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Articles from AnswerStat

Balancing Patient Care with Data Security and Privacy Starts with the Contact Center



By Tim Critchley

The stakes have never been higher for healthcare providers to deliver a positive patient experience. According to a recent study by Prophet, 81 percent of consumers are unsatisfied with their healthcare experience, while only 40 percent believe providers are best meeting their needs. At the same time, data breaches in the healthcare sector are at an all-time high—occurring at a rate of more than one per day in the United States. These security incidents not only jeopardize patients’ privacy but also put both patient trust and brand reputation at risk.

All the while, medical practitioners, hospitals, and insurers are pressed to keep up with the ever-evolving regulatory compliance landscape. This not only includes the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) but also the Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard (PCI DSS), the EU General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), and a long list of individual state regulations and data breach notification laws. With HIPAA violations alone incurring fines as high as 50,000 dollars (for each violation or exposed record), healthcare organizations are finding themselves wedged between conflicting objectives: how do you protect patient data and maintain compliance, without losing sight of providing the best possible patient experience?Data security and privacy are key to providing positive interactions with your customers and patients. Click To Tweet

Contact Center Security

While you can’t please every patient, you can strike a balance between care and data security. The first place to address this is your contact center.

Although online interaction tools and patient portals are gaining in popularity, you can’t underestimate the value of the voice channel. Research by PatientPop shows that 58.5 percent of patients still prefer to schedule an appointment via phone. As such, your contact center is often the go-to point of interaction for your patients and can set the tone for their entire experience. But this also means that your contact center intrinsically holds, processes, and stores copious amounts of personally identifiable information (PII), from medical records to payment card data. This makes the contact center an alluring target for fraudsters and hackers.

However, it’s not only devious cybercriminals who threaten your patients’ data. Company insiders, such as rogue patient service representatives (PSRs) or contact center agents, pose a massive threat, especially if they have access to patient data given over the phone or stored in desktop applications. In fact, 58 percent of all healthcare data breaches and security incidents are the result of insiders, according to Verizon’s Protected Health Information Data Breach Report.

Security Best Practices

With inside and outside threats, as well as vulnerable legacy systems serving as entry points for enterprise-wide breach incidents, contact centers are undoubtedly a weak link in your security chain. But protecting PII, maintaining compliance, and providing a positive patient experience first involve a hearty dose of security best practices:

  • Treat all data as potentially toxic: The more information that is available in the event of a breach, the easier it will be for a malicious insider or cybercriminal to steal a patient’s identity or access their private medical records.
  • Train all employees and always perform thorough background checks: Go beyond basic employee vetting and background checks, especially when hiring for your contact center environments. Educate PSRs and customer service agents on data security best practices and how to spot social engineering and phishing tactics.
  • Prepare your response management policy: Have an incident response management policy and process in place, preferably as part of an information security management system. Prepare for a worst-case scenario, and test your incident response plan at least annually.
  • Tokenize data: Replace PII with a meaningless equivalent, so even if a breach is successful, the hacked data will be of no value to the cybercriminal. This approach can also assist in the event of a social engineering attack, which can put even the most trustworthy employee at risk for exposing PII.
  • Enforce the principle of least privilege: Give employees the minimum level of access required to perform their job function at the appropriate time. Introduce exception procedures for when emergency access is needed.
  • Authenticate the user to authenticate the service agent: Prevent PSRs and agents from accessing patient data until the PSR has received the right data from the user. This means that until the caller has been successfully identified using the appropriate secure authentication approach, deny access to detailed PII.

Descoping Technologies

With these tactics creating a foundation for security in your contact center, you can introduce descoping technologies. Such technologies not only strengthen data security and compliance by removing sensitive data from your infrastructure, but they also garner a positive patient experience and journey.

For the voice channel, in particular, dual-tone multi-frequency (DTMF) masking solutions hold great promise, allowing patients to discretely enter numerical PHI, such as payment card, insurance, or account numbers, using their phone’s keypad. The keypad tones, however, are masked with flat tones, so they are not exposed to anyone but the patient. The data collected is encrypted and sent to a compliant third party, bypassing the contact center’s environment completely.

While this process may invoke notions of automated interactive voice response (IVR) systems, it is not quite the same. Here, agents and PSRs can remain on the line in full voice communication with the patient, guiding them through the transaction, answering questions, and even handling wrap-up tasks. There are no challenges with misheard or miskeyed data, which can lead to premature hang-ups and abandoned calls. In addition, patients have full control over inputting their information and can enjoy peace of mind that their data is protected. This makes for a better overall customer experience.

Conclusion

Data security and privacy are key to providing positive interactions with your customers and patients, and there really is no longer any need to compromise in either area. A combination of security best practices, strategies, and emerging descoping technologies are ideal solutions to achieve both. No matter which route you take, the less PII you hold and handle, the better off you’ll be. Remember, no one can hack the data you don’t hold.

Tim Critchley is the CEO of Semafone.

Vendor Spotlight: Call Center Sales Pro


Call Center Sales Pro, providing proven healthcare call center solutions


Call Center Sales Pro Helps Healthcare Call Centers Achieve Better Outcomes

In 2014 Janet Livingston formed Call Center Sales Pro (CCSP) to help outsource call centers and telephone answering services. Since then the business expanded rapidly to cover all aspects of call center operation, with a focus on the healthcare call center industry and medical answering services.

Here are some of the key services CCSP provides to the healthcare call center industry.CCSP is a reliable, full-service call center consultancy that specializes in healthcare call centers. Click To Tweet

HIPAA Training

HIPAA compliance training by CCSP will educate your healthcare call center employees about HIPAA (the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996), why it’s important, and how to follow its guidelines. This includes learning about PHI (protected health information), how to recognize it, and the essential steps to protect it. Also covered is the critical understanding into how PHI is transmitted between covered entities (CE) and business associates (BA).

This online video course has a live instructor and takes about 45 to 60 minutes. To avoid costly litigation and protect patients’ health information, HIPAA training is essential to your healthcare workforce.

Here is the key information about HIPAA training and certification:

  • HIPAA training is required for anyone with access to PHI.
  • Organizations must provide HIPAA education for all staff, with periodic refresher training.
  • CCSP’s online video course has a live instructor and takes about 45 to 60 minutes.

Healthcare Call Center Consulting

CCSP provides full-service call center consulting to help healthcare call centers with almost any facet of their operations, not just phone answering. Their professional call center consultants can assist organizations with call center operations, accounting and finance, IT, customer service, training, human resources, call center acquisitions and mergers, and other administrative tasks, as well as sales and marketing.

To help you make your call center better, CCSP can:

  • Add expertise to supplement your management team.
  • Optimize systems, protocols, and processes for optimal results.
  • Pursue new opportunities.
  • Solve problems that hold you back.
  • Change the direction of your call center.

CCSP is a reliable, full-service call center consultancy that specializes in healthcare call centers. Their team of professional consultants can assist healthcare organizations with their call center operation, customer service, and agent training. They can also address staffing, disaster recovery planning, and call center technology.

1Call Infinity System Optimization

The preferred call center system provider for many leading healthcare facilities is 1Call, a division of Amtelco. And CCSP, a contracted services provider, is an expert resource on mastering this powerful technology and harnessing it to achieve maximum results. Their contracted services can provide:

  • Strategic planning and logistics
  • Technical support and system engineering
  • Agent training and coaching
  • System setup, configuration, and optimization
  • Medical answering service functions

With CCSP as your strategic call center partner, you can expect these highly sought-after outcomes for your healthcare call center:

  • Help patients better manage their healthcare.
  • Increase per-patient revenue.
  • Maximize patient lifetime value.
  • Move your call center from being a cost center to a revenue center.

CCSP Fuzion Data Portal

Today’s leading call center systems produce an array of detailed reports to help management make informed decisions. Unfortunately call center managers and supervisors often spend too much time tracking down this information, merging it from disparate sources, and trying to make sense of it.

In the worst-case scenario, they simply ignore the data. That’s why CCSP developed CCSP Fuzion, to provide easily actionable information to healthcare call center management.

The CCSP Fuzion data portal provides one-stop management resource for call center supervisors and managers. It was developed by CCSP, who understands the importance of timely data presented in easy-to-digest formats. CCSP Fuzion comes with key reporting tools and evaluation instruments as standard components of this comprehensive portal:

  • Message logs
  • Customized agent QA and report cards
  • Agent productivity stats
  • Scheduling data
  • Center KPI and SLA metrics

Call center leaders need accurate tools that allow them to measure and manage in real time. They also need to be able to look at historical metrics to make solid decisions on running a call center. Everything call center leaders need to effectively gauge agent and call center performance is included in CCSP Fuzion.

Find an Outsource Call Center

CCSP offers a call center and medical answering service locator service. If you need a healthcare call center or medical answering service, CCSP can find the perfect match to meet your exact needs. With CCSP’s locator service, you can remove the hassle of vendor selection, tap the benefits of superior call center consulting services, and enjoy the convenience of a one-stop consulting solution.

If you need a call center or medical answering service provider to handle your facility’s communication needs at an economical price, then let CCSP take care of this for you. Because they have access to a wide network of providers, their call center locator service can find you the best provider for your needs and budget.

Call Center Sales Pro, a full-service healthcare call center consultancyContact CCSP for a free, no-obligation consultation on how they can help your healthcare call center or medical answering service. Learn more at 800-901-7706, contactus@ccsp.us, and www.ccsp.us.

Should Your Answering Service Be a Generalist or a Specialist?



From MedConnectUSA

Most telephone answering services take on a wide range of clientele, from roofer, to funeral home, to property management company, to consultant, to attorney. Oh yeah, they’ll handle healthcare too.

These answering services try to be all things to all people. They’re generalists. Some do okay at it and others not so well. As the saying goes, “They’re a Jack (or Jill) of all trades but a master of none.”

Other answering services are specialists. They focus on one industry, such as healthcare.

Do you want your answering service or call center to be a generalist or a specialist?Do you want to be a general answering service (or call center) or a medical answering service specialist that focuses on healthcare? Click To Tweet

A Generic Answering Service

All answering services that want to stay in business know they need to grow. They realize that with growth comes increased economy of scale. This helps them serve their clients with greater efficiency and increase their bottom line. Because of this push for growth, some are willing to handle any type of business or situation.

Sometimes they end up taking on some strange accounts. Such as a clown or a rock star or an entrepreneur with a questionable business ethic. Add the medical field to their eclectic mix of clients. For them, every call is completely different because every client is completely different. Sometimes they handle this client-multitasking challenge well and other times, not so well.

When an operator at a generic answering service answers the phone for a medical practice, imagine what type of account they handled just before that, how the caller acted, and the way they responded. Does this prepare them to talk to the patient with excellence and treat them precisely the way they should be treated? Some telephone answering service operators can make this mental transition, whereas others struggle.

A Medical Answering Service Specialist

Seeing the downside of these generic, one-size-fits-all answering services, some answering service leaders realize that trying to be all things to all people doesn’t work out so well. They decide to specialize. When they specialize, they become experts in their niche. This allows them to provide a higher level of service then what would be possible if they remained a generic answering service, taking all types of clients.

They decide to specialize in healthcare. They become a medical answering service—a medical answering service specialist, if you will. This allows them to focus on things that are important to their clients in the healthcare field. This includes being empathetic to callers and their health situation, knowing how to handle health emergencies and on-call personnel, and the importance of taking appointments to maximize provider effectiveness.

The result of this is a high level of patient-centric service that meets the needs of the healthcare industry, including medical practices, clinics, hospitals, and healthcare networks.

Summary

When it comes to handling the communication needs of healthcare providers, do you want to be a general answering service (or call center) or a medical answering service specialist that focuses on healthcare? How does this answer apply to the strategy you have for your answering service or call center?

Should you be an answering service generalist or specialist?

Kurt Duncan is the director of operations at MedConnectUSA, a leading provider of medical answering services, that specializes exclusively on the communication needs of the healthcare industry.

Secure Text Messaging and Email Security for Healthcare



By Aaron Boatin

Most healthcare providers send text messages and emails throughout their day. Unfortunately many choose unsecured methods of transmission. This is bad news for protecting patient data and worse yet, a clear HIPAA violation.

Embracing technology to increase the speed of healthcare is a good thing, but only if it’s done right. This means encrypting protected health information (PHI), to ensure the privacy protection mandated by HIPAA and HITECH.

Managing Protected Health Information with Secure Text Messaging

Standard texting on cell phones and alpha/text pagers is not HIPAA compliant. However, implementing secure text messaging for providers is a painless process, and allows users to receive HIPAA-compliant, secure text messages using a smartphone.

Secure messaging apps allow medical practices to stay on top of their customer service, anywhere they may be, and remain HIPAA compliant. App capabilities vary, but look for one with powerful enterprise paging and messaging application built for Apple iOS and Android mobile phones and tablets. This can replace or supplement current paging technology and enables instant two-way communications.

It’s ideal for organizations where HIPAA compliance is a necessity or when sensitive data needs to be securely delivered to mobile devices. When the recipient receives a new message alert, the secure message can be viewed instantly using the secure messaging app. The secure messages are kept separate from email and text messages.

Many apps allow staff to acknowledge they’ve received the call without having to speak to a call center agent. This saves time, money, and improves response time to patients. Faster response can have a big impact on patient satisfaction scores.Embracing technology to increase the speed of healthcare is a good thing, but only if it’s done right. Click To Tweet

Socket Layer (SSL) Technology

Call centers that serve the medical community should seek solutions that offer compliance, privacy, and sender/receiver authentication, using 256-bit encryption SSL technology. This exceeds compliance standards and is the same technology that protects sensitive information on major websites that offer secure online transactions.

Other ways that most secure messaging apps are useful to medical practices complying with HIPAA and increasing efficiency include:

  • Reporting with an audit trail of all messages with all message events.
  • Issuing persistent alerts to the recipient’s mobile device, helping ensure immediate action.
  • Allowing users to designate high priority messages, displayed at the top of the message list.
  • Providing encrypted message delivery and message read receipts, indicating that the device received the message or the recipient opened the message.
  • No need to add a text messaging plan; the app bypasses traditional SMS messaging.
  • Free secure messaging between devices; no text charges apply.
  • Ability to send secure broadcast messages to a group.

Management of Secure Text Messaging for Medical Practices

The management of secure text messaging users is easy. For some apps, the management of devices is done through a web portal so that staff can add, delete, or change user settings. If a device is lost or stolen, the data on the phone can be deleted using the remote wipe function.

Secure text messaging solutions work by hosting the encrypted PHI on hosted secure servers. The phones then access this secure data via the secure texting app. This is a great solution for medical practices where most providers use their own phones. It fits in perfectly with BYOD policies in place at large healthcare organizations.

The best apps mimic the ease of use of regular text messaging, making adoption easy and intuitive. They also bring several nice enhancements and integrations. For example, the ability to send and receive images (x-rays for example) and audio files saves an enormous amount of time.

Many medical practices that have implemented secure text messaging have seen boosts in productivity. Aside from HIPAA compliance, the speed of communications accelerates dramatically. This has a direct positive effect on patient care.

Encrypted Email

Standard email is not HIPAA compliant. Without email encryption, email sent from one user to another is vulnerable at any point along that transfer route. Using unencrypted email not only puts the content of the information at risk but also the identities of the sender and receiver.

To provide additional protection for email communication in transit and keep electronic communication from prying eyes, companies often apply encryption methodologies to their electronic communication. Encrypted email refers to the process of encoding email messages in such a way that eavesdroppers or hackers cannot read it, but that authorized parties can.

There are two popular options for encrypting email. They are TLS and Secure/Multipurpose Internet Mail Extensions (S/MIME) encryption methods.

TLS Encryption: Transport Layer Security transcription (TLS) protocol prevents unauthorized access of emails while they are in transit. TLS is a protocol that encrypts and delivers email securely for inbound and outbound email.

It helps prevent eavesdropping between email servers. It’s worth noting that email messages are encrypted only if the sender and receiver both use email providers that support transport layer security.

Not all email providers use TLS. Not sure if an email server has TLS enabled? Use this online tool to test an email address.

S/MIME Secure Email: S/MIME (Secure/Multipurpose Internet Mail Extensions) is a widely accepted method for sending secure email messages. It allows users to encrypt emails and digitally sign them. It gives the recipient the peace of mind that the message they receive in their in box is the exact message that started with the sender.

It also ensures the person receiving the email knows it really did come from the person listed in the “From:” field. S/MIME provides for cryptographic security services such as authentication, message integrity, and digital signatures.

Conclusion

Putting it all together is a challenging endeavor, but doing nothing is risky for your organization and the patients’ PHI that is vulnerable for interception.

Aaron Boatin is president of Ambs Call Center, a virtual receptionist and telephone answering service provider, that specializes in medical answering services. His passion is helping clients’ businesses succeed. Melding high tech with high touch to provide the best customer service experience for clients is his core focus.

A Proven Solution to the Top 3 Challenges Facing the Medical Practices of Today and Tomorrow


TeamHealth Medical Call Center


By Matt Miller

 Navigating the ever-changing landscape of healthcare is becoming increasingly difficult. Rising patient demands, growing administrative requirements, and high operating costs are only a few of the many obstacles medical practices face as legislation continues to evolve and outside influence on care decisions continues to grow.

In some cases, these challenges prove to be too much for independent practice staffs to handle, so they end up selling to larger healthcare organizations or hospital systems. According to a recent study, three of the top challenges facing medical practices today include:

1. Patient Satisfaction

All healthcare providers want happy patients, because happy patients return for services, make recommendations, and are likelier to comply with post-care recommendations. However, patient satisfaction has become directly linked to financial performance through federal and private insurers that link reimbursement directly to patient satisfaction scores.

A main indicator of satisfaction is the perception that a provider has communicated effectively with the patient, and the patient received the appropriate treatment. The key word is communication. If patients feel they aren’t being heard—or that the overworked staff simply doesn’t care—satisfaction can drop significantly.

Not only does a practice need enough clinicians to handle the increasing patient loads, but these clinicians must also possess the training and skills to communicate effectively with patients to ensure the treatment is correct and the patient is ultimately satisfied. Not having adequate staffing to handle the resulting administrative paperwork can have significant effects on the business. Click To Tweet

2. Administrative Requirements

Even if a practice has a staff that has mastered the communication skills required to provide excellent patient care and maintain positive satisfaction scores, not having adequate staffing to handle the resulting administrative paperwork can have significant effects on the business.

Documentation and recordkeeping requirements are on the rise, and often practices must use clinical personnel to handle these administrative chores, leaving revenue on the table. By having staff dedicated to staying on top of these requirements, practices can free up clinicians to do more of what they do best: treat patients.

These first two obstacles can be managed successfully with the right staff. Unfortunately, the process of recruiting and maintaining such a staff often requires more time, money, and effort than a practice can afford. It isn’t only about hiring enough “warm bodies” to handle the workload; it’s about having the right people in the right places to successfully handle all the different external practice challenges, while continuing to provide the highest quality patient care and compliance. This is where the third challenge comes into play.

3. Staffing Turnover

According to a 2015 study in the Journal of the American Medical Association, employee turnover in healthcare had reached an all-time high of 19.2 percent. The same study revealed that nearly 40 percent of clinical and non-clinical healthcare workers were planning to leave their job within the next two years, and a staggering 69 percent were planning to leave within five years.

Perhaps the most concerning finding to come out of this study was that higher patient caseloads contributed to a seven percent increase in the chance of patient death. This final challenge is perhaps the most significant, as it often prevents practices from effectively addressing the initial two. So how can practices possibly deliver outstanding clinical services as they minimized costs and ensure all relevant documentation is done, while continuing to develop positive, long-lasting relationships with patients?

The Solution

The solution is closer than you think and starts with a partnership with a proven medical call center.

Partnering with a medical call center provides proven solutions to all three of these challenges. A medical call center utilizes a staff of RNs specially trained in communication and sensitivity regarding the unique needs of patient callers.

Medical call centers also offer post-triage patient engagement programs focused on care recommendations and compliance. As stated earlier, patient satisfaction directly correlates to the ability of a caregiver to focus on the needs of a patient and provide the most appropriate care advice.

Partnering with an experienced call center ensures patients will receive undivided attention and respect when they have a medical need. Call centers can document the entire triage process and enter the information in a practice’s patients’ EMR, reducing the administrative load and allowing clinicians to focus solely on patient care.

Medical call center partnerships also help practices eliminate the time, effort, and cost associated with hiring and maintaining an adequate staff. This not only frees up existing staff to focus on patient care, but it also allows more physical space within an office setting to provide care. Medical call centers can provide consistent, dedicated staff to ensure a practice never experiences a critical drop in service levels as patient loads increase.

While issues facing medical practices continue to grow and get increasingly complex, the solution to handling these challenges is easy. A medical call center partnership provides solutions to the top three challenges currently facing medical practices while remaining focused on the future state of healthcare.

TeamHealth Medical Call CenterMatt Miller is the marketing coordinator for the TeamHealth Medical Call Center. He joined THMCC in 2015 and has more than fifteen years of marketing and communications experience within the healthcare industry. The TeamHealth Medical Call Center is a premier provider of medical call center solutions. Contact them today to learn more about their daytime and after-hours telephone triage services and how they translate to solutions that address practice challenges.

Ideas to Better Retain Call Center Staff

Instead of Hiring New Employees, Seek to Retain Existing Healthcare Call Center Staff

By Peter Lyle DeHaan, Ph.D.

Peter DeHaan, Publisher and Editor of AnswerStatWith low unemployment rates, the task of finding qualified employees to work in healthcare call centers grows more challenging. This makes it even more important to take steps to retain the employees we have. Here are five areas to focus on. While these ideas are nothing you haven’t already heard, perhaps you can take a fresh look at them.

Today’s workers seek five core things when they evaluate a position and their long-term commitment to it and the organization. This applies to healthcare call center employees. Here are the five essentials to retain call center staff:Every call provides an opportunity for your call center staff to make a difference. Click To Tweet

1. Compensation

I’ve never met a person who thought their pay was too high, though I’ve met many who didn’t feel their pay was enough. How much is enough? I don’t know, but if you want to attract a higher skilled, more committed worker, you’ll need to pay more. Just be sure that when you raise your starting hourly rate, you raise your hiring expectations accordingly.

2. Benefits

Today’s workers want more than money. They’re seeking benefits too. This includes flexible hours and paid time off. And even part-timers want to go on vacation. Make sure you provide a way for them to do so. Offer them a retirement plan too. Not all will take it, but for future-focused employees, this makes a huge difference. But the big kicker in benefits is healthcare coverage. And being in the healthcare industry, we should have the inside track on how to address this. Right?

3. Learning Opportunities

Employees also want to be able to learn new skills in their job. Yes, in some cases the training you provide them will help their next employer more than you, but as you better retain call center staff, you’re more likely to realize the benefits of that training.

4. Growth Potential

As your staff learns more job-related skills, they’ll want the opportunity to apply them. That is, they want to see the potential for growth, both within their existing position and into advancement opportunities. Help them see that they have a future with your organization, and show them how they can get there. That will help them stick around.

5. Make a Difference

Last, but of increasing importance, is making a difference. Yes, every call provides an opportunity for your call center staff to make a difference. But if they don’t agree, help them see the ways they can make a difference every week, on every shift, and possibly on every call. But beyond making a difference within their job, consider ways that they can make a difference in their community. Surely, there’s a nonprofit organization that you can come alongside and help.

Conclusion

In upcoming issues of AnswerStat, we’ll unpack each of these five items in greater detail. As we move forward in this initiative to retain call center staff, the main thing is to consider shifting some of your hiring and training budget into the area of retention. Yes, it will take time to realize the results, but when done wisely you’ll eventually see your hiring and training costs decrease as you watch your retention rate increase. And who doesn’t want that?

Peter Lyle DeHaan, PhD, is the publisher and editor-in-chief of AnswerStat. He’s a passionate wordsmith whose goal is to change the world one word at a time.

Plan to Make Next Year Your Best Year Yet

Now Is the Time to Determine Your Call Center’s Key Initiatives for Next Year

 By Janet Livingston

As we transition from summer to fall, now is a great time to begin planning for next year. Yes, we still have the final quarter left in this year, but don’t leave thoughts for what your next year might look like until New Year’s Day. And certainly don’t put off planning altogether. “As the saying goes, “Failing to plan is planning to fail.”

Here are some areas to consider when you contemplate major initiatives for your healthcare call center for next year.

Improve Quality

Every call center can improve the quality of their service. Some have much to do in this area and others not so much. But if you think you’ve achieved the ideal level of quality, you’re making a grave mistake. That’s because patient and caller expectations continually increase. This means that what was acceptable a few years ago is no longer good enough, that what was excellent is now only passable. We should always strive for continual improvement.

What quality improvement goals might you set for next year?

Roll Out New Services

Just as people’s expectations for call quality increase from year-to-year, so too does their appetite for sleek, powerful new services. These fall into two categories. The most obvious category is a service that requires new technology to implement. (See next point.) The other category, which isn’t so obvious, is packaging your existing technology with your employee’s capabilities to produce some new, innovative offering that will delight callers.

What new services can you introduce next year that will help you serve callers more effectively and establish your call center as a best-in-class provider?

Upgrade Technology

Technology is another continually evolving variable to address. If you have premise-based solutions, they become dated fast and obsolete within a few years. Is it time to replace your aging technological infrastructure with something more powerful and effective?

Even if you have a hosted call center solution, you may not have the current version with all the needed modules. Fortunately with hosted solutions, upgrades are easier, and many providers apply them automatically. Yet this is still an area to investigate.

What technology upgrades can you implement in your call center next year to increase efficiency and improve effectiveness?

Improve Financial Standing

If your call center is an in-house operation, you may not have a direct revenue component tied to the work you do. Still, your operation has costs that appear in your organization’s financial reports. Are you a cost center (which is a bad place to be) or a profit center (which is a good place)? Take steps to transition your call center from a cost center to a profit center. This will make it more difficult for upper management to cut your budget. And if you’re already in the profit center category, seek ways to increase the profit component. That will get everyone’s attention.

And if you’re an outsource call center, the fees your clients pay for your services are what keeps your company in business. Look for ways to increase revenue. This can come from multiple sources, including price increases, adjusting rates for unprofitable clients, selling add-on services to existing clients, and sales and marketing initiatives to new clients. Everything you do to increase the revenue of your call center will help ensure your long-term viability.

What steps can you take next year to improve the financial standing of your call center? Begin planning now to make next year your call center’s best year yet. Click To Tweet

Conclusion

In the call center industry, especially for the healthcare sector, it’s too easy to fall into the trap of reacting to the day-to-day pressures of operating a call center with no time left to plan for your long-term well-being. Don’t let that happen to your operation. Begin planning now to make next year your call center’s best year yet.

Janet Livingston is the CEO of Call Center Sales Pro, a premier consultancy and service provider for healthcare call centers and medical answering services. Contact Janet at contactus@ccsp.us or call 800-901-7706.

Spotlight on the TeamHealth Medical Call Center


TeamHealth Medical Call Center


In today’s world, the rapidly evolving healthcare industry has placed its focus on providing access to high quality, patient-centric care, with an unprecedented emphasis on cost containment and continuum of care. Companies, communities, and medical professionals are challenged with the overwhelming task of balancing quality care with new cost initiatives.

The Need for Call Center Solutions Has Never Been Greater

The TeamHealth Medical Call Center (THMCC) is the premier provider of safe, professional, 24-hour medical call center solutions. THMCC provides its client partners with a wide range of cost-effective healthcare services, including:The TeamHealth Medical Call Center enters into true partnerships with clients to provide the individual service offering, with measurable results, and to develop a long-term relationship. Click To Tweet

RN Telephone Triage

  • Services are branded to each practice with the ability to gather pertinent data and customize a documentation system that allows practices to drive specific directives for both pediatric and adult populations.
  • Another key feature is the ability to integrate patient information into EMRs to meet Patient Centered Medical Home and ACO requirements.
  • THMCC registered nurses use Schmitt/Thompson Clinical Content Triage Guidelines for both pediatric and adult populations.
  • Services also include post-triage appointment scheduling and a wide range of post-discharge transitional care initiatives

Pediatric Triage

Providing high quality pediatric nurse triage requires a special skill set beyond standard care provisions. TeamPeds addresses this need by directing pediatric patients to an RN staff specially trained in pediatric telephone triage. The TeamPeds program includes:

  • Specialized RN pediatric training and competency testing
  • Ongoing required monthly pediatric in-service requirements for RNs
  • Ability to email care advice
  • Error-free provider on call system
  • TeamPeds RN supervisor
  • Pediatric medical director
  • Pediatric QI program

Nurse Advice Lines

Nurse advice lines and community lines can direct your patient population to the most appropriate level of care, while promoting your service’s nurse advice lines can be used to offer branded healthcare and program information that promotes a healthy community and creates an awareness of an organization’s centers of excellence or specialty programs. Reporting and data collection features also provides you with valuable information about the healthcare needs of your population.

Additional benefits of a THMCC community or nurse advice line include:

  • Readmission prevention or appropriate care utilization
  • Patient acquisition
  • Revenue reconciliation reporting
  • Branded EXITcare or customized health information emailed to callers
  • Web-based branded online self-triage program
  • Appointment scheduling and physician referrals

A dedicated ED nurse advice line or triage service helps hospitals respond to calls from patients with inquiries concerning their need for emergency care. THMCC ED nurse advice and triage line services:

  • Provide access for callers questioning their need for an ED visit
  • Promote appropriate ED utilization
  • Prevents unnecessary readmissions
  • Provides opportunity to refer other services within system
  • Eliminates the risk of ED handling clinical questions
  • Allows clinical ED staff to stay focused on in-house patient care
  • Refer all real-time call records on callers to the ED

Transitional Care

In many cases, the provision of care is not complete when the patient visit or hospital stay ends. THMCC partners with healthcare providers to develop relationships with patients that support care plan compliance long after they return home.

Transitional care management means preparing patients for their first visit and then accompanying them through post-visit follow-up and post-hospital care. THMCC’s post-discharge call-back services are fully customizable to the needs of specific patient populations, and include:

  • Outbound daily call campaigns for both clinical and non-clinical populations
  • Specialized scripting utilized for high-risk patients
  • Inpatient and ED patient population
  • EMR access available
  • All calls performed 24-48 hours post-discharge
  • Optional callback line for patients experiencing symptoms

The value of these transitional care efforts can be measured in ROI in the following areas:

  • Readmission prevention
  • Improvement in HCAHPS scores
  • Daily escalations/interventions
  • Monthly reporting including: Core indicator analysis for medications, discharge instructions, and follow-up appointments; positive/negative trending items; recognition; and patient satisfaction

Avoidable readmissions are a major financial problem for the nation’s healthcare system. For patients, hospitalizations alone are stressful, even more so when they result in subsequent readmissions. THMCC’s outbound call campaign services are specifically designed for high-risk patients, and include:

  • Initial post-discharge call within 24-48 hours, with an additional four calls at weekly intervals
  • Assessment of patient’s understanding and compliance to medication, discharge instructions, follow-up appointments, and current symptoms
  • Optional callback line for patients experiencing symptoms

Physician Answering Services

With ever-increasing workloads and patient care responsibilities, physician burnout is a real concern for hospitals, healthcare organizations, and private practices. The stress of a work/life imbalance can lower physician job satisfaction and hinder physician recruitment.

Delegating the workload to a specialized team of medical professionals can significantly reduce physician burnout. We must realize that to take care of our patients, we must also take care of our providers. Partnering with the TeamHealth Medical Call Center and our team of telephone triage RNs can provide the proper work/life balance for your physicians, which in turn, will mean the best possible care for your patients.

THMCC offers physician and practice answering services to provide seamless access for clinical and non-clinical calls. Patient coordinators deliver a high level of customer service and are supervised by an RN. Features include:

  • After hours, daytime support or 24/7 options
  • Emergency backup for unscheduled closures
  • High volume overflow
  • Translation services
  • Branded services
  • Customized scripting
  • Customized directives and protocols
  • Error-free paging system
  • Secure electronic messaging through TeamDoc Mobile, a web-based application
  • All calls are recorded
  • Robust reporting

Creating Successful, Long-Term Client Relationships Is Our Goal

The TeamHealth Medical Call Center enters into true partnerships with clients to provide the individual service offering, with measurable results, and to develop a long-term relationship. Our technology allows us to meet the needs of the changing healthcare industry while we continue to make the patient experience our primary focus.

Founded by a team of physicians more than twenty-two years ago, the THMCC has the unique advantage of having a provider perspective in each aspect of the services we provide. We understand the special bond between physician and patient. Like our clients, we value each caller as an individual who deserves a clinically correct and caring response from our staff to ensure a positive experience, which adds value to their relationship with our clients.

TeamHealth Medical Call CenterWith more than twenty-two years of experience and eleven million triage calls, there is no doubt the TeamHealth Medical Call Center’s medical call center solutions can serve a vital role in your patient care coordination efforts. Call 844-277-6312 or visit us at www.TeamHealthCallCenter.com to learn more.

How Call Centers Can Support VA Healthcare


Pulsar360: strategic partners with the TAS industry


By Bronson Tang

A call center is a team of frontline staff who answer phone calls and gather data. It’s a centralized department that handles a large volume of telephone calls, especially for screening new patients and providing customer service.

In Veterans Affairs (VA) Healthcare, connecting effectively with service providers through multiple channels of communication is the key toward implementing better patient experiences and minimizing costs. Optimized call center operations can play a crucial role in achieving these goals.

These days, VA Healthcare providers are becoming more patient-centric, raising the demand for call centers. With an increase in expectation to patient retention initiatives, appointment scheduling, and communications with referring medical professionals, health centers must keep pace with new communications technologies. VA Healthcare providers can extend their support to the patients by using call center services. This reduces call volume and results in more effective patient care by staff.

The well-being of the patient depends upon the services they’re receiving. Click To Tweet

Healthcare and the VA

The level of convenience and the service offered to patients is different when VA healthcare providers use call center technology as a part of their practice. Most importantly, patients will always have continuous access.

Hospital management is an important responsibility. Therefore, it’s necessary to ensure the smooth functioning of the complete process. Hospitals need to take care of everything from equipment management to the maintenance of records for the minutest details. In this condition, a medical call center can help a hospital by handling activities such as record maintenance, appointment setting, patient follow-up calls, and appointment reminders. In addition, they can also use email to check with the patients on a regular basis.

Customers satisfaction has always been critical for businesses. This is applicable for VA healthcare providers as well. Providing accurate information to a patient is important since the well-being of the patient depends upon the services they’re receiving. Therefore, automating the complete process can be one of the major requirements hospitals should address. On the other hand, hospitals should also ensure that the personnel employed by a customer service center are familiar with patients’ needs and have the skills and expertise to address different situations.

The call center also brings improved customer satisfaction to employees because they’re able to complete tasks and still provide customer service to Veterans, which is an important goal of employees. They help check Veterans into their appointments, assist them with the self-service kiosk, and make calls to Veterans to remind them of their appointments.

A Focus on Customer Satisfaction

Call centers have improved customer satisfaction with VA Healthcare, where they answer the calls from patients to VA Healthcare professionals and then direct them to whoever needs to call them back. If Veterans are sick and need immediate medical attention, call center staff can help. With the call center answering all incoming calls, VA Healthcare can provide better customer service to Veterans who drop by their primary care teams.

When patients call their doctor’s office, the last thing they want to deal with is a cranky receptionist. Or, just as bad, be stuck on hold. Healthcare call centers can respond quickly to patients, reduce the burden on administrative staff, and help improve the patient experience.

Without constant interruption of phone calls, VA healthcare physicians can focus on the tasks at hand. This means that proper billing coding, prescription refills, diagnostic authorizations, and chart preparation all receive more focus.

Scheduling efficiency also improves. When you have a dedicated call center staff, fewer scheduling mistakes will occur, resulting in less rescheduled or missed appointments. Centralized call center staff also know which doctors are at what locations on any given day. This means that they eliminate the possibility of a patient calling the Middletown office looking for “Dr. Smith” (who only works in Somerset) and hearing the words, “We don’t have a Dr. Smith.”

Call Center Capabilities

Call centers bridge the gap between front and back office by maintaining administrative activity records of patients and prescriptions, which are often inefficient and difficult to manage. Call center services can prioritize and proactively distribute this work anywhere in the organization. It also provides business intelligence so you can improve operational efficiency, meet SLAs, and measure regulatory compliance.

Currently, many medical staff are doing multiple jobs, including answering a variety of patient calls: general questions, upcoming appointments, and benefit coverage. A VA Healthcare call center opens communication within departments by outlining what needs to be collected, establishing a hand-off process, and ensuring accountability.

A healthcare call center helps ensure every patient is set on a positive path. Patients today have options. They can always find another provider. That’s why every phone interaction must be perfect. If patients have an urgent need, they should get an appointment the same day. A quality call center will work with patients to make sure their experiences are positive. Every phone call is important. Companies who fail to train well could deliver bad service, where an agent is rude or lacks the level of sympathy, empathy, or professionalism that patients expect.

For many physicians, the biggest pain point is their daily practice management issues and challenges, such as a lack of staff. They simply don’t have the number of administrative staff to efficiently operate. And on the clinical side, it’s the same. They’re strapped. Healthcare call center support can take a burden off both sides. It is an ideal situation for physicians and their entire practice.

A Focus on Quality

A quality call center helps retain patients. When patients are helped in their time of need, they return. That’s the biggest ROI for any physician or practice.

But again, there’s also help for the administrative and clinical staff. A call center can work with them to ensure that they get the right appointment for each patient. An experienced agent can handle the entire transaction and allow the clinical team more time with their patients. This helps every patient get into the office and lets practitioners engage with patients who will return for care.

Call centers provide proactive engagement and notifications. Proactive customer service in VA Healthcare is a challenging objective for providers and physicians. Despite their personal commitment and the available technology, there are obstacles when trying to move to a proactive health model. Offering customer assistance through multichannel transactions can prevent customers switching to other options. Besides, keeping members informed of the progress so they don’t have to call, improves loyalty and ultimately the bottom-line.

One of the things we do know about healthcare professionals is that they have a difficult time getting through on the phone, which does not facilitate the progress of VA Healthcare.

Summary

The focus of roles within your healthcare organization staff is to collect the necessary information and improve patient satisfaction. A call center is an excellent way to handle this.

Call centers must deal with the continuing challenge of recruiting and training excellent personnel and attempting to increase retention rates. To improve service, management must constantly communicate with both employees and customers in an interactive, multidimensional process. In the global marketplace, improvement of service is not an option—it’s a matter of survival.

Pulsar360: strategic partners with the TAS industryBronson Tang is the marketing manager at Pulsar360, Inc. He has ten years of experience in digital marketing and has worked in the telecommunications sector for four. He is the author of the book, The Tao of Business. Pulsar360, Inc. with origins dating back to 2001, is an established Unified-Communication-as-a-Service (UCaaS) provider with a comprehensive set of offerings it has provided to over 160 medical centric call centers including: cloud based enterprise class call center IP PBX; premise-based IP PBX, Session Initiation Protocol (SIP) trunking, business continuity disaster recovery solutions, T38 Faxing that meets HIPAA, GLBA and other industry compliance regulations and carrier services.

5 Call Center Improvements Patients Say Would Improve Healthcare Experiences



By Allison Hart

From clinical process enhancements to facility improvements, there are many ways to drive better healthcare experiences for patients. One key area is call center optimization. More than one in three healthcare providers say their organization is updating their contact center or has plans to do so in the near future. Making call center upgrades doesn’t have to be difficult to have an impact. Healthcare teams just need to know what patients want and expect when they call.

Are patients frustrated by having to wait on hold? Are they satisfied with the interactions they have with call center agents? West surveyed 1,036 adults and healthcare providers in the United States to find out and identify ways healthcare organizations can provide better experiences for patients calling contact centers.

Survey responses confirmed that patients want calls resolved quickly and easily with minimal transfers and holds. Many will use self-service features, but they expect live agent availability to answer questions and make recommendations based on their individual medical data and needs.To create a better experience for callers, healthcare teams can make call center improvements that enable them to route calls to the correct place on the first try. Click To Tweet

The following recommendations—which are driven by this survey data—show five call center improvements patients want healthcare organizations to prioritize.

1. Eliminate Extra Steps During Calls

Patients are frustrated by how often their calls are redirected. Callers want to reach a resolution in the fewest possible steps, but they’re often transferred multiple times and asked to restate information to several people during a single call. According to providers, more than one-third (35 percent) of patient calls are redirected at least once.

To create a better experience for callers, healthcare teams can make call center improvements that enable them to route calls to the correct place on the first try. For example, hospitals and health systems can adopt intelligent call routing software with speech recognition features so callers can specify what they need and who they want to speak with. Healthcare organizations can also interconnect their phone systems so calls can be transferred anywhere within their organization. This saves staff from having to ask patients to hang up and dial a different number to reach a different department.

2. Create a Single Point of Contact

Some patients struggle even before they pick up the phone because they don’t know which number to call or who they need to speak with. Dialing the wrong number can lead to confusion and frustration for both patients and staff, as well as making calls last longer than necessary. Nearly three in five of those surveyed (59 percent) say they have trouble understanding which phone number to use to contact their healthcare provider. More troubling is the fact that 28 percent of patients have called their healthcare team and been unable to reach the correct person or department.

Eight in ten Americans (80 percent) want a single person dedicated to their health whom they can call. Hospitals and health systems can give callers a better experience by upgrading to a centralized phone system and routing all calls through one main line. Doing this relieves patients from navigating complex call structures. It gives them one clear point of entry with one phone number they can call to reach anyone within an organization—whether they know who they are looking for or not.

3. Minimize On-Hold Time

Americans don’t like waiting on hold, and many patients feel they do too much of it when they call healthcare organizations. Fifty-three percent of patients report having been put on hold for a long period of time or without a callback option. Providers may be underestimating how much patients are bothered by having to wait and how much time patients spend on hold. Only 29 percent of healthcare providers think patients who call their office are put on hold for an excessive amount of time, confirming a disconnect between what patients and providers deem as an acceptable wait time.

To ensure patients feel their time is valued, healthcare organizations can take steps to reduce the amount of time patients spend on hold. For example, hospitals and health systems can give patients the option of receiving a call back so they spend less time waiting on the phone. This shows providers respect patients’ time, and it lets patients choose whether they want to wait to speak with a healthcare professional.

4. Equip Staff with Patient Medical Information

Patients want to feel known by their healthcare team. They want staff members to have knowledge of their health history and be able to answer questions and make recommendations. Unfortunately, 63 percent of patients say the person they reach when they call their provider doesn’t have access to their medical information and, therefore, can’t provide personalized recommendations. In addition, nearly one-quarter (24 percent) of callers say they haven’t been able to get their questions answered during calls.

To ensure patients get the help they need, healthcare organizations can make sure technology gives staff quick access to patient data. This will help them better support callers with tailored information. And, it will reassure patients that their medical team understands them on an individual basis. Ideally, organizations will have their contact center technology connected to electronic health records, their patient web portal, and other systems that house patient information.

5. Offer Smart Self-Service Opportunities

Patients recognize that sometimes the simplest route to a resolution is through self-service. So, it’s not surprising that nearly six in ten patients (58 percent) say they want healthcare providers to offer self-serve options to complete actions such as paying bills and scheduling appointments. To get the most out of self-service technology, healthcare teams should make sure their system is configured to recognize when inbound calls are coming from phone numbers that have recently been sent automated outreach messages.

For example, if a patient receives an automated message from a provider inviting him to schedule a preventive service or screening and the patient calls into the organization, the system should recognize the number and predict the caller’s intention. In this case, the system would ask the patient if he is calling to schedule an appointment and then walk him through the self-service scheduling process. By utilizing smart technology and giving patients opportunities to resolve calls on their own, organizations can give callers better experiences.

Conclusion

Healthcare organizations put a lot of time and resources into designing top-notch patient experiences. It makes sense to have call center optimization be part of those efforts. By following these suggestions, healthcare teams can deliver on expectations and create better experiences for callers.

Allison Hart is an advocate for utilizing technology-enabled communications to engage and activate patients beyond the clinical setting. She leads thought leadership efforts for West’s TeleVox Solutions, promoting the idea that engaging with patients between healthcare appointments in meaningful ways will encourage and inspire them to follow and embrace treatment plans, and that activating these positive behaviors ultimately leads to better outcomes for both healthcare organizations and patients. Hart currently serves as vice president of marketing at West, where the healthcare mission is to help organizations harness communications to expand the boundaries of where, when, and how healthcare is delivered.