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Articles from AnswerStat

Remember to be Thankful

In The Middle of Struggles, Turmoil, and Difficulties, Pause to Celebrate the Positive

Author Peter Lyle DeHaan

By Peter Lyle DeHaan, Ph.D.

The United States and a few other countries will celebrate Thanksgiving in November. Canada and some other nations do so in October.

Regardless of when you celebrate Thanksgiving—or even if it’s not a holiday where you live—take a moment to remember and give thanks for the positive elements in your life.

With all that’s happened in the past couple years it’s easy to focus on the negative, which can pull us down with discouragement and overwhelm us with despair. Yet there are positive things happening as well. We just need to acknowledge them and embrace them.

Here are some things to be thankful for.

Be Thankful for Health

I take my health for granted—until I get sick. Then I’m reminded to appreciate the rest of the time when I am healthy, which is most every day.

Even though few people have zero health concerns, with our health status existing on a continuum, let’s be thankful for the positive aspects and not wallow in the negative.

Be Thankful for Work

I doubt any job is 100 percent perfect, but having a job in the first place—when many don’t—is a huge reason to be thankful. Our jobs allow us to earn a living to support ourselves and our family.

Without them we would have to rely on the generosity of others or the support of government. The next time when your work hasn’t gone so well—and it will happen—wrap up the day by giving thanks that you have a job.

Be Thankful for Family

In the past two years, I‘ve spent more time with family then in the past and have appreciated them more fully. Though we can choose our friends, we can’t choose our family. They’re ours for life.

May we celebrate each familial relationship for the good parts of it and be able to overlook the rest.

Be Thankful for Friends

True friendships don’t occur easily for most people. We have acquaintances, coworkers, and neighbors, but that doesn’t necessarily make them friends. But celebrate the friendships we do have for how they enhance our life. We should never take them for granted.

And if you’re a bit short in the friend department, remember that to find a friend, you need to first be a friend.

Be Thankful for Opportunity 

If you find it difficult to be thankful in one of the above areas—health, work, family, or friends—because you don’t see it as part of your life or are experiencing a shortfall, be encouraged. This is because the future provides an opportunity to change your present situation. 

Starting today you can work to improve your health, make your job more meaningful or find a different one, embrace your family, and grow your friendships. But to make the most of this opportunity, you must first seize it. And that opportunity is another thing to be thankful for.

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.   Read more of his articles at PeterDeHaanPublishing.com.

Physical Safeguards Your Cybersecurity Needs to Protect Patient Data in Telehealth

TriageLogic

By Ravi K. Raheja, MD

The past year and a half has redefined the healthcare industry. Not only have hospitals and practices quickly adapted to an emergency pandemic and a heavy demand for telehealth, but they’ve also seen an increase in cyberattacks. These have placed medical organizations on high alert to review their network security, as well as their patient data and the vendors who collect it. 

According to a recent article in Forbes, “The number of hacking incidents reported in healthcare climbed for the fifth straight year in 2020 … [comprising] more than half of all last year’s patient data breaches—62%—up from 2019.”

Evaluating your vendors and security systems are paramount to data protection from these increased ransomware and malware attacks. But an often-overlooked part of that process is the training your staff needs on the physical safeguards they should use. If you aren’t sure what those are, here’s a good place to start.

Portable Data

Do you rely on flash drives or mobile devices to share and review data? Make sure to lock those up when they aren’t in use, both while you’re at work and when you leave for the day. Taking them outside of the office not only risks a breach in compliance, it also increases the chances for that equipment to be stolen, as was the case for this unencrypted laptop.

Passwords

Remind staff not to use the same password for all of their devices, and don’t be like more than half of surveyed workers who write them down on sticky notes. Even if your team trusts each other, there’s always the chance that someone will take advantage of another’s access and leave them footing the bill in damages. 

If they juggle a lot of passwords between different programs, have them use a password manager that stores and encrypts them online for convenient access. Some to consider include LastPass, Dashlane, Bitwarden, or 1Password, among others.

Keycards

Institute keycard access for sensitive areas and avoid holding the door for tailgaters, as this defeats the purpose of this physical safeguard.

Paperwork

Have a lot of hard-copy paperwork? Consider housing it in a secure, offsite location. This allows you to maintain HIPAA compliance for file retention while protecting those documents from damage that an on-site fire or natural disaster could cause.

When it’s time to dispose of those hard copies, make sure to shred them first. Shredded papers won’t give thieves much to leverage, especially when they’re all mixed together.

Contracting with a document disposal service can certainly help, but keep in mind that locked trash bins still have the potential to be accessed between the time you drop a file in them and the time the disposal service arrives. 

Disposal of Hardware

Getting rid of computers, mobile devices, or digital copiers? Make sure to use software that wipes all patient data from them first. Simply sending a file or folder to the trash bin doesn’t automatically delete it. And you may also find it necessary through HIPAA to destroy those media tools once they’ve been wiped. 

Multi-Factor Authentication

Use multi-factor authentication to log into your user accounts and file sharing services. This reduces the chances that an outside intruder will be able to hack your credentials and gain access to more—or all—of your network.

Staff Training

Train everyone on your staff about these physical safeguards. Even employees who can’t review sensitive patient or company information should still be aware of corporate policies on data management and how to respond to a potential breach in security. For more on what that includes, review the FTC’s guidelines.

TriageLogic

Ravi K. Raheja, MD is the CTO and medical director of the TriageLogic Group. Founded in 2007, TriageLogic is a URAC accredited, physician-led provider of high-quality telehealth services, remote patient monitoring, nurse triage, triage education, and software for telephone medicine. Contact them if you need help with telehealth nurse triage, telehealth appointment-setting, or nurses to manage data for remote patient monitoring.

How Call Center Technology Helps Hospitals, Staff, and Patients

1Call, a division of Amtelco

By Nicole Limpert

Hospital call centers provide a critical service to both patients and healthcare organizations. In previous articles we’ve explored how call centers are supporting emergency departments during the pandemic, help patients connect remotely with their care teams via patient monitoring devices and telehealth, and how medical answering services have grown to include telephone triage as part of their support.

Healthcare communication is complex and notoriously disconnected. Different departments rely on different systems to perform their job and these technologies typically don’t talk with each other. It may surprise some, but some call center software is highly interoperable, which hospitals and clinics leverage to bridge communication gaps between disparate technology to streamline communication. This improves hospital workflows and both patient and staff satisfaction.

Integration engines, also called middleware, used in hospital call centers can streamline inbound and outbound communications, trigger scripting, and automate dispatching. Integration engines are the interoperable piece that connects different technologies, so they communicate with each other. A robust middleware is completely scalable and works with software from other vendors. 

Using Integration Engines to Enhance Patient Care

Here are some common applications:

Hospital Admissions: When a patient is admitted into a hospital, they may be moved from one room to another while waiting for tests and procedures, and during recovery. It can become difficult to locate and communicate with a patient once they are receiving care within the system. 

An integration engine with an HL7 interface can assign a fixed phone number to each patient, which will follow them for the duration of their stay. Associating each patient with one phone number helps:

  • Ease the stress of family and friends who are trying to find their loved one when they are transferred to a different room.
  • Streamline the communication process for anyone on the patient’s care team.
  • Reduce the number of calls to the hospital’s call center.

Critical Alerts: Integration engines work together with a hospital’s event notification software system to expedite enterprise-wide critical alerts in healthcare environments. The integration engine captures requests from hospital systems such as ADT (admission, discharge, and transfer) messages, nurse call messages, smart beds, pain management, alerts, alarms, orders, or appointments. Then, emergency notification software instantly sends those messages to designated recipients using a wide variety of methods, including Vocera badges, IP phones from Cisco and Spectralink, SMS, email, and secure messaging apps.

Using an integration engine means automated notifications, customized to fit a hospital’s needs, based on configurable rules. Notifications can be sent via preferred contact methods to an individual, an entire group, or the current on-call personnel, which enables recipients to respond quickly to provide better patient care. 

Accumulated statistics for each notification provide an easy-to-follow audit trail for reporting purposes and help healthcare organizations refine their communication processes.

Patient Transfer: The Joint Commission found 80 percent of serious medical errors were the result of miscommunication between caregivers during patient handovers. Multiple studies have highlighted the need for better communication during patient transfers. 

One study states, “Some challenges transferring physicians face with communication include physician shift changes, ancillary staff changes, delays between ordering tests and receiving results, and competing attention of other active patients. Accepting physicians also face their own challenges related to patient transfers. . . . Calls back to the transferring facility are far from efficient and are often routed through emergency departments, medical records departments, and radiology reading rooms making information gathering cumbersome.”

More hospitals are establishing patient transfer centers, and integration engines are facilitating communication between clinicians and transport assets. Each staff member involved in a patient transfer needs to have the same information. Integration engines enable staff to have access to key directory databases such as on-call, hospital personnel, and patient directories (which include ADT and EMR [Electronic Medical Record] data) to ensure information is communicated accurately and efficiently to enhance collaborative care. 

Using Integration Engines for Automated, Emergency, and Mass Notifications

Automated notification and reminder communications can help healthcare organizations ensure utilization of every resource to its full potential and reach more staff personal in less time. Notifications for emergencies, events, changes in weather, and everyday reminders can instantly be sent to designated recipients using secure messaging apps, Vocera badges, IP phones from Cisco and Spectralink, SMS, and email.

The primary role of an integration engine is to facilitate automated communications. An operator in a call center can initiate dispatch scenarios. But they can also run automatically based on inbound triggers such as HL7 and email messages, scheduled to run on a recurring basis, initiated by a web user running a web script, or triggered by a third-party application.

Mass notifications make it possible for an organization to be better prepared for planned and unplanned events, such as natural disasters, emergencies, service outages, meetings, and other instances when large groups, small groups, and individuals need quick and accurate notification.

Third-Party Integration with APIs

Third-party integration happens when a vendor connects to another vendor’s application. API’s (application program interfaces) can achieve this connection. Using an API means that developers can build a new solution using existing components instead of creating code from scratch. Integrating an API into another vendor’s solution saves an incredible amount of time, is less costly, and results in a solution that best fits a hospital’s communication and technology requirements.

The same APIs used in hospital call centers to streamline communication can also enable healthcare facilities to interface with:

  • alarms
  • dashboard workforce management
  • electronic health record (EHR)
  • faxing
  • landline to text
  • nurse call and triage
  • on-call
  • short message service (SMS)
  • secure messaging
  • telehealth video conferencing 
  • wireless communications transfer protocol
  • wireless devices

Web-based Communication

Both hospital call center staff and clinicians 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. Hospital personnel can use some of the same web-based communication software used in their call center because it delivers fast, secure communications and adds efficiencies through remote access to reduce the number of potential errors caused by miscommunication and absences.

Web-based communication applications specifically developed for the healthcare industry include encrypted secure messaging, care team collaboration, and workforce management tools. Enterprise access to these healthcare communication tools improves workflows because clinical staff can find the information they need on their own, without interrupting co-workers or employees in other departments. 

Secure Messaging: Secure organizational communication is crucial for protecting patients, medical staff, and hospital organizations. HIPAA-compliant messaging apps can send secure text, photo, audio, and video content while protecting patient privacy and typically work on smartphones, tablets, and desktop computers. These apps simplify collaborative care to provide a better patient experience, and speed the process of patient admissions, lab results, and patient transport.

Care Team Collaboration: Nurses, physicians, and other staff use mobile-friendly care team collaboration applications to remotely access on-call schedules, directories, messages, reports, telephone scripts, and even historical call management data quickly and efficiently either through the Internet or through a healthcare organization’s internal networks.

Workforce Management: Staff can view, edit, copy, override, assign, and unassign schedules in real-time; use directories to quickly find and contact staff (titles, departments, office hours, and preferred contact method displayed); and use the reporting function to track, view, and print communications (with complete and accurate statistics). 

Any authorized staff member, from any location, can schedule and manage appointment calendars, class registrations, event calendars, and workforce schedules.

Paging Extensions

Hospital call centers are the hub of communication for an organization. This includes being part of an organization’s paging system to reach on-call personnel. However, some hospitals use the same status-based messaging system without involving an operator.

Physicians and staff members can call a special paging extension and enter an identification number for the person they want to reach. This paging technique locates the requested person in the personnel directory with information about that individual’s status such as in office, making rounds, out of office, or on-call.

The system announces the individual’s name and status to the person who has called the paging extension and prompts them to enter a callback number or message. Then the message or callback number is sent via the person’s preferred contact method.

This method also provides paging reports and analytics so departments can leverage the data to improve service metrics, workflows, and to help protect both patients and hospitals in litigious situations. The reports provide useful information such as the number of pages, detailed logs that indicate if each page attempt was successful or not, and counts for email messages, SMS messages, secure messaging app messages, and other types of paging.

Conclusion

Improving communication in hospitals is paramount. Healthcare organizations can reduce many root causes of inefficient communication by using the software and technologies that may already be in use in their call centers.

1Call, a division of Amtelco

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.

The Expanding World of Telehealth

TriageLogic

By Ravi K. Raheja, MD

The pandemic accelerated the use of telemedicine, and indications are that it’s here to stay. Patients and families have largely embraced it as a convenient means of medical care for concerns and questions that do not require an in-person visit, while more providers—including primary care and specialists—have continued to adopt it. As a result of the increasing demand for telehealth, the triage nurse protocols written by Dr. Schmitt and Dr. Thompson contain updated support for triage nurses to schedule telehealth visits.

In addition, the medical community faces two new challenges from COVID. First, the spread of the more transmissible Delta variant; and second, the rise in patient callers who are nervous and confused about whether their mild-to-moderate symptoms are indications of infection. One of the best options that practices can implement to offset these concerns is by coupling their telehealth with telephone nurse triage.

Leverage Gold Standard Protocols

Most telephone nurse triage relies on protocols developed by Drs. Schmitt and Thompson to assess patient symptoms and provide dispositions on whether to seek emergency medical care. Updated to address COVID-19, the protocols were particularly beneficial to callers during the height of the pandemic 

Maximize Patient Coverage

Social distancing and telehealth have created an influx in patient calls in addition to normal appointments. But in-house staff may feel limited in being able to address all of them, especially when patients call after-hours. This is where nurse triage can complement a practice’s efforts by acting as an extension of the practice to evaluate patient symptoms, schedule appointments, and offer customized orders. 

More importantly, most telephone triage services are available 24/7.

Improve Telehealth Services

Not only can triage nurses schedule patient appointments for a practice, but they can also use protocols to determine whether those appointments are eligible for telehealth. Effective telehealth documents all calls and dispositions. Then it shares all documents with the nursing staff and providers, including telehealth eligibility and the rationale for it. 

This reduces the stress on an inhouse team to manage these appointments, provides a seamless process for callers, and allows a practice to increase its capacity for seeing in-person patients with more urgent needs.

Customize Instructions for Eligibility

Telehealth and telemedicine services differ from other offerings; this requires customized instructions for triage nurses to know which ones a practice offers. When a nurse decides telehealth eligibility, that determination depends on whether the healthcare symptom can be resolved over the phone. 

Conclusion

Telehealth is expanding to fill a new and critical role in the effective provision of healthcare services.

TriageLogic


Ravi K. Raheja, MD is the CTO and medical director of the TriageLogic Group. Founded in 2007, TriageLogic is a URAC-accredited, physician-led provider of quality nurse telehealth technology, remote patient monitoring, and medical call center solutions. The TriageLogic Group serves more than 9,000 physicians and covers over 25 million lives nationwide. To learn more, call 800-723-4290 or go to https://triagelogic.com/contact-us/.

Send Your Call Center Back to School

Now Is an Ideal Time to Enhance the Skill Level of Your Telephone Staff 

By Peter Lyle DeHaan, Ph.D.

Author Peter Lyle DeHaan

We live in interesting times, to say the least. Too often the healthcare call center industry spends much time focusing on the crisis of today that it squashes all thought about planning for tomorrow. Once we slip into crisis mode out of necessity, it’s too easy to stay there out of habit—even if there is no longer any justification for it.

We may stand at that juncture now. This means it’s time to balance our work for today with taking initiative to prepare for the future. If we don’t, we won’t make forward progress; we’ll merely survive. Though survival is necessary, we need more if we hope to find success and enjoy fulfillment. I’m talking about ourselves, our staff, and our organization.

One aspect of future preparation is education. This can be formal or informal, structured or ad hoc, and mandated or self-determined. Though the application relates to everyone in the call center from new hire to director, let’s—by way of example—consider this for your telephone representatives. I’ll leave it to you to extend this throughout all staff in your operation.

Refresher Training

When we think of our call center staff going back to school, consider refresher training for the first initiative. It never hurts to revisit the basics. Though it may feel as though our existing staff has moved beyond this elementary teaching, the basics can atrophy over time. 

Agents will forget some of this instruction. Or maybe they never fully grasped other skills to begin with, even though they seem to be doing well in their jobs overall. The problem is the specifics of what teaching to refresh varies from one person to another. Therefore, it’s good to review everything.

Yes, I already hear your staff complaining. But this refresher initiative doesn’t—and shouldn’t—take as long as the first iteration. It should go much faster. Perhaps you can condense a day’s worth of training into an hour—or even less. The important thing is to make sure these basic skills don’t slip away over time.

Application Instruction

A second option for going back to school is to look at application instruction. When new software or an app enters your call center, agents need to receive instruction to know how to use it. Too often the urgency of the moment cuts this training short; it’s sometimes even omitted. This forces your phone representatives to figure it out on the fly. Though this may seem pragmatic or feel necessary, on-the-job-training frustrates employees who want to provide excellent service, and it’s disrespectful to callers who expect to receive it.

Go back and provide complete training on new software applications, as well as for major updates. Everyone will appreciate receiving this much-needed instruction.

Skill Enhancement

After reviewing the basics and mastering call center software apps, we can go back to school to enhance our skills. Your telephone staff receives initial onboarding training when they’re hired. 

As they go about their daily work, they apply that training and build upon it to increase their skill level. But this isn’t enough to ensure excellence, let alone produce successful outcomes. Your seasoned staff is ready for more. They need more. And you can provide it for them by teaching advanced call center service techniques. 

This may relate to customer service skills, problem resolution techniques, or de-escalating angry callers. It could also cover the seldom-used but much-appreciated advanced options available on your software platforms and databases. Staff won’t use these skills often, but when the situation arises possessing the knowledge of these advanced techniques can make the difference between an unsuccessful interaction and a positive outcome.

Conclusion

As students everywhere return to the classroom this fall, do the same thing for your call center staff: send them back to school. Providing refresher training, application instruction, and skill enhancement will help them do their jobs with greater efficiency and produce higher quality outcomes. 

Don’t let another year go by without giving your staff this much-needed support. The result will be happier employees and better served customers—in addition to a more effective call center operation.

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.   Read more of his articles at PeterDeHaanPublishing.com.

Medical Answering Services and Telephone Triage

By Nicole Limpert

1Call, a division of Amtelco

Doctors in the United States first began using answering services in the 1920s so they would be made aware of patient emergencies. At that time, operators were basic message-takers and would pass along patient concerns and contact information to the doctor.

Today’s medical answering services provide a much wider range of services to lighten the administrative workloads of medical offices, and not only assist doctors, but also surgeons, hospice, home health, dentists, orthodontists, and even large healthcare systems. Medical organizations that use an answering service can experience increased appointment setting rates, better patient-doctor communication, improved patient satisfaction, and provide their patients with reliable access to care 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

Some medical answering services can even provide telephone triage if they employ licensed professional staff members trained to give an accurate assessment of a patient caller’s concerns.

Telephone Triage

The use of triage originated during World War I to avoid focusing resources on victims with fatal injuries. Sometime in the early 1970s, health maintenance organizations (HMOs) instituted telephone advice services which led to hospital emergency departments establishing 24-hour telephone advice programs. Telephone triage is now a sophisticated practice usually performed by nurses and other highly trained medical personnel.

Telehealth, telemedicine, and telephone triage may all sound similar, but each are quite different. Telehealth focuses on the actual delivery of care (both preventative and curative). Telemedicine involves the diagnosis of a patient’s health compliant and recommended treatment by a physician via any form of telecommunication. Telephone triage is the assessment of a patient’s symptoms and the urgency needed to quickly get that patient connected with the correct doctor or department. 

Telephone Triage Communication Model

Effective communication is critical in telephone triage. Typical models of communication include three parts:

1. Data Collection: The answering service agent gathers data from the patient caller about the problem and asks open-ended questions to encourage more information about the symptoms.

2. Confirmation: The agent repeats the information using some medical terminology but in a way that the patient can understand. The patient confirms and redefines the symptoms if necessary.

3. Disposition: The agent may give advice about treating symptoms, but the main outcome is to quickly connect the patient caller with an appropriate doctor, clinic, or hospital department. 

To assist operators with remembering which questions to ask during the assessment, it is common for them to use a mnemonic device called OLD CART:

O (onset of symptoms): When did the symptom(s) first occur? Has it happened before?

L (location): Where on the body is the symptom occurring?

D (duration): How long has the symptom(s) been present and is it constant or does it come and go?

C (characteristics): Describe what the symptom(s) feels like.

A (associated factors): Are there any other signs and symptoms that occur?

R (relieving factors): Does anything make it feel better or reduce the severity?

T (treatments tried): What has been tried to relieve the symptom? Has anything worked?

Advantages and Disadvantages of Telephone Triage

There have been many studies published about telephone triage and how they help reduce a healthcare organization’s costs while helping patients experience better health and greater satisfaction. BMC Health Services Research conducted a review of existing body of research about telephone triage and advice services (TTAS) and found that, “TTAS was examined either alone, or as part of a primary care service model or intervention designed to improve primary care. Patient satisfaction with TTAS was generally high and there is some consistency of evidence of the ability of TTAS to reduce clinical workload. Measures of the safety of TTAS tended to show that there is no major difference between TTAS and traditional care.”

The primary disadvantage of telephone triage is liability. Lawsuits can be filed if a patient call was mishandled. For example, a negative health outcome can be attributed to a miscommunication, because a patient was on hold for a long time, or due to a lack of information about the patient.

If the situation is serious enough and becomes a legal issue, the courts may even hold a doctor responsible if they find the person assisting the patient via telephone triage lacked skill or training. In the unfortunate event of a serious medical problem or death because of mistakes made by a triage service, anyone connected with the case (such as nurses, physicians, other medical personnel, the healthcare organization, and the patient’s health plan) could be sued.

Importance of Call Center Software for Effective Telephone Triage

Medical answering services who also offer telephone triage systems can safeguard against liabilities for themselves and their medical clients by using a robust call center software. All-inclusive, highly interoperable healthcare software can integrate with electronic medical record (EMR) systems and use artificial intelligence (AI) to help ensure operators are talking to the correct patient; customized scripting ensures operators are asking and giving correct information; and they also offer critical call priority and improved call routing.

Effective contact center software also provides a customizable reporting function to keep track of metrics that enhance accountability with call logging and video screen capture, connect remote agents, and manage on-call scheduling. Because calls, messages, screen capture images, and more can be recorded, tracked, time-stamped, and stored, data from call centers can also help protect themselves, hospitals, and patients in litigious situations.

Medical answering services can also take advantage of running their call center software in a virtual server environment or in the cloud. This enables their staff to work from home by turning any personal computer into a professional agent workstation. All the tools used by an agent in a medical answering service call center are accessible to the virtual agent.

Secure Messaging and Telephone Triage

A secure mobile messaging app can help keep both medical answering service providers and their healthcare clients HIPAA-compliant in the event an agent needs to contact on-call medical personnel about a patient caller.

If an agent determines a patient’s doctor needs to be notified immediately about a critical situation, a secure messaging app that’s integrated with the agent’s call center software and on-call software can quickly contact the correct physician. End-to-end encryption ensures all communications are secure and protected.

Persistent alert settings can be set so important messages won’t be missed, and full reporting functions available via the app tracks messaging histories including if a message was received, opened, and replied to.

With today’s technological advances and secure HIPAA-compliant communication options, medical answering services can provide outstanding telephone triage services that result in better patient care while protecting against liability issues.

1Call, a division of Amtelco

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.

Article Library at PeterDeHaanPublishing.com

Access Two Hundred Healthcare Call Center Articles Now in One Place 

Author Peter Lyle DeHaan

By Peter Lyle DeHaan, Ph.D.

For the past twenty years I’ve covered various aspects of the call center industry, publishing relevant trade periodicals. This includes AnswerStat, as well as our sister publication, Medical Call Center News. During these two decades, I’ve written over five hundred pieces about various aspects of operating and optimizing call centers. 

That’s a lot of material, averaging over two new articles a month for the entire twenty-year journey. This content spans four websites. Besides AnswerStat and Medical Call Center News, there are also Connections Magazine and TAS Trader.

Though you can go to each individual periodical website to read these articles, you can now access all this content in one place. (In addition, there are also posts about writing and publishing, as well as business content, accounting for 800 more pieces.) 

Conservatively, I estimate this article library totals over half a million words. That’s a lot of writing, enough for several books. I just need to find the time to edit and publish them. So, stay tuned for updates when these books release.

For readers who want to focus specifically on the medical field, you can read all two hundred healthcare call center articles from this one site.

This article library of content merges most of my industry information on one website. Plus, the handy search feature allows you to quickly access a specific topic. If you want to refresh your memory or reread something I’ve written in the past, this site is the ideal place to find it.

I begin this publishing adventure in September 2001, and I look forward to continuing it as we move into the future. And as this unfolds, watch for this article library to grow at the projected pace of two articles a month.

Something that’s become clear after the turmoil of 2020 is that the call center industry is an essential business communications vehicle that can weather any storm. More importantly, healthcare call centers have emerged as the future of the industry. 

It’s going to be exciting to watch this unfold, and I’ll be here every step of the way.

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.   Read more of his articles at PeterDeHaanPublishing.com.

Mental Health and Nurse Triage Calls During COVID-19

By Dr. Charu Raheja

TriageLogic

According to the Kaiser Family Foundation, 53 percent of American adults estimated that the COVID pandemic had a negative effect on their mental health. We looked at data from our nurse triage service to understand how mental health may be related to COVID cases in the United States. 

Triage nurses don’t receive many mental health related calls. While there are protocols in place for such cases, nurses are not trained mental health professionals. Calls about mental health are extremely low as patients only call if they feel they have no one else to talk to. However, during the COVID pandemic, we saw spikes in the number of patients who called about mental health. 

(Figure 1)

Figure 1 presents the number of calls about mental health that we received from January–October 2020. We include calls about both anxiety and depression. These patients who called the triage nurse line were not experiencing medical symptoms; they were calling only about mental health. Those who experienced anxiety or depression along with medical symptoms would have been categorized in the appropriate triage protocol. Figure 2 presents the total number of COVID cases in the US by month. 

(Figure 2)

We find that in the beginning of the pandemic, there was a large spike in the number of mental health related calls we received. The triage nurses received about ten times as many calls about anxiety in April compared to January 2020. After this initial surge, the number of mental health-related calls decreased, but remained elevated. We also found that anxiety increased with surges in the number of COVID cases in the US. 

Our results show that mental health became an important health concern during the COVID-19 pandemic and that patients began to reach out to medical professionals for advice. One reason may be that the pandemic disrupted mental health services even as people began to experience more mental health concerns. Nurse triage also serves as a way for patients to reach out to providers. Patients may have also called the nurse triage service because they were anxious about COVID and sought information or reassurance, even if they were not experiencing symptoms. 

For more data about symptoms and outcomes of our nurse triage during COVID-19, check out our white paper, which contains information that can help you better understand patient behavior during a major health crisis. 

TriageLogic

Dr. Charu Raheja is the co-founder and CEO of the Triage Logic Group. The TriageLogic Group provides telehealth software, mobile communication solutions, and services to large medical centers and businesses around the country. It is part of the Women’s Business Enterprise National Council (WBENC), and it covers over 25 million lives nationwide. 

Contact Amy Smith at 888-TEAMTLC for more information.

How Telehealth Employers Can Ensure Effective Communication with Remote Staff

1Call, a division of Amtelco

Presented by 1Call

Traditionally, remote work for healthcare positions was limited to medical billing, coding, and transcription. But in 2020, workers in all industries, including healthcare, were challenged to find ways to work remotely and still maintain the same level of productivity, security, and commitment to quality customer and patient care. 

Although the sudden shift to working remotely and working from home was initially disruptive, recent studies now show that remote workers can actually be more efficient than before. Many remote workers even boast higher morale and job satisfaction. Yet if remote workers are managed poorly or made to use inefficient technology, then communication breaks down and productivity and morale take giant hits. 

To ensure effective communication with remote workers now and in the future, healthcare organizations of all sizes must have the right management mindset and the right technology in place.

Remote Work Boosts Capacity

The COVID-19 pandemic highlighted how remote work and communication technology can reduce disease transmission among patients and medical teams without reducing capacity. Telemedicine enables more physicians to care for patients from a safe distance, allowing quarantined workers with mild symptoms to keep working. Doctors can provide immediate consults from afar. Shifting call center operators to remote settings even increases a healthcare organization’s physical capacity by creating additional space for triage or other forms of patient care.

Remote Work Isn’t Just for Desk Jobs

Remote work has many advantages for healthcare organizations, and not just for roles involving billing and administration. Pharmacists can review and enter online prescriptions. Nurses can provide afterhours triage. Clinical case educators can train nurses on new care procedures without having to gather in the same place. Care teams, doctors, nurses, and non-clinical staff can check in with each other remotely, as long as their technology is HIPAA compliant and secure. 

Communication Presents the Biggest Challenge to Remote Work

When teams aren’t in the same physical space, communication breakdowns are more likely to happen, especially if it isn’t clear whether a message has been received or how urgent it is. Important emails or messages can get lost among general updates. Tone of voice can be mistaken, especially when an urgent message is being conveyed. Personal devices used to access secure information can be compromised. Data is siloed as employees switch from one app to the next. When extra work must be done to keep records up to date between apps, errors are made. Productivity plummets along with morale.

Given the importance and difficulty of accurate, timely communication, how do you ensure your teams communicate effectively while they’re remote? Here are some tips:

Streamline communication devices and platforms: Communication technology must equip healthcare workers, not hinder them. Maximize every minute that physicians spend with their patients or communicating with the rest of the care team. Take the complication out of staying in touch by using a HIPAA-compliant secure messaging app that can be used on mobile phones, laptops, tablets, and desktops. Allowing staff to use their own devices also simplifies the learning curve, resulting in faster adoption of the communication technology.

Make quick communication updates easy and intuitive: Sometimes, long replies aren’t feasible, especially in the fast-paced world of medicine. Make it easy for your team to give each other the immediate replies they need to be efficient and accurate. Look for platforms that offer customizable, quick replies that can be sent with just a few taps or clicks. 

Set clear on-call times: Automatically sync your communication platform with your staff’s schedule. This will make it easier for your staff to know and respect each other’s on-call times. It will promote a healthy work-life balance and avoid the frustration of wondering who is available.

Build trust: Create a culture that trusts each other to answer messages when they’re received. You can do this by selecting a platform that displays when messages have been delivered, if they have been read, and what their urgency level is. Don’t contribute to alarm fatigue by inundating your employees with irrelevant or non-urgent messages.

Integrate with EHR to decrease data entry: Reducing the number of places data needs to be entered improves efficiency and accuracy. Your communication platform should sync with your organization’s EHR (electronic health record). This way, physicians can check lab results from another location, pharmacists can order prescriptions remotely, and surgeons can verify schedules ahead of time.

Insist on security and HIPAA compliance: While some HIPAA rules related to telehealth were relaxed in 2020, they may tighten up in 2021 and beyond. Instead of requiring your staff to take home additional secure devices, choose a platform that runs securely on their personal devices. Be sure to select a solution that offers end-to-end encryption of all messages and can be locked remotely in case it is lost or compromised. 

Move to the cloud: An on-premises-only solution limits your ability to shift workers to remote settings. Your staff should be able to securely access the data they need wherever they are. Storing information on the cloud will also reduce the need for on-site server maintenance. Your care teams can have synchronous, secure access to their patients’ data, wherever they are.

Summary

The ideal remote workers are self-starters who can focus on work despite the distractions inherent in working off-site. And the best remote managers are those who understand how to intentionally foster connection and communication without micromanaging. Last, invest in technology that is flexible enough to work with your staff and support your team’s unique capabilities and needs. 

Vendor Spotlight on TriageLogic

TriageLogic

New Age in Healthcare: Telephone Nurse Triage and Remote Patient Monitoring

In 2007, Ravi Raheja, MD and Charu Raheja, Ph.D. founded TriageLogic with the purpose of using modern nurse telehealth technology and medical expertise to improve access to healthcare. The goal of TriageLogic is to facilitate care over the phone and ensure everyone receives the same standard of care regardless of where they live. The company offers nurse triage software solutions, outsourced nurse triage services, and remote patient monitoring services. Additionally, TriageLogic has mobile technology, which allows patients to contact nurses directly. 

Ravi Raheja serves as the medical director and COO and oversees all nursing and technology operations in the company. He helps to ensure superb quality patient care and provides customized solutions to both the software and the service clients. 

Over the last fourteen years, TriageLogic has stayed true to its mission and continues to provide innovative nurse telehealth technology. As healthcare has evolved, TriageLogic has continued to adapt and release new product lines to meet the changing needs of the industry.

The following lists some of the solutions available:

Nurse Triage On-Call

TriageLogic maintains one of the largest and most sophisticated URAC accredited nurse triage systems in the United States. Nurses use their proprietary software to evaluate symptoms presented by patients using standardized Schmitt-Thompson protocols. The software also allows an elevated level of custom workflows and orders for each practice. Nurses can share handouts with patients on behalf of doctors, and doctors can communicate securely with nurses and patients using HIPAA-compliant texting. In 2020, the company quickly ramped up its services and software implementation to help clients, as TriageLogic observed a call volume increase by as much as 35 percent due to COVID-19. The company also worked with organizations to set up emergency hotlines.

Remote Patient Monitoring (RPM)

As monitoring technologies continue to gain traction, the healthcare industry views RPM as a way to help control the cost of care for those with chronic diseases such as congestive heart failure, COPD, asthma, and diabetes. It also provides a reliable source of additional income for physician practices and healthcare organizations. 

However, the amount of data generated by monitoring devices is vast and requires a significant investment of time. TriageLogic has partnered with several device companies to create a full end-to-end monitoring program where clinical and non-clinical staff monitors the device data on behalf of doctors. 

The program makes it easy for doctors to monitor their chronically ill patients without adding administrative or clinical burden to their staff. TriageLogic can also create specific protocols for nurses to use based on devices and patient conditions. Remote patient monitoring provides accessible, affordable care for patients that both saves time and increases revenue for doctors. 

Clinical Call Center Software Solution 

TriageLogic offers customized software for organizations and call centers to manage patient phone calls. The software includes standard protocols by Dr. Schmitt and Dr. Thompson, and it offers several additional modules that can be added based on the needs of the organization. The software can also easily be added to the existing call center patient management system. 

Some of the benefits of the clinical call center software include training sessions with a triage expert, 24/7 IT support, secure data centers, mirror-image duplicate servers, and built-in disaster recovery. All software is web-based, so there is no installation required. Additionally, the software allows custom orders for practices. There is also an option to include a mobile application to better communicate with patients. TriageLogic also offers email and text message handouts for both Schmitt-Thompson protocols and care advice. 

Finally, they have a dedicated call center manager nurse director who does all the training for their clients. When a patient calls, the nurse enters symptom keywords to quickly access the correct protocol. The nurse uses a protocol checklist to ask all the right questions and direct the patient to the appropriate level of care. As the nurse handles the call, the telephone triage system documents all the details. It’s that easy.

Nurse Triage Software for Doctor Offices with Up-To-Date Protocols

MyTriageChecklist is a web-enabled software for practices to standardize how nurses handle and document patient phone calls. It takes less than an hour to implement, does not store any sensitive patient information, and offers an easy-to-use interface to ensure nurses ask and consistently document all relevant questions related to patient symptoms. Their director of nursing trains practice nurses and answers questions for clients during regularly scheduled training and review sessions. 

The MyTriageChecklist contains standardized triage protocols by Dr. Schmitt and Dr. Thompson, including COVID-19, which is updated in real-time. 

Reporting Portal

Lastly, all TriageLogic solutions come with a robust reporting portal to provide in-depth analytics on the outcomes from patient interaction. TriageLogic aims to stay ahead of the demands of healthcare and create ready-made and easy to implement solutions to continue helping providers give the best possible care to their patients.

TriageLogic is committed to improvement and aims to educate. The company’s Learning Center includes courses, videos, and additional reading materials for nurse training and for public benefit. The courses include case studies and call center data collected by the company’s call center.

TriageLogic

TriageLogic is a URAC accredited, physician-led provider of high-quality telehealth services, nurse triage, triage education, remote patient monitoring, and software for telephone medicine. Their comprehensive triage solution includes integrated mobile access and two-way video capability. The TriageLogic group serves over 9,000 physicians and covers over 20 million lives nationwide.