The Intersection of Healthcare and IP Contact Center Technology

By Steve Kowarsky

The delivery of health-related services and information via telecommunications technologies is sometimes known as telehealth or telemedicine. Interest in this trend is fueled by the growing emphasis on improving healthcare systems globally. Telehealth encompasses much more than home monitoring systems and video conferences with doctors. In some telehealth patient monitoring studies where patients used only a telephone to report their health status, the results were better than those in studies that relied on remote devices.

Such findings underscore a growing trend in healthcare applications enabled or greatly enhanced by the use of an IP contact center platform. IP contact center technology can be a critical tool for providing patients with unprecedented and cost-effective access to superior healthcare services.

The following are just a few of examples of this rapidly evolving family of applications.

Health Coaching: Health coaching is one application that can be streamlined with an IP contact center platform. In health coaching applications, professional health coaches work with individuals to increase adherence to regimens associated with disease management, dietary plans, or exercise programs. According to the Wellness Council of America, one dollar invested in health coaching yields three dollars in savings. This statement is supported by the market experiences of many large providers who have already turned to health coaching to reduce costs and improve the health of their clients.

With an IP contact center-based health coaching application, the productivity of coaches is optimized in two ways. First, the platform can automatically dial participants in the program and only connect calls to coaches when a participant answers the phone. Predictive dialers eliminate the need for coaches to waste valuable time repeatedly dialing numbers that are busy, are not answered, or are picked up by an answering machine or voicemail.

Second, for both inbound and outbound calls, scripts guiding the conversations with clients can be automatically and instantly tailored to the individual participant based on data stored in other back-end applications, such as EHR (Electronic Health Record) or CRM (Customer Relationship Management) system. In this way, any coach can deliver the same high level of service.

An IP contact center platform can also benefit coaching applications by its ability to make staffing geographically transparent. Coaches can be located anywhere: in a centralized contact center, across multiple centers, at home, or even in different healthcare facilities. In sum, the right IP contact center platform can enable the health coaching provider to boost the productivity of coaches, improve their job satisfaction by eliminating routine tasks, improve their return on investment, and, most importantly, ensure the best possible service levels for clients in the program.

While these benefits are certainly significant, perhaps even more impressive are the potential impacts of an IP contact center on device-free remote patient monitoring.

Remote Patient Monitoring: Conventional remote patient monitoring (RPM) relies on a wide variety of devices that either automatically upload data telemetrically or that require a patient to call in and report on read-outs from a device. The benefits of RPM are significant. In a 2009 report, the New England Healthcare Institute projected savings of $6.4 billion annually in the United States if RPM were used for the management of congestive heart failure. Somewhat ironically, the report also indicated that RPM devices themselves are one barrier to achieving these savings.

Fortunately, a new approach called device-free RPM that does not rely on any patient devices, except for a telephone, is now being explored. Most notably, a study was sponsored by the Iowa Medicaid Enterprise, as well as a number of other healthcare entities in that state. The study involved 187 chronic heart failure patients who were asked to respond to an automated, telephone-based questionnaire each day. If a patient did not call by a certain hour, the system initiated a call to the patient. A care coordinator monitored responses via exception reporting and personally followed up, if necessary. Hospital admissions were then compared for this group in the 12-month study period to the 12 prior months. Results were nothing short of profound: heart failure admits were down 89.8 percent during the study and all cause admits were down 60 percent.

With results like these, device-free RPM may well become the key application to underscore the enormous opportunities possible with IP contact center-based healthcare. The contact center is the ideal infrastructure for supporting the interactive voice response (IVR) system required to administer the questionnaires, route the responses to the appropriate caregiver based on responses, and initiate outbound calls by care coordinators when specified conditions are met.

At the Intersection: Health coaching and device-free RPM only represent the tip of the iceberg for the endless possibilities at the intersection of IP contact center technology and the healthcare industry. With an IP contact center platform, many types of healthcare applications can be delivered over any electronic media channel by live healthcare representatives and/or automated contact systems. Employees and systems can be distributed across a region or across the globe, linked together virtually over the IP network.

IP contact center technology enables intelligent queuing and routing of inbound and outbound telephone calls, Web chats, and emails, while also supporting full interoperability of healthcare applications with EHR, CRM, scheduling, billing, and other business applications. With the right multi-tenant technology, healthcare providers can create and support any number of virtual contact centers of any size on a single platform with unified transaction recording, reporting, and administration.

Any kind of reactive or proactive patient-provider interaction can be supported over any type of communications channel. At the same time, such technology enables each healthcare application, location, or entity to maintain complete autonomy and to implement the full security required by health information privacy regulations.

Healthcare providers are increasingly discovering that IP contact center technology can be a critical tool for providing patients with cost-effective access to superior healthcare services and a better overall patient experience. This, the intersection of healthcare and IP contact center, is improving the cost, quality, and availability of care.

Steve Kowarsky, executive vice president of CosmoCom, is one of the architects of the company’s growing presence in the healthcare industry. CosmoCom’s unified, all-IP contact center suite enables businesses to quickly, easily, and economically fulfill the most complex customer interaction management requirements of today and tomorrow.

[From the October/November 2009 issue of AnswerStat magazine]