Case Study: Hospital Uses Speech Recognition and Automation to Cut Costs and Improve Service

By Chris Heim

Southern New Hampshire Health System (SNHHS) serves Greater Nashua and 12 other communities across much of southern New Hampshire. The system is a fast-growing, 120-year-old provider, known for delivering exceptional health and medical care services. With 54 medical offices, a 180-bed community hospital, and more than 550 medical providers practicing in 59 different specialties, SNHHS is one of the largest healthcare groups in the state. With such a large network to support, the hospital’s call center is responsible for managing high volumes of calls and a broad range of information around the clock.

Due to the system’s continual growth and the broad diversification of communications technology, the SNHHS call center was becoming overwhelmed. Their team of call center representatives was receiving and connecting a dizzying number of both internal and external calls.

Managing on-call schedules was also handled by the call center using a paper-based system, manually updated as the staff received messages from the various departments, clinics, and individuals from across the system. Because of the complexity of the organization, this had become a challenge. The team maintained more than 75 different schedules using a printed booklet that became outdated almost as fast as it was created. This was becoming too cumbersome for the call center to manage effectively.

“Our management team knew we had to implement some changes to provide better support for everyone,” said Judy Mayopoulos, call center manager. “Since we also relied on a costly third-party firm to provide after-hours answering services for physicians’ offices, we felt we could manage our own answering service to improve customer service both internally and externally while providing better patient care.”

The Solution: Speech Recognition and Call Center Automation: Management at SNHHS developed a plan to bolster their call center with physicians’ answering services, operator console, speech recognition, Web-based on-call scheduling, and messaging capabilities. They selected Amcom Software’s contact center solutions to help meet those challenges and achieve their goals.

The speech recognition solution reduces the volume of calls handled by representatives. It allows callers to connect their own calls or access information by following voice prompts rather than using a representative’s assistance.

The speech recognition was initially rolled out internally to introduce it to staff and gain acceptance. “Our staff adapted to the speech recognition tool quickly, and they like it because they don’t need to be transferred multiple times in order to reach someone,” said Mayopoulos. After great success with the internal release of speech recognition, the organization rolled it out for external callers as well.

The health system also began using the system’s staff directory and on-call scheduling solution. Since the on-call schedules and directory are Web-based, each department can now manage and update their schedules easily and quickly. Call center representatives don’t spend time tracking down an individual only to find out they’ve contacted the wrong person. The on-call schedules are integrated with the organization’s operator console, so all the information they need is right in front of them.

The Results: Speech System Frees Up Call Center Staff – Enables Creation of Profitable Answering Service: Using speech recognition “has offloaded 55 percent of our live operator calls,” said Mayopoulos. “Our statistics also show that 97 percent of the calls that come through the speech system are transferred correctly. That’s a lot of efficient call processing without human intervention.”

Because they aren’t tied-up handling such a large volume of incoming calls, the call center representatives are now able to perform other duties, enabling the hospital to bring physicians’ answering services in-house. This service has become a new source of revenue for the hospital.

Management at SNHHS is pleased with the new in-house answering service because the call center representatives are familiar with working in the healthcare environment, which isn’t always the case with third-party answering services. SNHHS is able to accommodate each doctor’s unique protocols or requests, such as “only call a certain phone number after 10 p.m.,” or “after two tries, call this number.”

The Future: As Southern New Hampshire Health System continues to grow, the management and staff will focus on their promise to residents of the area to provide information, education, and access to exceptional health and medical care services. With the right combination of great people and the right technology, their contact center will have the capabilities needed to keep pace with the organization’s growing needs.

[From the February/March 2011 issue of AnswerStat magazine]