Category Archives: Articles

Articles from AnswerStat

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.

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

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.

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 

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

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. 

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

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

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 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.

Who Signs Your Paycheck?

Knowing Who You Work for Helps You Do a Better Job

By Peter Lyle DeHaan, Ph.D.

Do you know who signs your paycheck? Whose signature is it that authorizes payment for the work you do? This, of course, is a theoretical question because most workers today receive their compensation electronically. It shows up in their bank account each payday, without a knowledge of who authorized the transfer.

When I ask who signs your paycheck, however, I don’t mean in a literal sense but in a broader, holistic way. That is, who is responsible for the money you make? Who do you work for? Let’s consider the options:

Your Employer

First on the list is the company you work for, your employer. They hired you, trained you, and pay you for your work. Regardless of the size of the organization you work for, however, there are numerous facets to employment.

First is your boss, and the managers and supervisors she has in place to oversee your work. Larger organizations have a hierarchy. There is your bosses’ boss and maybe even their boss. There could be officers and a Board of Directors. A corporation has stockholders, who own the company. You work for them all. In effect, each one signs your paycheck.

What about your coworkers? In a well-functioning organization, everyone works together to meet a common goal: serving callers. And if you’re in a position of authority, you have people working under you. In a way, you work for them, too, by providing support, encouragement, and direction. If they succeed in their jobs, you succeed in yours.

Your Clients

If you’re employed in an outsource call center, where you handle calls for other companies, you work for them too. Serve them well to retain their business, and you will continue to have a job. Serve them poorly, and they’ll cancel service. If this happens too often, your future employment is at risk. In this way, you work for your clients as much as you work for your employer.

Your Callers

Regardless of the type of call center you’re in, you work for your callers too. Without callers, you would have nothing to do. They’re critical to your ongoing employment success as well. 

Though most people who work in call centers have an inherent desire to do their best to help callers, not everyone is so service-oriented. Do your best to take care of them, which is what your company hired you to do. Then you will continue to have a job.

You

In addition to your employer, clients, and callers, you also work for yourself. You work to earn a living. It’s in your best interest to handle calls with excellence, thereby keeping your job.

Conclusion

In practice, you don’t work for one person, but for many. They are who signs your paycheck. Though there’s an obvious priority, strive to give your best work to each one of them, including yourself.

Don’t let this thought of working for everyone overwhelm you. Instead let it motivate you to give your best to your job every day, on every call.

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.

Remote Patient Monitoring and the Future of Remote Nurse Triage

By Ravi K. Raheja, MD

Remote Patient Monitoring (RPM) is on track to be the future of healthcare, especially as the number of chronic care patients and the cost of healthcare increases annually. RPM is the use of technology to gather patient health data from an individual. A clinic or nurse call center electronically evaluates the information. 

RPM is starting to gain traction by many in the medical field because it improves patient care. Most of these devices can capture data that the patient does not necessarily observe. These regular readings give meaningful information that can help providers see the bigger picture when it comes to a patient’s condition and outcome. 

This technology, usually in the form of a device that can go home with a patient, can monitor important health factors such as blood pressure, blood sugar, and respiratory rate. It allows doctors and clinicians to regularly check patient vitals before a patient presents a symptom that would require an office visit. 

Remote triage nurses monitor patient data and ensure patient safety. After the patient goes home with their device, these nurses monitor all the health information it provides. Non-clinical staff make sure patients use the device properly and call then back if the data is not coming in as expected. Nurses review patient data and contact patients if they see concerning information. 

They ask patients questions to determine if physician intervention is needed. They also provide additional information or ask questions based on individualized physician instructions. Non-clinical and clinical staff are a bridge from patient to doctor and they alleviate the burden on provider.

In the United States, six in ten adults in the United States suffer from some form of a chronic disease, such as obesity, diabetes, or heart disease. Chronic diseases are responsible for 75 percent of the 3.5 trillion dollars spent on healthcare each year. Overall, it’s estimated that widespread adoption of remote patient monitoring could save the U.S. as much as $6 billion annually.

For doctors and medical organizations, this translates into improved patient care while at the same time giving providers the ability to increase their annual revenue per patient. First, the regular monitoring of patient vitals provides efficient scheduling of follow up visits when necessary based on abnormal readings. Second, CMS reimburses doctors for the cost of the RPM device and for the time it takes to monitor patient vitals. The reimbursement amount allows doctors to earn extra income each month even after considering the costs of outsourcing the monitoring. 

RPM is on the forefront of healthcare. With the ability to closely monitor chronic patients in a safe, cost-effective manner, RPM is one of the fastest growing medical technologies in the medical field. The goal is to help both patients and physicians by providing tools to improve care while decreasing the burden on physicians. 

Ravi K. Raheja, MD is the COO and medical director of the TriageLogic Group. Founded in 2007, TriageLogic is a URAC accredited, physician-lead provider of high-quality telehealth services, remote patient monitoring, nurse triage, triage education, and software for telephone medicine. Their comprehensive solutions include integrated mobile access and two-way video capability. The TriageLogic group serves over 9,000 physicians and covers over 20 million lives nationwide.

The Future of Hospital Contact Centers

By Nicole Limpert

Even though the Oxford English Dictionary first published and recognized the phrase “call center” in 1983, the origins of call centers date back to the 1960s with the use of answering services. 

Doctors have used medical answering services for decades. During normal business hours, answering services can take some of the workloads off medical office staff so they can focus on patient care. After hours, these services take messages from callers and relay them to the covering doctor.

Traditionally, medical answering service operators would contact doctors via pagers. The agent would alert the on-call doctor with a page, and the doctor would call back to the answering service to find out more details.

Hospital Call Center Evolution

As technology developed, the healthcare industry began to establish its own call centers. Hospital call centers not only help with on-call needs, but they can also assist hospital systems with managing billing, collections, and patient communication. Healthcare call centers have proved to help streamline communications, improve efficiencies, enhance the patient experience, and even reduce expenses.

Medical call centers have become the hub of communications for health systems. The call center software they use is becoming more advanced and turning call centers into contact centers. While call centers primarily focus on voice calls, contact centers provide additional communication services by allowing people to contact the organization via live support/chat, social media, instant messaging apps, direct website interfaces, and email. 

Contact center agents receive training to use each communication channel to engage patients and adhere to a healthcare system’s best practices. Reporting and agent performance metrics are adapted for each channel depending on its functions and capabilities.

Automation Technology

Some contact centers use automation technology to bolster their services with bot agents and chatbots. The most common contact center automation trends include:

  • Chatbots and conversational interface tools.
  • Active listening tools such as natural language processing, natural language understanding, and natural language generation.
  • Robotic process automation to replace tier 0 caller support and other uncomplicated interactions that are task-oriented and programmable. 
  • Statistical machine learning that uses algorithms to mine data and find patterns to continuously improve systems.

However, bots can’t process unique requests, handle complex situations, or express empathy. Therefore, some medical contact centers prefer a hybrid automation solution. Used strategically, hospital contact centers can use automation to streamline communications and workflows by:

  • Escalating complex calls to the most qualified agent.
  • Providing a self-service interactive voice response (IVR) option for common or routine requests.
  • Using automated forecasting to help interpret massive quantities of data gathered by their software to understand trends, make predictions, and schedule staff.
  • Program agent scripting protocols to ensure the most updated information is given to callers and to guide operators through complicated calls.

Omnichannel Contact Centers

The combination of different communication channels, multiple healthcare departments, and possibly many hospitals and clinics within one healthcare system means that communication needs to be a seamless, singular experience for callers.

In healthcare, miscommunication can be life-threatening. Omnichannel contact centers are the most advanced type of contact center. They avoid the pitfalls of working in silos by optimizing technology across all channels, so the entire caller journey is visible. Leveraging this data helps to enhance the patient experience, improve agent efficiency, and better meet organizational goals.

Virtual Contact Centers

Medical contact centers are an extension of a hospital or healthcare center’s operations and are available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. They have become especially crucial during the current pandemic and many operators are working from home. Web-based virtual agent software makes remote work possible by turning any personal computer into a professional agent workstation accessible via the internet or a hospital’s local intranet. All the tools used by an agent in a contact center are accessible to the virtual agent.

Establish a virtual private network (VPN) connection for remote operators to ensure their connection is secure. Once agents connect to the VPN, they can create their remote agent connection for data and audio. Options to establish the data connection can occur via direct connection, remote desktop, thin client, Citrix, and VDI, and an audio connection via integrated audio or external audio.

The digital tools that on-premise agents use are also available to agents working remotely. Any updates made to those tools, the software, or scripting language happen instantaneously for all agents, so they have the exact information they need to provide the best patient experience and reduce error rates.

Digital Future

Engaging with patients and community members across multiple channels, and using that data to better serve them, requires forward-thinking strategies. In the future, successful hospital contact centers will evolve to keep up with other healthcare technologies and become digital-first communication hubs for their patients.

These hubs will play an even bigger role in helping healthcare organizations improve patient care by connecting patient experiences from across their enterprise for a more complete understanding of a patient’s journey. 

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.

Video-Based Doctor Visits, Revisited

By Mark Dwyer

Three years ago, I wrote an article for the September 2017 issue of AnswerStat titled Video-Based Doctor Visits. At the time, I proposed video-based doctor visits as a solution to address the shortages of primary care physicians. Little did I know it foreshadowed a much greater need for virtual visits in 2020 due to the Coronavirus pandemic. COVID-19 made scheduling face-to-face doctor visits nearly impossible. 

Not only has the pandemic increased the need for video-visits, but our aging population and a declining supply of primary care physicians have also increased our healthcare shortfalls. According to the updated 2020 projection from the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC), by 2033, the United States will have a shortage of as many as 54,100 to 139,000 physicians, with primary care representing between 21,400 to 55,200 physicians.

In many areas of the country, there are not enough primary care physicians to handle the patients physically able to come into an office setting. However, that is not the only concern resulting from the shortage. An estimated two to four million people need doctors, nurses, and healthcare providers to make house calls. Unfortunately, the number of physicians and health practitioners who make house calls has also significantly decreased over the years. According to the Health Resources & Services Administration (HRSA), telehealth is especially critical in rural and other remote areas that lack sufficient healthcare services.

Telehealth to the Rescue

A recent HHS report found that virtual visits accounted for over 43 percent of Medicare fee-for-service primary care visits in April 2020. That compared with far less than 0.1 percent in February 2020. The HHS reported that virtual visits continued to be frequent even after in-person primary care visits resumed in May of 2020. The continued use of virtual visits indicates that they are likely to be a more permanent part of the healthcare delivery system.

Telehealth visit solutions have the power to change the way we provide and receive healthcare for the better.

An article in Becker’s Hospital Review, January 20, 2021, further supported telehealth’s permanence. “We have been talking about telehealth for nearly thirty years, and in the year 2020 especially, the need for virtual health services has escalated globally.”

The recent actions of Amazon bear this out. Another article in Becker’s Health IT on March 17, 2021, stated, “Amazon is launching its virtual medical service Amazon Care for its employees in all fifty states and Washington, D.C., this summer, with plans to expand the offering to other employers later this year.” Amazon would not pursue virtual visits if they did not believe they were here to stay and sure to be profitable.

A McKinsey’s survey in April 2020 found consumer adoption of telehealth has skyrocketed, with almost 70 percent of in-person visits canceled in the United States. Canceling in-person visits has helped in decreasing the transmission rate of COVID-19 and limiting exposure to patients. Patients are rapidly transitioning to telehealth, with 76 percent of survey respondents suggesting that they were highly or moderately likely to use telehealth going forward.

According to a Mayo Clinic article on May 13, 2020, even before the COVID-19 pandemic, video technology helped doctors connect with people in rural locations. More than half of U.S. hospitals and medical centers now use telehealth in some way. The Mayo Clinic found that most people report a positive experience with online visits. 

Mayo further identified that many people also say the real-time consultation can be just as effective as an in-office visit. In addition, while social distancing remains needed during the COVID-19 pandemic, video visits for medical care offer a way to access timely care without leaving home.

The Call Center’s Role

So how can the call center play a vital role in offering telehealth services?

Triage call centers focus on getting patients “the right care—at the right time—at the right place.” Adding virtual visits as a triage endpoint for immediate, real-time appointments expands the call center’s services while providing enhanced customer service. The most successful organizations that offer triage call centers will be those with a strategy to integrate virtual visits. Telehealth benefits include convenience, access to care, better patient outcomes, and a more efficient healthcare system.

Finally, during his recent Senate confirmation hearings, Mr. Becerra indicated his support for permanent telehealth expansions. According to a February 25, 2021 article in Politico, Mr. Becerra said he wants to boost technology accessibility and is committed to permanently expanding payment policies that have increased virtual health during the COVID-19 pandemic.

To learn more about implementing a telehealth program or integrating it with your existing efforts, reference telehealth.hhs.gov/providers/getting-started.


Mark Dwyer is a thirty-three-year veteran of the healthcare call center industry and the COO at LVM Systems. LVM provides healthcare call center solutions that support nurse triage, disease management, behavioral health intake, patient transfer, and referral/marketing services, including consumer-centered web products.