Read the June issue of AnswerStat, the information hub for healthcare contact centers.
The Future of Healthcare is Here with Help from Telehealth and Hospital Call Centers, by Nicole Limpert Advances in technology and our ability to use it could soon make the use of telehealth a standard healthcare practice . . . read more >>
Vital Signs: Stand Out: Define Your Distinguishing Difference, by Peter Lyle DeHaan, PhD What does your call center stand for? Knowing who you are is the first step to determining your distinctive characteristics . . . read more >>
Vendor Spotlight on 1 Call As technology continues to evolve, 1Call and Amtelco will continue to develop new innovative solutions . . . read more >>
Telehealth in Uncertain Times, by Traci Haynes While telehealth is an option in many situations, it’s important to know of its reliability during a public health emergency . . . read more >>
Patient Symptoms and Outcomes as the COVID-19 Epidemic Deepens in the USA, by Dr. Ravi Raheja, MD New solutions are being implemented daily as we learn more about this epidemic and how it affects our communities . . . read more >>
Ten years ago: Applying Good Judgment to Telephone Triage Calls, by Cliff Hurst Understanding that there are three levels of valuation provides insight in more effectively managing triage calls . . . read more > >
About AnswerStat AnswerStat is the information hub for healthcare contact center news and resources, published specifically for hospital and medical contact centers and distributed free to qualified readers, decision -makers, and influencers at hospitals and healthcare contact centers worldwide.
What does your healthcare contact center stand for? How do you stand out in an industry with many options? Understanding who you are is the first step to determining your distinctive characteristics. But why does this matter?
This is important because when you have a unique quality then your stakeholders have something to rally around. They have a reason to be proud. Short of that you offer nothing to draw them in and keep them close. They have nothing to celebrate.
Though this most obviously applies to outsource call centers, it’s also applicable to in-house operations too. Here are some categories to consider.
The first place most call centers look at to distinguish themselves is their service level. They often focus on quality service. Though there are many ways to define this, some look at customer satisfaction (CSAT). Most every call center claims to offer quality service. However, saying it and doing it are two different things. To trumpet service quality with integrity requires that a third-party confirm it. Self-pronounced claims of quality service mean nothing.
Aside from quality, other service level considerations might be answering calls quickly (average speed to answer: ASA) or handling requests on one contact (first call resolution: FCR). Other ways to stand out include a low error rate or around-the-clock accessibility.
A second area to consider is how you relate to your staff. Though few employees—if any—will say they’re overpaid or over appreciated, look at how you regard your staff. Employees who receive proper compensation and know how much they’re appreciated tend to work harder and produce better outcomes. The side effect of this is improved service to callers, as well as a healthier financial position.
In call centers, where margins are thin, leaders often struggle with their compensation packages. They know that a 5 percent increase in payroll can move a profitable (or cash-positive) operation into an unprofitable (or cash-negative) one. Yet others successfully apply the adage of “pay more and expect more.”
Not all approaches to enhancing the relationship with your staff, however, require a financial investment. Also consider intangible ways to stand out. This includes letting employees know how much you appreciate them, connecting with them on a personal level, and even taking a simple step of giving them a sincere “thank you” for their work.
A third area to consider is the financial aspect. Is your operation fiscally strong? A call center that produces consistent positive cash flow has long-term viability. This means they generate profits for their owners or are a profit center for their organization. They stand out. Having financial stability can permeate an entire operation with positivity.
Next, do you provide your staff with the best tools possible? Is their work environment something they’re proud to enter every day? Though these may not seem as relevant of a consideration to use to define your call center, they can be. Employees in a top-notch work environment will speak highly of their jobs and their employer to their families and friends. This can ripple through the local area, elevating the call center in the process.
Though it’s good to address all these areas and strive to make them as good as you can, it’s impossible to make everything a priority. Attempting to do so will cause all areas to suffer.
Without neglecting any of these considerations, however, strive to elevate one above all others. Let this become the distinctive characteristic that your call center is known for and celebrated. This will help you stand out among all others and have a lasting impact for all stakeholders: your callers, your employees, and your organization.
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.
The COVID-19 pandemic has placed telehealth at the forefront in providing healthcare services. It has forced changes in the environments in which clinicians typically practice. Individuals who, under non-COVID-19 conditions, would seek access in an emergency department (ED), urgent care, or healthcare providers’ office are now avoiding these settings. And with community spread, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends alternatives to face-to-face triage and visits in an office setting if screening can take place via telehealth (that is over the phone, through patient portals, or online self-assessment tools). A recent report from Frost and Sullivan suggests that telehealth will increase by over 64 percent nationwide this year and continue to increase in the years ahead.
The Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ) defines telehealth as “the use of telecommunications technologies to deliver health-related services and information that support patient care, administrative activities, and health education.” It typically consists of a two-way, real-time interaction over distance between a patient and a clinician using audio or visual technology.
Many consider the terms telehealth and telemedicine synonymous and interchangeable. However, telemedicine can describe a more limited set of remote clinical services such as diagnosis and monitoring.
In recent years, telehealth has become more recognized, especially in the aftermath of natural disasters (such as hurricanes, tornados, earthquakes, floods, and blizzards), when seeking routine care can be dangerous for both clinicians and patients. There was a tremendous uptick in telehealth interactions following Hurricanes Irma, Maria, and Harvey in 2017. Crises tend to increase the urgency of telehealth needs.
Using telehealth in rural communities to bridge the healthcare gap delivering routine care or providing access to specialists that typically exist in more urban areas is well known. Telehealth also makes services more readily available or convenient for individuals with limited mobility, time restrictions, or transportation issues. Furthermore, telehealth can help communicate with and coordinate care for individuals with chronic conditions in supporting self-management as well as assist with earlier interventions in the face of impending exacerbations.
The critical need for the recent social distancing between providers and patients has driven increased demand for telehealth. In response to the pandemic, the Trump administration has expanded access, albeit temporary, with changes to telehealth reimbursement policies.
Beginning March 30, 2020, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) allowed more than 80 additional services through telehealth. Clinicians can bill immediately for dates of service on or after March 6, 2020. According to CMS, it will now pay for telehealth services under the Physician Fee Schedule at the same amount as in-person services.
Healthcare providers, including physicians, nurse practitioners, clinical psychologists, and licensed clinical social workers, are now able to offer telehealth to Medicare beneficiaries, including standard office visits, mental health counseling, and preventive health screenings. Medicare often is the early adopter for changes in reimbursement, with other health plans following their lead.
A May 9, 2020 report in Modern Healthcare, said that Providence went from 700 video visits a month to 70,000 a week. New figures from Blue Cross Blue Shield of MA reported that daily claims for telehealth grew from approximately 200 to more than 38,000 in May. A May 26, 2020 article in FierceHealthcare reported experts predicting 1 billion telehealth visits by 2021, and currently almost half of practicing physicians are now using telehealth appointments.
With this shift in practice, healthcare providers will increase their use of telemonitoring devices to measure blood pressure, pulse oximetry, heart rate, temperature, and weight readings. Telemonitoring also will assess EKG tracings and views of the retina and tympanic membrane, as well as other data to diagnose patients.
There is growing concern about the decreased number of ED visits for emergent situations such as acute myocardial infarctions, cerebrovascular accidents, and other life-threatening situations. Recent statistics, as reflected in emergency medical system calls, offer evidence of increased deaths at home. EDs also report that patients are waiting too long to seek care, and as a result, have often suffered irreversible damage.
An article in HealthDay News on May 20, 2020 reported that U.S. EDs are seeing about half as many heart attack patients as usual. The data from Kaiser Permanente Northern California included 4.4 million patients. In looking at records from January 1 through April 14, they found that the weekly rate of hospitalizations for heart attacks decreased 48 percent. Moreover, fewer individuals with pre-existing cardiac conditions went to the ED from March 4 through April 14, when compared to pre-COVID-19 timeframes from the year before.
Telehealth Nursing Practice
Telehealth, in support of the Institute for Healthcare Improvement’s (IHI) triple aim has shown improved access, quality, and cost-efficiency of healthcare delivery and has resulted in an increased demand for telehealth nursing practice (TNP).
A medical call center with TNP registered nurses (RNs) using decision-support tools provide recommendations for care at home or accessing a higher level of care based on the caller’s symptoms. RNs do not give a diagnosis, nor do they prescribe medications, although in certain situations, RNs can provide refills or e-prescribe medications based on physicians’ orders.
The breadth and scope of TNP have advanced throughout the years. It has had a major presence in the United States since the 1960s, in Canada since the 1970s, and the UK beginning in the 1990s.
In the last half of the 70s, health maintenance organizations (HMOs) began using telephone triage and advice services as a gatekeeper to control consumer access to care. In the 80s, hospital marketing departments used telephone triage as well as physician and service referrals, class registration, and health education and information services to attract and keep their market share. Once again, in the early to mid-90s, managed care organizations further expanded telehealth services for demand management, recertification, and referral authorization due to the ever-increasing incidence of chronic illness and multi-morbidities as well as the associated rise in healthcare costs.
Present-day, the COVID-19 pandemic, has led to the role of telehealth nurses providing triage, surveillance, and monitoring for disease management, care management, case management, care coordination, and clinical prevention programs.
The use of telehealth has grown exponentially during this pandemic. It has filled a much-needed void in providing qualified medical care by clinicians without the necessity of commuting to a higher level of care. It has proven positive outcomes and high degrees of satisfaction. Telehealth is convenient and accessible, and while an option for many medical situations, it is especially important to know of its reliability during a public health emergency.
Traci Haynes, MSN, RN, BA, CEN, CCCTM is director, clinical services at LVM Systems.
The pandemic has intensified the need for nurses to have the most up-to-date education possible. To ensure that they stay informed about such topics as telehealth/teletriage, infection control, vaccination, policy, and leadership, the American Academy of Ambulatory Care Nursing (AAACN) announced a 2020 virtual conference to be live-streamed on four consecutive Tuesdays beginning July 28, followed by extended on-demand access.
The virtual conference will keep much of the content originally planned for an in-person event in Chicago, and will feature live sessions as well as virtual networking, exhibit hall, poster presentations, and chat lobbies. Attendees can earn up to thirteen continuing nursing education (CNE) contact hours for the full conference, plus the opportunity for bonus CNE.
“Like many other organizations, we switched to a virtual format for safety and travel reasons,” AAACN president Kristene Grayem, MSN, CNS, PPCNP-BC, RN-BC, said. “While the nurses will miss being together, the virtual format has some distinct advantages. Our speakers can present the latest information, which is a huge advantage right now because everything is changing so dramatically. The online format also gives attendees flexibility if they need to watch later due to busy schedules.”
Grayem said conference planners are still in the process of finalizing sessions and other details, but those who are interested in attending can visit the AAACN website.
“This will be a very interactive event,” Grayem said. “Connecting and networking are very important, so we are designing the conference so attendees can engage with each other, as well as speakers and exhibitors. They’ll also be able to maximize their CNE value, with extended online access to all the sessions for two years.”
The conference live broadcasts will take place on the following Tuesdays:
July 28, 11 am–6:15 pm ET (preconference sessions)
August 4, 12 pm–5 pm ET (opening general session on COVID-19 and infectious disease; breakouts)
August 11, 12 pm–5:30 pm ET (interactive Town Hall on COVID-19; breakouts)
August 18, 12 pm–5:30 pm ET (breakouts; closing general session on mindfulness)
The extended access for all registrants will be posted in the AAACN online library.
The American Academy of Ambulatory Care Nursing is a welcoming, unifying community for registered nurses in all ambulatory care settings. AAACN is devoted to advancing the art and science of ambulatory care nursing. Learn more at www.aaacn.org, firstname.lastname@example.org, or 800-262-6877.
1Call’s mission: Working together to provide the very best communication product solutions, backed by the best support available.
Since 1976, Amtelco has provided innovative communication solutions to call centers around the world. In 1997, the 1Call Division was formed to offer enterprise-wide clinical communication solutions designed specifically for healthcare organizations. 1Call is dedicated to serving the unique call center and communication needs of healthcare organizations, helping improve communications between patients, physicians, and staff by connecting people and information. Amtelco has received twenty-eight patents, covering a wide range of communications processes.
Hospitals and healthcare organizations around the world turn to 1Call to solve their medical call center, answering service, on-call scheduling, on-site and remote operator, web-based communication, call handling, secure messaging, voice processing, conference calling, and automated integration engine notification needs. In an independent survey, 100 percent of the respondents said they would highly recommend Amtelco and 1Call over other healthcare communication providers.
1Call has a reputation for complete, professional system support, offering training, installation, and technical support staff on call on a 24-hour basis. When customers need assistance for their call center solutions, 1Call’s customer support staff provides fast and reliable service. Customer advocates, solutions architects, and product managers are available to help customers and answer questions before, during, and after the sale.
1Call understands that every healthcare organization has unique needs. 1Call’s customer support staff includes implementation specialists, installers, project managers, and technical support staff. The customer support staff has an average tenure of over fifteen years, which is virtually unheard of in technology and IT businesses. All support staff members are in the United States. While many of the staff members are in the Midwest home office, there are several regional offices around the United States.
Help When Needed, Pandemic Response
When the coronavirus became a pandemic and hospital call centers experienced a sharp increase in call volume, 1Call supported customers by offering free operator licenses. Because 1Call’s software can turn any desktop or laptop computer into a professional operator station, the service department also helped in setting up remote operator stations so staff could work safely from home.
“The free license offer from 1Call came at the right time. Additional operators were up and running quickly. I can’t tell you how appreciative I was to be able to have the ability for more agents to cover all of our calls,” said Shelley White, MS, CHAM, FACHE and director, patient access services for State University of New York (SUNY) Upstate Medical University
Customers have access to 1Call’s support team via phone, email, or the exclusive online TechHelper tool, where documentation, manuals, videos, and many more training tools are available. TechHelper is available 24-hours a day, with unlimited access. Emergency assistance for 1Call systems is available 24-hours a day, 365-days a year.
Software upgrades are included with support agreements, helping ensure that 1Call customers always have access to the newest features.
In an independent customer satisfaction survey, 97 percent of the respondents said the Amtelco and 1Call service and support was excellent (Amtelco Satisfaction Research Study conducted by TMA+Peritus, February 2015). 1Call looks forward to partnering with more healthcare organizations to provide this same level of service.
Streamlined Hospital Communication Solutions
1Call features a complete line of modular solutions specifically designed to streamline enterprise-wide communications, reduce errors, and lessen training time for new hospital call center operators. All the specialized 1Call solutions save an organization’s limited resources, making each organization tremendously efficient, enhancing the patient experience, and improving their bottom line.
Each 1Call solution comes with the benefit of Amtelco’s forty plus years of experience in the field of call handling and messaging. Thousands of 1Call and Amtelco systems are in operation around the world, 24-hours each day.
Easily Customizable Clinical Communications
1Call understands that every healthcare organization has unique needs and that they sometimes receive unusual requests from physicians and departments. That’s why 1Call offers powerful solutions that are easy to customize by the customer. Customers have access to a wide variety of administrative functions, including the ability to customize scripts for any department, with individual scripts for every physician, if needed. 1Call also has a scripting team that is available to help customers with any specific requests.
Why Choose 1Call?
Hospitals continually recommend 1Call solutions to other healthcare organizations. So, more healthcare organizations continue to switch to 1Call. “Pretty much all of the 1Call team worked long hours as we trudged towards the cutover. I was constantly amazed to be getting email replies to questions at all hours of the day and weekends,” said Kevin Mallon, project manager for Canterbury District Health Board in Christchurch, New Zealand. (Watch video testimonials.)
Strong Partner Relationships
Hospital CIOs and CTOs are under tremendous pressure to do more with smaller budgets and staff. It’s paramount that they have a reliable health communications IT partner. 1Call forms solid partnerships with customers. Each organization is encouraged to work closely with the 1Call team of consultants and engineers through each phase of system planning, configuration, and implementation. This helps ensure that the 1Call systems are at their optimum performance levels to meet all the communication needs of their organizations.
1Call also works closely with key technology partners to provide organizations with the solutions that best fit their communication and technology requirements. 1Call’s partners integrate at a high level with the call center, on-call scheduling, HIPAA secure messaging, alarms management, and emergency notification services to produce a comprehensive solution that satisfies the needs of each organization.
The 1Call technology partnerships include:
Apple iOS Developer Program
Avaya DevConnect Community
Cisco Solution Partner Program
Cisco Developers Network
Copia OEM Partner
GENBAND Partner Program
Google Play Developer
Health Level 7 International (HL7)
Interactive Intelligence Global Alliance
Microsoft Developers Network
Mitel Solutions Alliance
NEC UNIVERGE Solutions Partner Program
SAP OEM Partnership Program
ShoreTel Innovation Network Alliance Partner
Spectralink Application Integration and Management Solvers Program
Unify (formerly Siemens) Technology Partners – Advanced Level Status
Vocera Solution Partner Program
Windows Development Center Member
One Company, One Solution
The development and customer support teams are in the “Innovation Way” hallway at the Amtelco and 1Call home office. These teams work together closely, and when a question arises, it’s a quick walk down the hallway to find the solution. One company, one solution, proudly located in the USA.
As customers have come to expect, Amtelco and 1Call continue creating innovative solutions. In addition to frequent enhancements to Intelligent Series, soft agent, and miSecureMessages, the newest innovations are Web Agent, miTeamWeb, MergeComm, and Genesis:
Web Agent: 1Call’s next generation, call-handling application, Web Agent, is a web browser-based telephone agent interface. Web Agent is compatible with most modern web browsers, enabling agents to process multi-channel calls on desktop computers, laptops, and tablets. Web Agent can perform directory searches, scripted messaging, and dispatching, and provide access to call log recordings, web content, and on-call schedules.
MiTeamWeb: MiTeamWeb is 1Call’s mobile-friendly web application that gives physicians and hospital staff fast access to on-call schedules, messages, directories, call logs, and status information using a secure browser connection on a PC, smartphone or tablet. The app features customizable widgets, allowing each user to personalize their miTeamWeb home screen.
The MergeComm Integration Engine: MergeComm automates communications throughout an organization, speeding response times to help organizations provide better patient care. MergeComm takes an incoming message and uses a script to determine who needs to receive that information.
MergeComm can receive a message from a wide variety of sources, including alarms, alerts, HL7 messages, nurse call, severe weather alerts, TCP, WCTP, and web services. Notifications can go to an individual, an entire group, or the current on-call personnel. Notification methods include email, miSecureMessages, IP phones, pagers, phones, smart devices, SMS, and Vocera badges.
The Genesis Platform: Provides the Intelligent Series applications with advanced software-based telephony. Genesis provides an all-inclusive call center solution for healthcare call routing, call management, reporting, and call center applications based on the Intelligent Series. A few of the many benefits of Genesis include reducing the need for hardware, virtualization of the switching platform, integrating with SIP-enabled PBXs, connecting remote agents, and automating overhead paging.
Priority Call Override is a feature of Genesis that ensures urgent calls receive appropriate priority treatment to provide better care to patients. Code calls, emergency calls, crisis calls, and other priority calls can override less urgent calls, allowing agents to take immediate action. The call routes to the most qualified operator available and notifies all agents that a priority call is in progress.
As technology continues to evolve (and everyone knows it will) and as customers have new communication challenges, rest assured that 1Call and Amtelco will continue to develop new innovative solutions, as they have for over forty years.
Those of us in the healthcare communication field already know the value of telehealth and virtual care. As the COVID-19 pandemic evolved, telemedicine gained worldwide recognition as a critical healthcare tool to keep both patients and medical staff safe.
Telehealth has predominantly been used to bring healthcare to rural areas or isolated populations, such as overseas military personnel and those who work in the maritime industry. Until recently, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) placed certain stipulations on telehealth providers and would only reimburse for services provided in rural areas with specific audio-visual equipment.
However, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, on March 6, 2020 CMS relaxed restrictions and removed many of the conditions clinicians had to adhere to in order to provide telehealth services to patients living across the United States. Later, CMS expanded its telehealth adoption to include eighty-five new telehealth services to their covered list and set provider reimbursement rates for telehealth visits to be the same as in-person services.
Many people are new to the concept of telemedicine. On July 31, 2019 JD Power reported that nearly three-quarters of Americans weren’t aware of telehealth options or didn’t have access to technology to partake in telehealth. Yet, the American Hospital Association states that 76 percent of U.S. hospitals were already using telehealth before the coronavirus pandemic. Currently, forty-eight states require telehealth coverage in insurance plans.
Healthcare-related industries already had infrastructure in place and were prepared for the use of telemedicine and telehealth. However, few, if any, expected how quickly the use of these virtual tools would grow or how they would be used in new ways when COVID-19 began to spread. The coronavirus pandemic has dramatically accelerated the adoption of telemedicine usage. Telehealth visits sky-rocketed by 50 percent in March 2020 according to data from Frost and Sullivan, and analysts at Forrester Research estimates that virtual healthcare interactions will reach more than one billion by the end of 2020.
The pandemic has affected call centers in every industry. Most business websites have placed a message at the top of their home page warning of long hold times and delays in service.
In healthcare, communication setbacks can mean life or death. Understandably, hospital call centers experienced a substantial increase in calls early in the pandemic. Many healthcare call centers assist with telehealth efforts and they also serve as a hub for their healthcare organization during a crisis.
“We played an immediate role in the hospital’s corporate response to the coronavirus pandemic,” explains Shelley White, MS, CHAM, FACHE, director of patient access services for State University of New York (SUNY) Upstate Medical University.
“A COVID-19 hotline was established, and we took calls from multiple counties in our area. Within two weeks, our call volume drastically increased, and we needed more space in our call centers to work while practicing social distancing. We used free operator licenses from our vendor to set-up additional remote operator workstations so more of our agents could work from home. This kept our staff safe while serving the community.”
Running a call center in a virtual server environment, or in the cloud, is giving hospitals the ability to stay flexible and available by using remote operators. These tools are scalable and result in fully functioning call handling to transform any personal computer into a professional telephone agent station.
Call Center Software Assists Telehealth Communication
Using telehealth for virtual appointments with medical staff and patients has been essential during this pandemic. There are other ways healthcare systems use telehealth communications. Hospital call centers are using their communication software, often in new ways, to provide their communities and staff with accurate information, quick responses, and in some cases—hope.
Nurse Triage Centers: Agents use a customized script to triage calls.
Improved Navigation Menus: Callers are directed to additional, updated information.
Non-Clinical Services: Telehealth also refers to remote, non-clinical administrative uses such as establishing and maintaining on-call shifts for COVID-19 volunteer pools. They can even create announcements using a song, tone, or message to broadcast throughout the hospital when a coronavirus patient is released. It’s a wonderful way to spread hope and encouragement to patients and staff.
Many telehealth agents are working from home and it is crucial for them to have access to the IT support they would normally use when working in the call center. Jennie McWhorter, information services operations manager for Ephraim McDowell Health in Danville, KY explains how the system can help here as well. “We have entered a ‘Telehealth Support Hotline’ in the call center software that allows the operators to connect to our help desk directly,” says Jennie. “This is very important as our main help desk line is usually a voicemail-only system that creates a ticket in our help desk software.”
Remote Operators Help Medical Staff
Shelley White’s team has also been able to help staff who are still located within the hospital. SUNY Upstate Medical University is the only ACS certified Level I Trauma Center in the region and serves about 1.7 million people and 28 referral hospitals. Shelley says, “During this coronavirus crisis, our ER registration is short-staffed, but we are able to help by watching our track board, which is tied into the EMR system with Epic. When a COVID-19 patient is admitted, we can call the patient to register them and verify insurance information over the phone. This process would normally be done in-person by ER staff, but we can do it remotely and ease some of their workload.”
According to numbers reported from Becker’s Hospital Review on April 7, 2020, employees from 243 hospitals have been furloughed during the pandemic. Hospitals are taking steps to save supplies, suspend elective procedures, and focus on treating COVID-19 patients.
To avoid layoffs, some healthcare organizations reassigned their medical staff as remote call center operators. “We were able to redistribute existing staff from other departments and tap into their skills to cross-train them to work for the switchboard,” states Shelley.
“In our situation, patient access staff and medical answer teams were trained on easy calls and were then able to work from home as remote operators. These staff members are now even more valuable to our organization.”
Kathleen Kerrigan BSN, RN, and manager of medical communications center, radiology contact center and pager services for Nebraska Medicine mentions her experience: “Nebraska Medicine has created a flex pool for employees that work in areas of the organization that have closed or severely cut their workflows due to COVID-19. I was able to add nineteen of these employees to my team, including both nurses and agents.”
Telehealth as the New Normal: Telehealth has suddenly become crucial for patients and healthcare organizations. The use of telehealth has undeniably shown what a valuable tool it is in maintaining a healthy population.
Hospital call centers and healthcare professionals have already shown agility in adapting communications software in new ways to improve telemedicine applications while enhancing patient care—even during a pandemic. Advances in technology and our ability to use it could soon make the use of telehealth a standard healthcare practice.
Nicole Limpert is the marketing content writer for Amtelco and their 1Call Healthcare Division. Amtelco is a leading provider of innovative communication applications. 1Call develops software solutions and applications designed for the specific needs of healthcare organizations.
The governor of New Jersey has decided to offer a COVID-19 hotline in the state to help address the pandemic and the challenges it brings. Implementing emergency support solutions like a 24/7 hotline provides Governor Phil Murphy and his administration the tools they need to help burdened hospitals and identify patients who need further care. New Jersey has equipped themselves with operators to screen callers, and they have an option for automated screening using CDC based guidelines. The operators connect the patients to an NDS physician if further testing and treatment is needed.
As the COVID-19 pandemic progresses, cities, counties, and states like New Jersey have realized that changes must be made to accommodate the influx of patients that doctors and hospitals see. Considering the challenges that the coronavirus brings, many healthcare organizations have set up COVID-19 hotlines. These hotlines answer frequent questions and screen patients to either direct them to the care they need or reassure them that it’s safe to stay home. Telephone triage companies help these hotlines by screening patients with a fully automated system and sending information about the patients to providers when a further medical visit is appropriate.
Balancing workloads and optimizing time management for doctors and nurses at a time like this is vital for an effective community response. It’s important to understand that parsing or deciphering between sick patients and those who just need reassurance is a big part of navigating this pandemic successfully. Because of this, cities, counties, and states need the capability to screen patients based on established guidelines with trained, non-nurse staff or with a fully automated system.
It’s no secret that many people today prefer to use their smart phones or computers instead of placing a phone call. Many organizations that understand this strive to make systems for screening and information accessible and easy to use. In addition to being user friendly, fully or partly automated phone lines can save countless man-hours and cut costs. Telephone triage lines have seen call volume skyrocket since the onset of the coronavirus, overwhelming call centers and multiplying phone line costs.
With so many callers, calls cannot be taken in real time and caller information is delayed in getting to healthcare providers. A remote patient communication system ensures that pertinent information is collected and relayed to the proper caregiver promptly. The automated system that New Jersey has implemented avoids these extra costs and collects more of the patient information that providers would need to follow up, all while maintaining social distancing.
How it Works
A good telephone triage company will set up a custom screening process in conjunction with the medical director of the organization. The screening process should be client-specific and customizable.
Then a custom screening tool based on the state’s or municipality’s requirements should be built. Users would come to a website and access a link or can call a hotline number to speak to an agent. The patient information as well as the results of their screening should be captured in a HIPAA compliant system.
Users should be sent information based on their questions. The users who need further care should have their information sent to the appropriate physician for follow-up.
Patients who show symptoms of COVID-19 and need testing will need a visit with a telehealth doctor—of the state or municipality’s choosing—to be evaluated further or to get a prescription for testing if indicated.
Products like TriageLogic use triage protocol and demographic data in compilation with a client-specific algorithm that separates distinct kinds of patients and funnels them through the correct channels to an appropriate provider. The process is concise, saving healthcare organizations the most valuable resource of all: time.
Making this careful triage easily available to its citizens helps states, like New Jersey, manage the incursion of sick patients they are likely to see or have already seen. A telephone triage system can help support communities by offering the same remote systems that New Jersey has implemented
As the coronavirus pandemic progresses, nurse triage plays a critical role in helping healthcare organizations, hospitals, and practices manage their overwhelmed systems. Triage nurses evaluate and direct patients to the best level of care for their symptoms. As the weeks passed since the original national emergency announcement, our nurse triage center has seen important trends on what callers experience.
Traditionally, triage nurses use standardized protocols from Drs. Schmitt and Thompson to evaluate patients. Nurses can also use custom doctor orders to share handouts with patients, connect the patient to a doctor, or direct patients to appropriate local facilities such as drive-through testing centers.
The coronavirus pandemic brought new concerns, new protocols, and new care advice that needed to be developed to help address patient symptoms. Nurses were quickly trained and given new guidelines to address patient questions as the problem unfolded. As we look back over these last several weeks, we’ve seen changing trends among callers and new issues arising that the healthcare profession will need to address.
We quickly saw a 30 percent increase in patient phone calls to triage nurses as news of the Coronavirus broke. During the first weeks most callers were worried and trying to understand which symptoms to look for. They asked questions about the virus, what precautions to take, and where to go for further help if needed. Overall, there weren’t many reports concerning symptoms related to COVID-19.
As time went by and the media began to pay closer attention to the virus and air all the details on news networks, we saw a swell of anxiety in our callers. While there were still not many callers who reported concerning symptoms associated with COVID-19, we started to receive more phone calls related to anxiety, depression, and suicide.
Updates on Caller Issues for the End of March and Early April
Our nurses have now received several calls from distressed patients who show the concerning symptoms of the virus. The nurses used the protocols to determine which callers now have symptoms that require further evaluation by a doctor. But while patients with COVID-19 like symptoms are told to seek the appropriate level of care and go to the hospital, a new issue emerged.
Patients are avoiding the ER due to worry about virus transmission. Unlike anything seen before, nurses find that patients who have serious symptoms that require an ER visit are refusing to go. These callers are reporting that they do not want to go to the hospital for worries about catching the virus from a hospital setting, or that they don’t want to intrude on an already burdened system.
Compounding the situation, after the caller is convinced to seek medical attention, hospitals may turn them away. This is either because the hospital is unable or unequipped to help. Some cities may also have facilities that are focusing on COVID-19 cases. Because of this, they do not have the capacity to help other patients. The confusion among patients about where to go to get help can increase morbidity. This is especially true with health issues such as chest pains, which hospitals regularly address and evaluate.
Healthcare centers and hospitals are working hard to manage the extra care needed for the influx of COVID-19 patients. Many cities have developed hotlines to help alleviate the workload of healthcare professionals and determine which patients need to be seen by a nurse. New solutions are being implemented daily as we learn more about this epidemic and how it is affecting our communities.
Dr. Ravi Raheja is the medical director at TriageLogic, a leader in telehealth technology and services. The company’s goal is to improve access to healthcare and reduce costs by developing technology for providers and patients, backed by high-quality nurses and doctors.
Amtelco received a Top Workplaces 2020 honor and a special award for work/life flexibility by The Wisconsin State Journal. These awards are based solely on employee feedback gathered through a third-party survey administered by employee engagement technology partner Energage.
Amtelco, founded in 1976, has been developing reliable communication systems and applications backed by the company’s dedication to customer support. Amtelco’s 1Call healthcare division began in 1997. Hospitals and businesses have used their miSecureMessages secure messaging app widely since 2011.
“My father, Bill Curtin, II founded Amtelco in 1976. We have always been family-owned and managed through multiple generations of our family who care for and understand our customers’ business.” said Tom Curtin, president of Amtelco. “We truly believe that our customers and employees are extended family and that culture is what fuels our business success. Each employee clearly sees how their work contributes to our business objectives, which ensures that all employees feel connected to one another and to our mission. Being named in the Top Workplace list is a testament to the importance of continually making our company culture a top priority.”
The anonymous survey uniquely measures fifteen drivers of engaged cultures that are critical to the success of any organization, such as alignment, execution, and connection. “The Top Workplaces award has helped organizations stand out among their competitors to attract talent,” said Eric Rubino, CEO of Energage. “This differentiation is more important than ever in today’s tight labor market. No longer is recognition simply a much-deserved cause for celebration, but it’s fast becoming mission-critical to establish a competitive advantage for recruitment and retention.”
Amtelco is a trusted name in call center communication systems, software applications, and XDS technologies for call centers, contact centers, healthcare facilities, higher education facilities, executive suites, and developers. Amtelco systems and software process millions of telephone calls every day by operations in all fifty US states and more than twenty other countries. Founded in 1976, Amtelco is a family-owned company that has grown to 135 employees. For more information contact Amtelco at email@example.com or 800-356-9148.
Read the April issue of AnswerStat, the information hub for healthcare contact centers.
Coronavirus and the Healthcare Call Center, by Mark Dwyer COVID-19 has forced healthcare to look at all aspects of its care delivery system. May we all be the better for it…. read more >>
Vital Signs: Key Tips to Successfully Work from Home, by Peter Lyle DeHaan, PhD If you find yourself needing to work from home, put these tips into practice to experience a successful, enjoyable, and effective situation…. read more >>
Vendor Spotlight on TriageLogic Discover what TriageLogic can do for you now in dealing with the coronavirus and later once the COVID-19 crisis has passed…. read more >>
Emergency Medical and Continuity Remote Care Solutions to Address the Coronavirus Outbreak, by Ravi K. Raheja, MD To better respond to coronavirus concerns, consider emergency solutions that healthcare providers can implement quickly…. read more >>
Ten years ago: Preparing for the Pandemic: A Retrospective Review of a Call Center’s Vital Role, Geri Hammes and Lora Foreman-Krall A decade ago, we focused on H1N1. Discover how those lessons from yesterday can help us today…. read more >>
About AnswerStat AnswerStat is the information hub for healthcare contact center news and resources, published specifically for hospital and medical contact centers and distributed free to qualified readers, decision -makers, and influencers at hospitals and healthcare contact centers worldwide.