By Nicole Limpert
According to a survey published by the American Hospital Association (AHA) in 2016, there are 3,231 community hospitals in the United States that are a part of a larger hospital system.
The AHA defines these enterprises as either a multihospital system where two or more hospitals are owned, leased, sponsored, or contract managed by a central organization; or a single, freestanding hospital that includes membership of three or more, and at least 25 percent, of non-hospital healthcare organizations. These sizable healthcare systems are often the result of mergers. Hospitals announced a total of 115 merger and acquisition transactions in 2017 alone and this trend is on the rise.
No matter how large the hospital enterprise, call centers are often the first point of contact when a patient or prospective patient contacts a healthcare organization. It’s essential that callers have a helpful, positive interaction with the operators they speak with because medical call center representatives often serve as the face of a health system.
Communications within these large hospital systems were already incredibly complex before the coronavirus began to spread. When the pandemic began, many hospitals sent their call center workforce home to safely handle calls while in isolation.
Call center software gives hospital organizations the flexibility to turn any computer into a fully functional operator workstation. Callers have a seamless communication experience with their provider, even if their hospital has various campuses or locations across multiple states, all while the person they are talking to is working from home.
Using a Virtual Server Brings Multiple Hospital Call Centers Together
Healthcare systems with multiple hospitals, clinics, and call centers can run on a single virtual server located anywhere in the country to function together seamlessly—even if they all use different PBX telephone systems.
This enables hospital call centers to pivot during uncertain times, such as the current coronavirus outbreak, and also grow without adding additional server hardware. Using a virtual server means less equipment needs to be maintained. This saves an organization time and money, which has become even more crucial with pandemic-related budget crises.
To streamline call flows, hospital enterprises are combining and scaling their communication systems virtually. This allows them to take advantage of running their call centers in a virtual server environment or in the cloud, while keeping staff safe.
Other benefits of running call centers remotely:
- Ability to route calls to another center in the event of an emergency
- Offering longer operating hours by taking advantage of call centers or agents located in different time zones
- Easier for supervisors to get fill-in operators if an agent is sick
- Ability to handle more calls during peak hours by overflowing calls to other centers during their non-peak times
- Tap other labor markets such as retired nurses, students, or a lower-cost workforce and hire people who are located outside of expensive city areas with high compensation rates
Secure Messaging Apps Remotely Support Care Teams
Secure organizational communication is crucial for protecting patients, medical staff, and hospital organizations. Care teams use these apps to send secure text, photo, audio, and video content related to a patient’s electronic protected health information (ePHI), via smartphones, tablets, and desktop computers.
These apps simplify healthcare communications to provide a better patient experience and speed the process of patient admissions, lab results, and patient transport within a hospital. Call center agents working from home also use cloud-based secure messaging apps to contact on-call medical staff via their computer.
“As a healthcare system, we need a secure messaging platform for our clinical staff to share critical health information quickly and easily,” says Steven Spachtholz, director of information systems for Butler Health System in Butler, PA. “For us, the advantage of using the platform is its tight integration to our call center system that we use to provide answering services to our physicians.”
Steven explains, “We started using secure messaging with our internal answering service, but it grew to become our only secure messaging platform. What makes the secure messaging app we use different, is its integration with our call center software for on-call data and the integration engine we use which allows us to inject messages from other systems. All routine consults now flow from our electronic health record (EHR) database to our secure messaging app automatically.”
Secure texting apps can also keep track of all message activity with an audit log and a message log, complete with message histories, indicating whom messages were sent to, when messages were read, and who replied to a message. These logs can be made into reports for call center supervisors and hospital management.
Future of Web-based Hospital Communication
Hospital staff must be able to access the information they need at any time from any place. It’s a fundamental and critical part of any healthcare organization’s communication protocol. This is especially true during a pandemic since it’s more likely that both call center and medical staff may be working from home or from different hospital locations.
Web-based applications that are specifically developed for the healthcare industry have proven to be incredibly effective in providing fast and secure communication, improving communication times, adding efficiencies through remote access, and reducing the number of potential errors caused by miscommunication.
Some hospital call centers already had a select group of operators working from home, but the COVID-19 crisis forced more hospitals to take advantage of having a virtual call center. Many studies have since been published about the benefits and cost-savings of having staff work from home. Some organizations have already decided to keep their call center staff remote, and the latest trends indicate this once temporary solution is going to be a permanent shift in the industry.
Nicole Limpert is the marketing content writer for Amtelco and their 1Call Healthcare Division. Amtelco is a leading provider of innovative communication applications. 1Call develops software solutions and applications designed for the specific needs of healthcare organizations.