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Articles from AnswerStat

Secure Texting: Closing the Gap to Create Effective HIPAA Compliant Communication


TriageLogic

By Ravi K. Raheja, MD

Once a triage nurse has done an initial evaluation on a patient, there are times when the protocol or circumstances require a physician to get involved. In these instances, it is critical for the nurse to get in touch with the provider who is on call, securely and effectively, to communicate the needs of the patient. This requires relaying protected health information, or PHI, securely.

Traditionally, the nurse will page the doctor to call their phone number. The physician calls back, and the nurse verbally relays the relevant information. There are several drawbacks to this option:

It is critical for the nurse to get in touch with the provider who is on call, securely and effectively, to communicate the needs of the patient. Click To Tweet
  • It is time-consuming for the doctor. They must call back and verbally listen to each case.
  • There is no confirmation if the provider received the page, which can lead to a delay in care if the nurse does not follow up closely.
  • The doctor may be involved in a critical procedure or another call and does not know how urgent the request is from the nurse.

Secure texting was created to overcome these drawbacks and provide an efficient way to transfer information that does not hinder daily workflow.

With secure texting, the provider gets a notification from the nurse. The nurse can send protected health information securely. The provider can read the message, and the nurse gets a notification confirming that the message was received and read. This approach supplies the provider with detailed written information as well as allowing them to evaluate the urgency for the call so they can determine the proper callback time and plan before they contact the triage nurse.

While there are many secure messaging platforms available—almost every one of them requires the provider to install and set up an app on their phone. It also requires ongoing support for the app. When the doctor changes phones, the operating system or app needs to be updated.

Providers who are looking for secure texting methods should find platforms that allow for all the features of secure texting and chatting with the nurse, but without an app required on the doctor’s phone. With these types of platforms, nurses can auto-populate the patient information and send the provider’s cell phone a link (with no patient data). 

The provider follows the link and securely accesses the confidential message from the nurse. The provider can then call the nurse back, call the patient back, or securely chat with the nurse. The nurse receives a notification both when the message is delivered and when it is read; this provides continuity of care and prevents any lapse in communication. The messages and secure chat for the nurse are documented in the triage system for future reference.

Providers love this type of service because it does not require any setup on their part and takes less than five minutes to train on the system, which can quickly be done by the practice manager at the provider’s convenience. There is no impact to the service if they change phones or have updates to their device. Setup is quick and easy since there is no app to download and register.

TriageLogic

Ravi K. Raheja, MD is the COO and medical director of the TriageLogic Group. Founded in 2005, TriageLogic is a URAC accredited, physician-led provider of high-quality telehealth services, nurse triage, triage education, and software for telephone medicine. Their comprehensive triage solution includes integrated mobile access and two-way video capability. The TriageLogic group serves over 7,000 physicians and covers over 18 million lives nationwide. For more information visit www.triagelogic.com and www.continuwell.com.

How Triage Nurses Can Help Patients with Mental Health Conditions


TriageLogic

By Ravi K. Raheja

Telephone triage nurses have a more important role than ever before. Nearly one in five U.S. adults lives with a mental illness (44.7 million in 2016), which is why many adults with mental illnesses go untreated (60 percent according to a report from USA Today). This article addresses the growing concerns for mental health awareness and education.

Telephone triage nurses are often the first point of contact for those struggling with a mental illness and can help a patient recognize the need for intervention. So, what can telephone triage nurses do to help?

Provide Accurate and Timely Triage

Telephone triage nurses are often the first point of contact for a patient with mental health symptoms and as a result, nurses should be patient, flexible, and have great communication and listening skills. The nurse must combine both clinical judgment and emotional connections to assess the patient’s situation to identify possible mental health issues. The telephone triage nurse’s role is to obtain the most accurate medical history and assessment to rule out medical symptoms that require immediate attention.

Remove Biases That Can Impact the Triage Process

Good telephone triage nurses always remove any biases and stereotypes. Having preconceived notions and distinctive sets of thinking can lead to error in the treatment of patients.

Assess the Environment

The Emergency Nurses Association recommends treating patient agitation as if it’s “the chest pain of behavioral emergencies.” Key phrases such as “I understand” can help place a patient at ease and give them the space to talk to the nurse. Throughout the call, the nurse should assess the patient’s environment and resources available to determine the most appropriate care plan.

Manage Uncertainty

Not all patients will be able to accurately describe their condition, history, medical conditions, or other pertinent information. It is up to the nurse to decipher this uncertainty.

  • Assess the situation: How is the patient presenting? Is his or her speech coherent? Are they answering questions appropriately? Hallucinating? Delusional? Rambling?
  • Address the whole patient: One common occurrence within mental health care is “diagnostic overshadowing.” This happens when the focus on a patient’s mental health diagnosis overshadows their physical health needs.
  • Be an advocate: Triage nurses are the first to communicate with, provide support to, and manage patients with psychiatric or mental health issues. Acting as a patient’s initial advocate can be life-changing for that patient

In Conclusion

Triage nurses always have the callers’ safety in mind. They combine both clinical judgment and emotional connections to assess the patient’s situation and to identify possible mental health issues. Nurses need to know the local emergency assistance numbers in case they need to reach out for more assistance. Just talking about their problems for a length of time can help a great deal for many callers who might be suffering from a mental illness.

TriageLogic

Ravi K. Raheja, MD is the COO and medical director of the TriageLogic Group. Founded in 2005, TriageLogic is a URAC accredited, physician-led provider of high-quality telehealth services, nurse triage, triage education, and software for telephone medicine. Their comprehensive triage solution includes integrated mobile access and two-way video capability. The TriageLogic group serves over 7,000 physicians and covers over 18 million lives nationwide. For more information visit www.triagelogic.com and www.continuwell.com.

Vendor Spotlight on AccessNurse (formerly TeamHealth Medical Call Center) How and Why We Rebranded Our Company


AccessNurse, A TeamHealth Company

As the TeamHealth Medical Call Center evolved over time, we outgrew our brand identity and core message, which is a natural part of every dynamic, growing business. We’re excited to share with you our new look and brand. 

Don’t get us wrong. We love our old brand and people loved it too, but it just doesn’t reveal the entire picture of who we are today and how we’ve evolved during the past several years. We’re not only changing our logo, but also our messaging and how we show up in the marketplace. 

Why We Changed Our Brand

Before we dive into our new logo, come with us behind the brand and allow us to explain how we got where we are today. We want to share with you the story of what we value as a company and strive to do for our clients.

Our previous logo mainly reflected our parent company, TeamHealth, and although they are a major part of our story, it’s just one strand of the fabric of our brand’s DNA. We created our medical call center in 1996 primarily for the purpose of providing support to TeamHealth physicians. It wasn’t long before TeamHealth recognized the need for medical call center services at a national level, so we began to grow and acquire external clients.

More than two decades later, we have evolved to become a premiere provider of medical call center solutions, providing services to more than 15,000 providers in individual and group practices, hospital systems, universities, community health centers, and other medical organizations across the country. Our brand today is more dynamic than it has ever been, so we felt the time was right to make the change. 

The new AccessNurse name is a textual representation of what we provide, believe in, and represent: providing clients and patients with 24/7 access to definitive nurse care.  Click To Tweet

Introducing AccessNurse: Behind the AccessNurse Name and Logo

Access Nurse

Since our conception, providing access to medical care has been the underlying theme and pulse of the call center. It’s woven into every fabric of our brand: from our story to how we treat our clients and their patients. 

We feel our new AccessNurse name is a textual representation of what we provide, believe in, and represent: providing clients and patients with 24/7 access to definitive nurse care. We also supplemented our name with the tagline, “A TeamHealth Company” to reinforce our alignment with TeamHealth and the medical integrity, experience, and resources that go along with that relationship.

The challenge with every logo design is finding a symbol that visually represents your core message. The icon we chose is a representation of the multiple solutions we use to provide a comprehensive and customized call center solution to meet each client’s unique needs.

We wanted our new logo to pop—something that jumps out and makes a statement. We chose to use multiple colors instead of one. While each color has its own meaning, they also represent the variety of services we provide. We share three of the icon colors with TeamHealth to maintain a solid visual connection to our parent company. The fourth color—the burnt orange—represents our evolution as an independent medical call center and how our brand will continue to evolve and differentiate itself over time.

Another challenge in logo design is creating something with meaning behind it. Besides the rings and color variations, if you look closely at the center of the icon, you’ll notice the shape of a medical cross in the negative space. It’s a subliminal message that reinforces our primary purpose: providing high quality, compassionate medical care with uncompromised standards and unfaltering compassion. It’s the promise we make to every client.

There you have it. Our new brand identity and logo design. We hope you’re as excited as we are about the new look and the evolution behind it. For more information about our solutions and how AccessNurse can meet your organization’s needs, please contact us at 844-277-6312.

Matt Miller is the marketing coordinator with AccessNurse. Learn more at their new website: www.accessnurse24.com.

The Call Center’s Role in Behavior Counseling


1Call-call center

By Nicole Limpert

The term mental health refers to the condition of a person’s emotional, psychological, and social well-being. The state of one’s mental health affects how they feel, think, and behave. At times, an individual may experience one or more adverse mental health concerns. Mental health issues are common and treatable. According to the National Institute of Mental Health (NAMI), one in five adults in the United States experiences mental illness in any given year.

It is crucial that people have access to mental health services. Mental illness is a disease and sometimes it may cause an individual to experience behavior that poses an immediate threat to themselves, to people around them, or to property. Unfortunately, research indicates that roughly two-thirds of people in the United States, with diagnosable mental health conditions, do not receive services.

Leveraging communication and health technologies together makes individuals, families, and communities more connected to mental health care. Click To Tweet

Barriers to mental health treatment are being reduced by creating a network of care through technology. Call centers provide a critical service in this endeavor by using state-of-the-art communication systems to improve the state of mental health care.

Barriers to Mental Health Treatment

Many studies and surveys have uncovered why most Americans with mental health conditions do not receive care. The most common reasons discovered include financial hardships, racial and cultural differences and misunderstandings, lack of mental health services, and social stigma.

To better understand how people experience these challenges in the real world, here are some ways people who live in rural communities may experience these obstacles:

  • Transportation Hardship: Access to care may require time off work and lost wages for long-distance travel and/or coordinating and paying for transport if a reliable vehicle isn’t available (low-cost public transport usually isn’t an option).
  • Absence of Culturally Competent Care: According to the Morbidity and Mortality Week Report (MMWR) published by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in November 2017, more than twenty percent of rural residents identify as American Indians or persons of color. Multiple studies indicate that racially and ethnically diverse populations contend with language and cultural barriers when accessing healthcare.
  • Shortage of Mental Health Professionals: Rural and low-income areas have the lowest percent of behavioral health workers in the United States, due in part to billing restrictions and low provider reimbursement rates, especially for Medicaid, which has higher enrollment in rural populations.
  • Lack of Anonymity: It can be difficult to maintain privacy in close-knit, rural communities. Many people choose to suffer with their condition(s) instead of seeking help because of the social stigma associated with mental illness.

Crisis Call Center Care

Telehealth is helping to overcome barriers and increase access to mental health care. Crisis call centers connect those who are experiencing a mental health event with behavioral health professionals and are available twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week.

Many call centers offer online chat, text communication, and real-time interpretation services (including American Sign Language via video chat) as well. Some specialized centers even have software specifically designed to dispatch mobile crisis teams to people in need of more intense treatment. These integrated technologies enable people to receive professional care in-person, in the privacy of their own homes.

Call center managers can track outcomes using reporting technology and are able to see if and when a caller received services from a mental health facility for ongoing care.

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline

Call centers are a critical part of the system that makes up the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (NSPL) network. This kind of crisis service system can provide Level Five “Close and Fully Integrated” care by implementing an integrated suite of software applications.

According to the NSPL, the components of this system are:

  • Status Disposition for Intensive Referral: A comprehensive list of people who are waiting for care, including information about their wait-time and location.
  • 24/7 Outpatient Scheduling: Crisis call center staff have access to electronic appointment information.
  • Shared Bed Inventory Tracking: Access to information about how many beds are available in an area or state, where they are located, and what type of care a person can receive at that location.
  • High-Tech, GPS-enabled Mobile Crisis Dispatch: Information about the location of the closest available mobile care team.
  • Real-Time Performance Outcomes Dashboards: Provides analytics information regarding operator workflows and performance to indicate the speed people are receiving help.

Connections Save Lives

Studies unequivocally show the use of integrated communication technology is providing better access to mental health treatment. Current health technology solutions are being enhanced with the use of mental health apps for more accurate data that leads to customized care. Telehealth technology provides a clear path to help coordinate this care and improve mental health outcomes.

Leveraging communication and health technologies together makes individuals, families, and communities more connected to mental health care. This creates a network of support to build a stronger and more mentally healthy society.

1Call

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.

Today’s Employees Want to Make a Difference



Give Staff Opportunities to Make an Impact through Their Work

By Peter Lyle DeHaan, Ph.D.

Author Peter Lyle DeHaan

We’ve been considering five strategies to retain call center staff. The first four are through agent compensation, agent benefits, learning situations, and growth potential. Now we’ll address the fifth one. It’s showing staff how they can make a difference in their work and through their work. Today’s employees, especially Millennials and even more so Gen-Z, want employment where they can make a difference by having a positive influence through their jobs and their work.

Through Each Call

Starting at training, and reinforced on a regular basis, help employees see how each call they take makes a difference. This difference can positively impact both the caller and the person, department, or recipient of the transaction or information. This way they’ll have dozens or even hundreds of opportunities each day to make the world a little bit better. Over the course of a year that’s thousands or tens of thousands of small but meaningful positive interactions to help impact their world in a positive way.

Employees want a job that does more than provide income. They want work that helps them make a difference in their community and their world. Click To Tweet

In the Work Environment

Beyond each call, provide opportunities for employees to help make their workplace better. This can include serving on an ad hoc committee, assigning them additional tasks that add value, and taking on special assignments to improve their work environment and better serve callers. Even more beneficial is when they can work together as a team when making a difference.

Offer Volunteer Opportunities

Some progressive companies include paid time for employees to volunteer at their favorite nonprofit. When doing so, they perceive their employer as supporting the causes that they support. They value their work more because of this.

Though it may not be feasible for a medical call center to offer this benefit to every entry-level employee, this paid volunteer time could be a perk for senior operators and those who advance in the company.

And even if you’re reluctant to provide paid time for staff to do this, you can still support their favorite nonprofit in other ways. This could be as simple as offering them free voicemail service to help facilitate their favorite organizations’ communication.

Provide Matching Donations

Other forward-thinking businesses will match employee donations, usually dollar for dollar, to nonprofit organizations. Usually they place a cap on total matching funds, but this may be an unneeded precaution.

But if you’re just starting this program, having a donation cap may be an easy way to test its effectiveness and limit financial risk. You can always remove or increase the cap later. Some companies have a list of acceptable recipients for matching donations, but this could irritate employees and cause them to resent the company’s generosity and not appreciate it.

The key is to join your employees in supporting what they support. And when you do, they’ll be more supportive of you.

Summary

Today’s employees want a job that does more than provide income. They want work that helps them make a difference in their community and their world. Give them these opportunities, and they’ll give you their dedication.

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.

Using Device Data and Nurse Triage to Improve VA Healthcare


TriageLogic

By Ravi Raheja

New technologies are transforming how clinicians deliver healthcare. At the same time, digital solutions alone are not enough to help patients. Incorporating some human component increases patient compliance and education, further reducing healthcare costs. Medical call centers should be adopting software and increasing the role of triage nurses to complement traditional care settings, such as the VA. 

Device Data

For example, digital diabetes prevention and treatment platforms connect users with support communities and health coaches who can remotely monitor chronic conditions such as weight, blood sugar, diet, and medicine intake. Thresholds and alerts can be set up to alert healthcare providers about abnormal and potentially abnormal or dangerous values. While the devices can collect and transmit data and even have a certain threshold, a medical professional still needs to interpret the data and then direct patients about the next steps based on the data and in the context of their symptoms and current health status.

New technologies are transforming how clinicians deliver healthcare.  Click To Tweet

Telephone Triage

Telephone triage nurses play a vital role in interpreting the data and providing appropriate follow up for patients who use these technologies. They act as the first line of screening when an alert or abnormal value is reported. They have the training to talk to patients, assess their symptoms, and determine the next best steps based on combining the data with the full patient assessment over the phone.

To assess patients and direct them appropriately, the nurses need triage protocols. Most medical call centers use the gold standard protocols from Schmitt-Thompson to assess symptoms. Call centers should also incorporate robust protocol builders, a technology that enables an organization to modify existing protocols to meet their needs and create new protocols when required.

Custom Protocols

By using custom-developed protocols, triage nurses can assess a patient using the data received from devices with appropriate next steps for medical care. As a result, triage nurses play a significant role in this new digital era, driven by value-based care. By combining the data from devices and other sources with innovative triage technology, triage nurses can act as the bridge between patients and providers. This creates a viable monitoring solution that provides cost-effective care.

In conjunction with the custom protocols, organizations should use platforms to put in custom workflows. As an example, once a nurse has determined the appropriate level of care, they can now further direct the patient to specific care locations, referral numbers, or provide handouts via text or email. This allows the triage nurse to serve as an effective first point of contact and get the patients to the appropriate next steps on the first call.

Mobile App

Finally, look for companies that can provide an optional mobile app to enable patients to take advantage of increased self-service, access to customized resources, and insight into their own information.

Summary

Technology is changing the access, monitoring and delivery of healthcare. Value-based solutions are now possible to optimize patient care and decrease healthcare expenses.

Call center solutions that incorporate effective communication using telephone triage nurses, coupled with valuable wearable device data, will be able to greatly improve the level of VA healthcare services for veterans and their families.   

TriageLogic

Ravi K. Raheja, MD is the COO and medical director of the TriageLogic Group. Founded in 2005, TriageLogic is a URAC accredited, physician-led provider of high-quality telehealth services, nurse triage, triage education, and software for telephone medicine. Their comprehensive triage solution includes integrated mobile access and two-way video capability. The TriageLogic group serves over 7,000 physicians and covers over 18 million lives nationwide. For more information visit www.triagelogic.com and www.continuwell.com.

Mitigating Medical Call Center Risk


LVM Systems

By Traci Haynes

Does the word risk evoke an emotional connotation? Regardless of the inference and based on life experience, the word can carry an emotive element. There are uncertainties in risk, which may be associated with hobbies, tasks, or employment. 

Calculated risk is one in which a chance is taken after careful consideration and estimation of the probable outcome. Healthcare organizations employ risk managers to identify and evaluate risks to reduce injury to patients, staff, and visitors within the organization. 

The five basic steps of risk management include: 

  1. establish the context
  2. identify risks
  3. analyze risk
  4. evaluate risks
  5. treat/manage risks
Minimizing risk is essential in the medical call center environment. Consider your potential for risk; then analyze, evaluate, and manage it. Click To Tweet

Risks do exist in a medical call center. There are employee risks and patient risks. These can include risks from the physical environment, clinical management, and technology. What can organizations do to help mitigate these risks? Be calculative, carefully considering and estimating probable outcomes. Even doing so will not eliminate total risk.

An excellent resource that covers information on risk is The Art and Science of Telephone Triage: How to Practice Nursing over the Phone. It is a book written by two industry leaders in the field of telehealth nursing practice, Carol Rutenberg, RN-BC, C-TNP, MNSc, and M. Elizabeth Greenberg, RN-BC, C-TNP, PhD. The book also documents the history of telephone triage and its subsequent evolution, real case scenarios, a chapter of FAQs, best practices, and other topics. 

Minimizing risk is essential in the medical call center environment. Consider your potential for risk; then analyze, evaluate, and manage it. Also essential is focusing on ways in which the medical call center can support the organization’s risk avoidance. Of utmost importance to every organization is supporting the Institute for Healthcare Improvement’s Triple Aim initiative and optimizing health system performance of better outcomes, lower costs, and improved patient experience. 

Hospitals throughout the country are aggressively tackling performance improvement within their own organizations, and evidence shows their efforts are working, helping to reduce risk. The recent addition of a fourth aim emphasizes the importance of improving the experiences of those in the workforce who provide healthcare. The Quadruple Aim focuses not only on better outcomes, lower costs, and improved patient experience, but also on improved clinician experience. 

A medical call center’s number one asset is its staff. Employees need to feel recognized for the work they do. Their working environment should encourage respect and foster a sense of belonging and purpose. They should have the ability to influence their work, as well as given opportunities for professional growth.

Let’s drill down a little further on potential risks in a medical call center. Please note this is not an all-inclusive list and not in order of importance. However, it is information to consider. 

Clinical Management

  • Clinical oversight (such as the medical director): approval of clinical content, decision support tools, educational material, medications, orders, etc.
  • Job descriptions: title, clear description of work duties, purpose, special skills, and qualifications for the position
  • Scope of service: what type and for whom 
  • State Board of Nursing Nurse Practice Act: Follow standards of practice
  • Licensure: state license, Nurse Licensure Compact 
  • Orientation/Training/Preceptor: defined program with monitoring, feedback, and evaluation
  • Policies and procedures: associated with call handling and call scenarios
  • Performance monitoring/evaluations: formal approach using call records and/or call recording
  • Continuous quality improvement: process to identify issues, implement/monitor corrective action, and evaluate the effectiveness

Technology 

  • Electronic Health Record (EHR): access and by whom
  • Computers: hardware/software, latest recommendations, updates, backup, and archiving
  • Database: decision support tools and functionality for a standard method of documentation of the encounter, optimizing the intake of information, and supporting a consistent approach to provision of information and directions for care; reporting of outcomes
  • Telephone system: supports call handling that may include auto-attendant, call routing, tracking average speed of answer, time in queue, abandonment; real-time monitoring, reports, and recording of calls
  • Chat/email/texts/photos: accept and save as part of EHR
  • HIPAA compliant: protecting health information

Physical Environment

  • Outdoor surveillance monitoring
  • Lighting: internal measurement, general, task, emergency, external
  • Security locks: after-hours or 24/7
  • Parking: onsite, offsite, monitored, lighting
  • Security personnel: onsite, offsite
  • Sound: acoustics, masking, privacy 
  • Workstation ergonomics: standing/sitting, monitor height/distance, keyboard/mouse position, adjustable chair with height/arm height/back support, headset, and so forth. 
  • Repetitive stress injuries: most commonly affects injuries to the upper extremities (wrists, elbows, and hands) due to repetitive keyboard activities

Patients and Families

  • Medical call center access: 24/7, after-hours, business hours, community service, or provider/payer service
  • Reason of call: emergent, urgent, semi-urgent, and non-urgent
  • Language and culture: linguistically and culturally appropriate and using an individual’s primary language
  • Age-specific or all age groups
  • Social determinants of health: influences an individual’s quality of health
  • Past medical history: health status prior to encounter and effect on the reason of call/disposition
  • Chronic conditions: type, number, affect the reason for call/disposition
  • Medications: routine, prn, affect the reason for call/disposition
  • Preventive health: affect overall health
  • Disabilities: type, affect the reason for call/disposition
  • Disposition: collaborative decision, access for care as needed
LVM Systems logo

Traci Haynes, MSN, RN, BA, CEN, CCCTM, is the director of clinical services at LVM Systems, Inc.

Cyber Security and HIPAA in a Medical Contact Center



By Bobby Bennett

With cyberattacks on the rise, what steps should a contact center take to prevent falling victim? First is to recognize it could happen to anyone. Do not equate small with safe. According to a 2017 Trend Micro online survey, 45 percent of small business owners believe they will never be targeted. The cyber security firm 4iQ states in its 2019 Identity Breach Report that cybercriminals targeted small businesses with cyber-attacks at an inordinate rate in 2018—up 425 percent over the previous year. 

With cyberattacks on the rise, what steps should a contact center take to protect its patients health information? Click To Tweet

Ways to Prevent Cyber Attacks

  • Install, use, and regularly update antivirus and antispyware software on every computer used in your business.
  • Use a firewall for your Internet connection.
  • Download and install software updates for your operating systems and applications as they become available.
  • Make backup copies of important business data and information.
  • Control physical access to your computers and network components.
  • Secure your Wi-Fi network and make sure it is hidden.
  • Require individual user accounts for each employee.
  • Limit employee access to data and information. Also, limit authority to install the software.
  • Regularly change passwords.
  • Consider two-factor authentication such as password and PIN.

The Federal Communications Commission provides a Small Biz Cyber Security Planner on their website. 

Another factor to be mindful of as a call center that takes calls for healthcare providers and clinics is that you are a business associate of the covered entity. A HIPAA business associate is a contractor or vendor to a HIPAA-covered entity that creates, maintains, or transmits protected health information in performing a function or service to the covered entity:

If a covered entity engages a business associate to help it carry out its health care activities and functions, the covered entity must have a written business associate contract or other arrangement with the business associate that establishes specifically what the business associate has been engaged to do and requires the business associate to comply with the Rules’ requirements to protect the privacy and security of protected health information. In addition to these contractual obligations, business associates are directly liable for compliance with certain provisions of the HIPAA Rules. (HHS.Gov)

A business associate contract serves to clarify and limit, as appropriate, the permissible uses and disclosures of protected health information (PHI) by the business associate. They may use or disclose PHI only as permitted or required by its business associate contract or as required by law. 

A business associate is also directly liable and subject to civil and criminal penalties for making uses and disclosures of PHI not authorized by its contract or required by law. It is important that employees are trained and understand the HIPAA rules required of a business associate. You can find sample Business Associate Agreement Provisions and training resources on the HHS.gov website.

Text messaging or SMS has become the preferred method of message delivery for both the contact center and healthcare providers today. With this growing trend comes risk associated with the transmission of PHI. 

Standard forms of SMS could mean that text messages may remain on a device for an extended time. If the device is recycled, lost, or left accessible to unauthorized persons, HIPAA violations may occur. You must provide safeguards to reduce your exposure to these risks. 

Secure Messaging is a secure, HIPAA-compliant way to safely exchange sensitive information via text. Most contact center system vendors have developed secure messaging applications for use with their systems. However, quite often it is difficult for a contact center to convince a large medical group to make changes and convert from their current secure messaging provider to one offered by the contact center. 

If you are not using a HIPAA-compliant application for text messaging, do yourself a favor and contact your vendor to see what they have available.

Bobby Bennett is the western regional sales manager for Startel, Professional Teledata, and Alston Tascom, leading providers of best-in-class contact center solutions for healthcare and medical telephone answering service call centers. Startel’s Alston Tascom Division has created a stand-alone, vendor-agnostic secure messaging gateway which has integrations with some of the most popular secure messaging providers. Contact Bobby at bobby.bennett@startel.com or 800-782-7835.

Retain Staff by Establishing Their Growth Potential



Increase Employee Tenure by Showing Them Their Future with Your Organization

By Peter Lyle DeHaan, Ph.D.

Author Peter Lyle DeHaan-employee growth potential

In considering the five tips to better retain call center staff, we’ve looked at agent compensation, agent benefits, and learning situations. Now we’ll address providing staff with employee growth potential opportunities. 

With your employees learning enhanced work skills, don’t leave them frustrated by not providing the opportunity for them to apply what they learned. Though this could relate to personal growth, it’s best to focus on job-related growth potential within your organization—and not force them to seek their own growth solutions someplace else.

As you do this, you’ll show them their potential for job enhancement. This applies for both their existing position, as well as advancement opportunities. By sharing with them that they have a future at your organization and how they can get there, they’re more likely to stick around. Not only will you have retained a valued employee, but you will have prepared them to become a more essential member of your team.

Don’t be the manager that causes your best employees to leave. This will hurt your operation and could end up benefiting your competitor. Click To Tweet

Here are some ways you can provide employee growth potential for your staff. 

Add Responsibilities 

Each time your staff learns a new skill or acquires enhance capabilities, look for ways to incorporate these into their current position. Often you can accomplish this by adding responsibilities to their existing job description. As they’re afforded opportunities that their peers don’t have, they’ll see themselves as more important and more integral to your call center.

This will increase their self-esteem, improve their work attitude, and enhance their job satisfaction. All these will combine to increase their tenure with your company.

Expand Position Scope

As they prove themselves capable by handling more responsibilities, they may be ready to take on an increased scope to their job. Look for ways they can be a call center agent and something else. This may be agent and shift leader, agent and backup supervisor, or agent and trainer. 

Another option is for them to serve on an ad hoc committee or workgroup to consider new software, implement a new procedure, or overhaul the training manual. Though these are short-term assignments, success in these areas prepares the employee to take on more.

Promote to a New Position

Those who have proven themselves by taking on more responsibilities and increased the scope of their job, stand to receive prime consideration for advancement opportunities in your organization. Note that this could be within the call center or to another position within the company.

Don’t be selfish and try to keep your most talented employees in your call center. Each time they advanced to other company departments, you’ll realize the benefit of having a call center ally who understands what you do and can advocate for you.

Adjust Compensation

Sometimes asking an employee to take on added responsibilities or an expanded scope falls within their current pay rate. However, don’t be stingy. Carefully assess when it’s warranted to offer a pay raise, added perk, or compensation incentive. Failing to do so will result in them being overqualified and underpaid. Then they become a prime candidate to leave your organization and go somewhere else. Don’t make that mistake.

Develop a Career Path

We’ve already addressed the idea of developing an employee career path when we talked about learning opportunities, but career path is also appropriate when discussing employee growth potential. When doing so, it’s critical to provide a realistic timeframe for a prospective career path. This is because you don’t know when an existing position will become open or a new one will emerge. If you don’t include timing variability when developing a career path, your most qualified employees will grow impatient and leave if they don’t see things happening as quickly as they think they should.

Employee Growth Potential Summary

When talented staff sees the employee growth potential for their career within your organization, they are more likely to stick around so they can realize the possibilities. Most people don’t want to go through the hassle and invest the time to find a new job—unless you force them into it. 

Don’t be the manager that causes your best employees to leave. This will hurt your operation and could end up benefiting your competitor.

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.

Disaster Coverage: The Critical Role Hospital Call Centers Play During and After a Catastrophe


1Call-call center

By Nicole Limpert

The ever-increasing threats from natural and human-made disasters have made the use of disaster response systems a necessity. Nearly two-thirds of U.S. residents live in areas rated as having a moderate to very high risk of experiencing a natural disaster: hurricanes, tornadoes, floods, hail, wildfires, and earthquakes.

In the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s (FBI) report titled, “Active Shooter Incidents in the United States in 2018,” identified twenty-seven shootings as active shooter incidents, which resulted in eighty-five deaths and 128 people wounded (excluding the shooters).

When disaster strikes, both local and national call centers provide critical communication services to help coordinate first responders and rescue teams, organize relief efforts, enable communication between loved ones, and support communities during recovery.

Disaster Planning

Disasters often occur without warning. Weather events, mass violence, and other incidents can cause an outage or strain communication systems. However, organizations can formulate a disaster preparedness and business continuity plan in anticipation of a catastrophic event. Hospital call centers are an important component to any disaster preparedness plan because they often become a communications hub during an emergency.

Hospital call centers in a coordinated call center system, is crucial when developing a disaster preparedness and recovery plan. Click To Tweet

National, state, and local agencies often work with hospitals to develop a plan for coordinating call centers. They identify partnerships with organizations such as 9-1-1 and Emergency Medical Services (EMS), to determine how to integrate each call center into a larger communication network, for efficient allocation of services and dissemination of public health information.

The use of technology enables call centers to execute their disaster preparedness and business continuity plans quickly and efficiently. Automatic call distribution (ACD), interactive voice response (IVR), uniform call distribution (UCD), and other communication software can automate call routing systems. Leveraging automatic notifications and critical alerts helps to speed communications and shorten reaction times.

Disaster Communications

Methodist Medical Center of Illinois, part of Unity Point Health Methodist, located in the heart of Peoria, Illinois, includes a 330-bed hospital with almost 600 board-certified physicians. 

To ensure the safety of patients and staff, the technology used by the call center at Methodist helps to prepare them for any type of situation. By using a customizable critical alert system, operators can quickly contact multiple people when various disaster and code calls come through their center.

When an emergency notification is needed, an operator triggers the alert by simply selecting a group to notify and typing in the alert message. This broadcasts the message to the appropriate personnel via each recipient’s preferred contact method. This helps ensure that hospital personnel can respond to each situation as quickly as possible.

The flexible system allows the call center manager to determine whether each type of notification requires a response from the person who receives an alert. While a reply and estimated time of arrival is required from someone responding to a disaster, a reply may not be needed from a staff member on the leadership team who is using their real-time monitor to oversee the situation. Managers can view the estimated time of arrival for each person and determine if additional personnel need notification. Access to their web-based, real-time monitor can even occur from home should an alert occur in the middle of the night.

Cloud Technology and Virtual Servers

Communications failure is not an option during a disaster. Having the ability to route calls to another center in the event of an emergency is crucial. For example, if a call center is physically located in an area that has become inaccessible or damaged due to a catastrophe, calls can route to operators off-site, using cloud technology on a virtual server. A single virtual server, located anywhere in the country, can bring call centers together to operate seamlessly, even if they all use different PBX telephone systems.

Using web-based call center communication software, any computer may become a secure, professional telephone agent station accessible from the internet. Operators located in a different center or home-based agents handle the calls, and all the tools used by in-house operators are accessible to these virtual agents.

Hospitals and clinics that are part of a larger healthcare enterprise use this technology to provide backup call handling within their own system. Rossi Fraenkel, business analytics team lead for Allina Health in Minneapolis, Minnesota comments, “In the event that any of our other clinics were to have a power outage or go down, those calls roll to us at the contact center. We provide our organization with a really good, strategic value. It’s absolutely critical that we take calls no matter what.”

Disaster Recovery and Relief

Hotlines managed by agencies such as the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), provide callers with assistance related to government disaster aid, insurance claims, and home repairs.

Hospital call centers experience an influx of calls from people inquiring about hospitalizations of loved ones, safety advice, and help for themselves. Individuals who witness or experience a catastrophic event often face negative effects from it. Coping with the shock of a disaster can make someone fearful, confused, and suffer from anxiety.

Call center agents can connect callers with disaster crisis counseling to help people affected by traumatic events. Callers who are patients of a healthcare organization who participates in telehealth, may be able to take advantage of instant, secure video access to mental health professionals.

Summary

Including hospital call centers in a coordinated call center system, is crucial when developing a disaster preparedness and recovery plan. Establishing a comprehensive policy may require a significant time commitment and thoughtful input from a variety of agencies and organizations. However, the effects of organized communication and efficient use of community resources during a crisis, helps save lives and speed recovery efforts.

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.