally, truly valuable call center software can be customized to better meet both the organization’s needs and the needs of its callers. It can be modified to capture unique data elements of interest. This includes the development of custom reports and letters all done quickly and free-of-charge.

Options in staffing your call center: With the inclusion of remote communication functionality in most good call center software today, the once centralized call center can now establish remote users enabling staff to work from home. By running the call center in-house, it provides a career option for clinical staff no longer capable of, or interested in, doing hospital shift work. In this way, the organization is often able to retain individuals with great stores of knowledge regarding the hospital and surrounding community.

The bottom line: The benefits of a call center do not end when the calls are finished. Rather, how the organization makes long-term use of the data gathered impacts its level of success. The information gained through processing calls enables the call center staff to proactively reach out to its market to refer people to appropriate programs throughout their lifetimes.

The true bottom line of any call center is its ability to demonstrate ROI. With a good system that enables the call center to develop custom tracking reports, generating meaningful ROI data becomes a central component of the call center’s monthly activity.

By providing personalized service to each caller, the call center is able to boost patient referrals, increase program attendance, and expand the hospital’s reputation within the community. “If a call center can do all of these things, there is no question as to whether or not it will pay for itself,” says Coile.

Mark Dwyer is the VP of Business Development at LVM Systems, Inc. He can be reached at mark@lvmsystems.com or 480-633-8200, x275.

[From the June/July 2005 issue of AnswerStat magazine]