Getting Beyond the Telephone with Patient-to-Provider Interactions

By Bill Loconzolo

Recovery Act…Meaningful Use…Sound familiar? With President Obama in office, the healthcare industry is being forced to pay attention to technology. And with the stimulus legislation underway, physicians are taking bold steps to adopt the best technology to enable them to qualify for incentive funds, as well as improve service to patients. Similarly, patients are demanding more convenient ways to interact and communicate with their physicians.

The Recovery Act has opened the floodgates for physician practices to adopt electronic health records (EHRs). An EHR (also referred to as an EMR) is a patient’s digitized medical record, but it doesn’t enable communication between the patient and the physician. What does enhance the communication between the physician and the patient is a patient portal – an online, self-service application that brings simplicity, speed, and convenience to patients, while increasing practice service levels and meeting patient communication demands. In essence, a patient portal extends the value of an EHR.

So what does this mean for the call center? A call center has the opportunity to generate more revenue by upselling their services to the practice by offering a patient portal. The practice would receive value by having the call center automate manual traditional processes that can remedy workflow challenges and increase office efficiencies.

Using a patient portal that is integrated with EMRs, call centers can service their clients using applications like Appointment Reminders, Appointment Requests, and Ask a Staff. Traditional appointment reminder methods such as a written reminder on a small card can result in a no-show due to the patient misplacing the card. Or perhaps the physician’s office uses valuable staff time and energy mailing appointment reminders, or making the appointment reminder call. Either way, the practice is losing money.

What if the call center could service the practice by automatically sending appointment reminders via text to voice, SMS (Short Message Service), MMS (Multimedia Messaging Service), email, or an IM (instant message)? Well, they can. The practice would transmit an automated patient list from their practice management system to the call center’s patient portal, and through seamless integration, the call center would send automated patient reminders using any one of these unified communications.

Through the patient portal, a basic call center has the core capability to connect the patient to a qualified professional (nurse practitioner or doctor). If a patient calls into the call center with symptoms of coughing or shortness of breath, the patient would be able to go online and complete a symptom assessment or request a Virtual Office Visit (VOV) that would then be seamlessly connected to the practice for the qualified professional to respond. These types of interactions liberate the practice from the traditional paper and physical process of the in-office patient visit. Ultimately, patient-provider interactions provide convenience for the patients and new revenue opportunities and efficiencies for the doctor’s practice.

Call Centers are about efficiency, data analytics, and metrics – which are exactly what the health care system is lacking. Imagine if all patient interactions were logged, as well customer service calls with AHT (average hold times), FCR (first call resolution), Quality KPIs (key performance indicators) and recordings of these interactions into the patient’s personal health record and the practice’s PM/EMR systems. This historical analysis that drives overall improvements of personal health plans is what the health care system needs to enable better interactions with a practice. All of these metrics could be measured on every interaction. And that’s exactly what lies at the center of a call center – metrics.

Patient interactions are the key to reforming our health care system. The only way to increase the utilization of such systems is by increasing patient convenience with technologies, Web, VoIP, and unified communications. If practices empower patients to manage their health by providing patients with the analytics that show the interactions with their doctors and with their personal health habits over time, then practitioners will experience greater office efficiencies. They will also increase the convenience of communicating with patients, which in turn may promote the overall quality and longevity of a patient’s life.

As the call center has shown over the years, analytics and interactions drive behaviors (learned from Performance Management solutions), and defines response from corporations to address and adapt KPIs to meet the behaviors of the customers’ needs, in this case the providers. This is the closed loop informational analytic approach that the call center can and will bring to health care via patient portal communication infrastructures. And in doing so, the call center will experience a new stream of revenue.

There isn’t any doubt the call center isn’t just about the telephone…the call center can dive right into the 21st century and beyond to provide patient portal services to their customers – services that will add value to the call center, the provider, and the patient.

Bill Loconzolo is the chief technology officer for Medfusion, a provider of patient portals.

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