Tag Archives: agent management articles

Tools to Improve Call Center Efficiency

1call

By Mark Dwyer

The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines efficiency as the effective operation measured by comparing production with cost (energy, time, and money). Never has call center efficiency been as critical as today with the limited number of available telehealth nurses and trained call center agents, the high costs of hiring and retaining qualified staff, increased call volumes, and the growing costs of technology, hardware, and space for running a call center.

So, how can you increase your call center’s productivity, whether you use it for nurse telehealth triage, marketing, referral, or any number of functions? Let us review several opportunities.

Start with Information

Data is king when evaluating how efficiently your call center staff handles calls and how successful it is in satisfying customers/patients. There are numerous standard reports in most call center solutions that provide the data needed to calculate your call center’s efficiency. If valid, you can use this data to project basic staffing needs.

There are several free and fee-based staffing tools available. Two such tools include the Erlang Calculator for Call Center Staffing and a staffing tool developed by Bright Pattern. Remember to consider values such as attrition rate, shrinkage, abandoned calls, and multi-skilled agents in your calculations. You can use these formulas to determine both non-clinical and clinical call center staffing needs, provided you use values that accurately represent your call center.

Regardless of the tool you use, be sure to generate graphical trend reports as they more clearly present times when your staff either under or over-performs against your target metrics. If you’re new to call center staffing, I recommend the YouTube video by Call Center Management titled “Calculate the # of agents you need.

Integration Increases Efficiency

Efficiency strategies include many things. For example, some systems can preload the caller’s name and several other demographics by using caller ID before the nurse or agent receives the call.

At institutions with centers of excellence that maintain their own focused call centers, use your phone system to direct calls using skills-based routing. For example, the system can direct cardiac calls to the heart center, oncology calls to the cancer center, etc.

When integration with your phone system is unavailable, many sites use front-enders to gather initial demographics before handing the call off to a nurse. Some organizations go even further using the front-enders to identify callers needing urgent attention to hand off immediately to a nurse versus those they can safely add to the nurse follow-up call queue.

Once in the call queue, ongoing attention to the queue is paramount to make sure calls with the greatest need for care receive priority. Many busy sites dedicate a nurse or nurse manager to perform this task during peak call times.

Consider Chat and Automation

Chat is also becoming a vital tool in off-loading both inbound and outbound calls from the queue. Today’s healthcare users often prefer to chat rather than talk on a phone.

By using chat and AI-generated chatbots, sophisticated systems can ask preliminary questions before transferring the caller to a live nurse or agent for a further chat or live phone interaction. Chat reduces staffing and provides the techno-savvy generation with their preferred communication methodology. Automation can further increase efficiency by redirecting general requests for information to the hospital website’s Q&A section.

Optimize Call Flow

Remember, as I stated, data is king. From the data gathered by the software as staff process calls, managers can simplify call flow to streamline the process. In addition, as your users learn the system, you can remove specific prompts, call guides, and fields, eliminating unneeded keystrokes.

Some software also provides hot-keys (such as Alt-S) to access additional software functions supporting full-on keyboarding. Others offer systems that are more mouse-click friendly. The best offers both options to enable your different types of users to process calls most efficiently.

When talking about call flow, I would be remiss not to mention the strategic value provided by software that is customizable to meet your needs. A solution that claims to fit all clients does not fit any. To be truly efficient, you need to work with vendors that partner with you to design a system that serves your unique needs.

The ideal solution should also include reports to track the fields used and not used, enabling you to hide the unused fields. Can your team hide the fields, or does it require vendor support? Remember, vendor support means additional costs.

Tap Video

Another commonly used efficiency tool is the video visit. Video visit is especially valuable if your call center also provides care management or disease management services. In addition, videos are of value when triaging certain situations. A good example is when a mom calls about a lethargic child. Seeing a video of the child facilitates more accurate, quicker triage.

For sites not equipped for video, even the ability to accept static photos increases efficiency by allowing the nurse to see the severity of a rash, laceration, or other condition.

Other Tools

Another feature that goes a long way to improving call center efficiency is a solution that provides a command center dashboard. This real-time data enables the call center to switch directions as needed, reallocating staff and staffing based on real-time data.

Quality review auditing tools also enhance productivity by identifying improper call handling or triaging early in a call center agent’s or nurse’s career, enabling fast remediation before bad, efficiency-zapping habits become habitual. Managers must conduct ongoing reviews of call center staff to identify potential areas for improvement. Of great value here are resources provided by your software vendor, including new hire training, refresher courses, training documentation, and no-cost webinars to keep your staff using the software at its peak efficiency.

Benchmark Your Performance

Finally, be cautious not to become overly impressed with your call center’s performance until you compare it to the industry’s standards and, more importantly, to other call centers using the same software solution. For example, your site’s call times may beat national averages. However, do they stand up against the call times of other hospitals using your same software?

Be sure to look for a vendor that can anonymously collect non-PHI call data from its clients to generate individual call center-specific numbers and multi-site aggregate results. This will enable you to evaluate your data against that of the aggregate. By comparing apples to apples, you can more accurately identify if you’re being as efficient as possible.

Conclusion

Time is money, and saving time saves money. The best way to accomplish this is by using your call center solution as effectively as possible.

Mark Dwyer is LVM Systems’ chief operations officer. He has more than a quarter century of experience in the healthcare call center industry.

How Telehealth Employers Can Ensure Effective Communication with Remote Staff

1Call, a division of Amtelco

Presented by 1Call

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

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

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

Remote Work Boosts Capacity

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

Remote Work Isn’t Just for Desk Jobs

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

Communication Presents the Biggest Challenge to Remote Work

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Summary

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

Mixing Full-time and Part-time Call Center Staff



Discover the Right Balance in Agent Scheduling for Your Healthcare Contact Center

Author Peter Lyle DeHaan

By Peter Lyle DeHaan, Ph.D.

Some healthcare call centers only employ full-time staff. Others do the opposite and only hire part-timers. The ideal solution might be to balance a combination of both full-time and part-time agents.

Full-Time Call Center Agents

A key benefit of staffing your call center with full-time employees is greater stability and predictability. A full-time employee with benefits, especially healthcare benefits, is more likely to be committed to their work and less likely to seek a new job.

This commitment results in having an accomplished workforce that possesses the knowledge accumulated only through longevity. The typical result is more accurate communication with callers and the potential for better outcomes. With these as the benefits of having a full-time staff, why wouldn’t every call center want to hire only full timers?

Call centers with only full-time staff face a couple limitations. The key one is that call traffic seldom fits the nice 9-to-5 work schedule of full-time employees. Instead, callers arrive in predictable surges throughout the day. When attempting to address these traffic peaks with full-time staff working eight-hour shifts, the result is they will need to work like crazy some of the time and still not be able to keep up. At other times they won’t have enough to do.

Another limitation is a lack of flexibility. If a full timer’s shift is over, having worked there eight hours, but you need them to stay late to take more calls, you’re looking at an overtime situation. On the other hand, if you have people sitting around twiddling their thumbs, you can’t send a full-time employee home early because they won’t get there forty hours of work that you promised them and that they expect.

Part-Time Call Center Agents

As a reaction of this, other call centers hire only part-time staff. This gives them maximum scheduling flexibility. They’re able to have employees work exactly when they need them, no more and no less. If things get especially busy and you need someone to stay later, many are happy to pick up extra hours. Conversely, if it is slower than expected and you want to send staff home, there is usually someone anxious to accommodate.

Yet this maximum flexibility comes at a price. Part-time staff are less committed to you, your call center, and your callers. They’re more likely to look for other jobs that pay more, have better benefits, or offer more appealing schedules. They may desire full-time work and only accepted your offer because the hours you offered them were better than no hours.

This means that a call center of part-time employees has higher turnover, along with all the problems that the constant churn of employees can present.

Hybrid Staffing

The solution is to strategically hire full-time and part-time employees. This provides the best solution to achieve both a degree of stability along with much-needed flexibility. Though the ideal ratio of full-time to part-time workers varies from one call center to the next, a general initial goal is 50-50. That is to have a foundation of full-time employees filling half of your typical schedule, using part-time staffers for the remaining half.

In your actual operation, however, you may find it works better to have fewer full-time agents or have more, but you won’t know what the ideal ratio is and will have to home in on it over time.

Call center staffing is part art and part science, balancing your organization’s fiscal responsibility with your caller’s healthcare needs. A hybrid staff comprised of both full-time and part-time agents may be the best way to get there.

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.

Be Sure to Thank Your Staff



Let Your Call Center Employees Know You Appreciate Their Work

By Peter Lyle DeHaan, Ph.D.

Author Peter Lyle DeHaan

We just celebrated Thanksgiving in the United States, which is a time where we typically reflect on what we’re thankful for—when we’re not scarfing down a holiday feast. 

Do you let your staff know you appreciate them? I’m sure you’ll say yes, but what will they say? I’m not being critical, but I am seeking to prompt some deep consideration into how you thank your staff. 

I suspect you’re already making a list:

  • You provide employment, a paycheck, and a decent compensation package
  • You send a Thanksgiving card, note, or even a small bonus
  • You give them a frozen turkey or gift card
  • You serve a Thanksgiving meal for those who work on Thanksgiving
  • You pay a bonus for those who work over the holiday weekend

These things are great, but your staff has grown to expect them. These efforts at indicating gratitude, while appreciated, don’t convey that you’re truly thankful for your staff and the work they do throughout the year. If they are to realize that you appreciate them, you need to find a better way to say thank you.

I once had a boss who personally gave me my paycheck every week. Though a man of few words, he would hand me my check, look me in the eye, and say “thank you.” He did this for all twenty to thirty people in his department, without fail, every pay period. 

That was thirty years ago, but I still remember it as if it just happened. Though he was a hard man to figure out and often frustrating to work for, I had no doubt that he appreciated my efforts. His periodic, heartfelt thank you kept me motivated, even though his management style sometimes grated on my soul.

If your efforts to thank your staff fail to communicate your appreciation, it’s time for a different approach. Why not try handing each employee their paycheck, looking them in the eye, and saying “thank you.” And if your operation is too big or your staff schedule is too varied for you to do this, do it for your direct reports and encourage them to do it for theirs.

Though thanking your staff on Thanksgiving is a great start, personally thanking them every pay period will make an impression that lasts.

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

The Call Center’s Role in Behavior Counseling


1Call, a division of Amtelco

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.

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.

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.   Read more of his articles at PeterDeHaanPublishing.com.

Healthcare Call Centers Help Bring Care to the Medically Underserved


1Call, a division of Amtelco

By Nicole Limpert

A person medically underserved is someone who does not have health insurance. Estimates from the Centers for Disease Control and the National Health Interview Survey cite that in 2017, 29.3 million, or 9.1 percent of the population were uninsured.

Vulnerable Populations: Multiple studies have found that vulnerable populations in the United States, including the elderly, low-income, ethnic minorities, migrants, and people who received limited education, are also medically underserved.

People with various life experiences may interpret symptoms differently, such as thinking a seizure is a spiritual issue rather than a medical complaint, or expressing concerns about depression as anger rather than sadness.

Poor Access to Healthcare: Living in a rural location and having inadequate transportation present challenges when trying to access healthcare. Rural areas are sparsely populated, resulting in a lack of available services. Rural communities comprise roughly 20 percent of the United States, yet less than 10 percent of doctors practice in these communities.

People in rural areas rely on their own transportation to and from health services. A report released in December 2018 from Pew Research Center, found the average travel time by car, to the nearest hospital for rural Americans, is about 17 minutes compared to 10 minutes in urban areas.

However, even people in urban areas have difficulty visiting their doctor’s office. Transportation can be a challenge for people with disabilities, those with chronic illnesses, the elderly, and people who are low-income. Approximately 3.6 million Americans, from both rural and urban areas, experience missed or delayed medical appointments due to transportation issues.

Support from Healthcare Call Centers

Technology enables medical call centers to effectively become an extension of a hospital or clinic’s operations. The communication software used by medical call centers can securely access a patient’s electronic medical record (EMR), update EMRs with notes, and record calls needed for insurance claims and workmen’s compensation. Because everything is documented, detailed reports can be generated for reporting purposes.

Medical call centers can provide or facilitate healthcare-related services 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. They play a critical role in helping to serve the medically underserved, by addressing two of the biggest barriers to healthcare: language and transportation.

Language: Healthcare staff work with an enormously diverse patient population. Understanding a person’s language leads to better healthcare. Multi-lingual call centers hire operators to assist non-English speaking patients or use confidential over-the-phone interpreting (OPI) services for access to hundreds of different languages.

Transportation: Patients with mobility challenges or who live in rural areas don’t have to leave home for some services. Operators can coordinate care, make follow-up calls, schedule visits, contact on-call medical staff, and manage referrals.

Some call centers staff nurses or multidisciplinary teams (such as a resident, pharmacist, and social worker) who are qualified to make health assessments, give medical advice, and escalate critical concerns. These call centers can offer nurse call helplines, emergency mental health counseling, and other critical support.

Helping Hospitals that Help the Underserved

Reduce Penalties: A recent study done by Harvard suggests that hospitals located in low-income areas are more likely to receive penalties due to Medicare and Medicaid’s survey-based reimbursement programs. Patients are asked to provide information about their healthcare experience via the Hospital Consumer Assessment of Healthcare Providers and Systems (HCAHPS) survey. Unacceptable survey outcomes can result in hospitals losing some reimbursements.

The American Medical Association Journal of Ethics reports that the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) can currently withhold one percent of Medicare payments—30 percent of which are tied to HCAHPS scores. When Medicare and Medicaid account for more than 60 percent of all care provided by hospitals, the possible amount of dollars lost due to poor patient experience is a significant number. In 2017 alone, approximately 1.7 billion dollars in reimbursements were withheld from hospitals.

Healthcare call centers play a critical role in patient satisfaction surveys, because they function as a virtual lobby for a hospital and are often the first point of contact with a patient. The patient’s experience with coordinating their care via call center agents can positively affect their feedback on the survey.

Reduce Readmissions: The CMS reports that nearly one in five Medicare patients are readmitted to a hospital within 30-days of discharge, yet a recent study from the University of California San Francisco (UCSF) and published in JAMA Internal Medicine found that twenty-seven percent of all 30-days hospital readmissions are preventable.

Medicare’s Hospital Readmissions Reduction Program (HRRP) lowers payments to Inpatient Prospective Payment System (IPPS) hospitals who report too many readmissions. According to the CMS, 2,573 hospitals received penalties in 2018 and had around 564 million dollars in payments withheld.

Studies indicate that a post-discharge call program can help hospitals reduce their readmission rate. IPC Healthcare (IPC) tested the effect of post-discharge calls on readmission rates from October 2010 through September 2011. The IPC call center contacted 350,000 discharged patients to check symptoms, review medications and treatment plans, and remind patients of follow-up appointments. Successful contacts occurred with thirty percent of patients, with an estimated 1,782 avoidable readmissions prevented over that year.

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.

Where Was the Call Center in Our Time of Need?


LVM Systems

By Mark Dwyer

This story hits close to home, because it involves my family members. I share it to illuminate where the call center is failing its customers. Today’s call center can offer supportive resources and referrals to patients and their caregivers and ensure that interventions are applied as needed. That is what coordinating care and managing transitions is all about. It is not necessarily about a specific disease, but it’s more about the patient’s and family’s needs.

If you ever had to move a loved one into a long-term care facility, you know how incredibly hard it can be. Especially when all your loved one really wants is to simply stay or go home. I’ve had to deal with this situation now three times in my life. First with my mom as she suffered with Lewy Body Disease, then dad with Alzheimer’s, and last week with my dear little brother as he is in the final stages of Early Onset, Frontal Lobe Dementia.

His is the cruelest of all. Not only was he afflicted with this terrible disease at such a young age, he’s now just fifty-eight years old, but it is a horrifying disease for all whose lives are touched by it. At this point, his disease causes him to rarely sit still. He paces the halls, head bent downward. His navigational skills are amazing. But what is he seeing, what is he processing? His vocalizations fluctuate between quiet utterances to loud vulgarities and heinous, hateful words spewed upon his loving wife. She does her very best to comfort him despite occasional punches, attempts to choke her, and comments more vile than one would say to their worst enemy.

What makes this even worse is that my brother was never an angry, nasty man. Quite the opposite. He was the life of the party, always the kidder, the storyteller, the embellisher. He never met someone he did not greet with a smile.

But that was then, and this is now. This past week, I saw everything from enormous amounts of love and compassion, to raw agony on the face of my sister-in-law. I saw complete confusion and despair on the face of my brother. If I had a mirror, I most certainly would have seen overwhelming sorrow on my own.

Where Was the Call Center?

I could not help but wonder as I was loading my brother into my sister-in-law’s SUV moving him from the psych ward to a supposedly “qualified” dementia nursing care facility 2.5 hours away, where was the call center?

Why had my sister-in-law never spoke with someone in the call center about how best to transfer him? How to get him into the car without a struggle or to distract him along the way? How to help him with the transition into new surroundings? Before we set off on our road trip, why hadn’t someone from the call center reached out to the new care facility and asked the hard questions to determine if they were qualified to accept and care for my brother? Why?

I have not spent over half my life in this industry to have it fail me now. Why had the hospital not taken the initiative to begin using the call center to support transitional care? Who better than skilled nurses trained to ask probative questions and educated to listen between the answers? Why hadn’t experienced call center staff been brought into the fold to offer this much needed service to the community? Surely, my sister-in-law or I would have paid for such a service. We cannot be the only ones who would.

Unfortunately, there was no call center support. My sister-in-law and I loaded my brother into the car and began our 2.5-hour transition to the dementia nursing care facility without educational or emotional support.

Fortunately, after years of caring for my brother, his wife smartly knew to bring a few items to distract him along the way. For the most part, he was content to play with a stuffed animal that reminded him of his cat. The trip progressed uneventfully.

When we arrived at the facility, there was no one to greet us. Instead, a kind young lady led us to an area where patients were eating lunch. Not the best way for my brother to start his new life. Too much confusion, too many people all looking at him. Too many strangers.

Eventually, they showed us his room. My sister-in-law had brought many of his toys, pictures, wall hangings, blankets, etc. As she made up his room, I joined my brother in his thousand-step trek around the facility. Not only does he like to walk, he likes to walk fast, a challenge for an older brother with a bad hip. We walked, and we walked, and we walked, occasionally setting off door alarms if I failed to redirect him in time. Meanwhile, my sister-in-law completed all the needed paperwork. Again, why didn’t the call center complete this prior to our arrival?

After an inordinate amount of walking, all the paperwork was completed (again paperwork that should have been coordinated and completed in advance of our arrival) and we were able to get my brother to settle down in his room.

Or so we thought.

We had been with him for most of the day, so we decided to head home before dark set in. We made one last stop at the nurses’ station to confirm they felt comfortable caring for my brother. That they felt they had adequate staff and resources to provide him with the care we expected.

Leaving Too Soon

With their assurances, we headed home. As we began our 2.5-hour return trip, my sister-in-law and I discussed how we felt my brother would do. As we began to convince ourselves that he’d be fine, the phone rang. It was the dementia care facility. We had travelled for less than thirty minutes and already the nurse was calling us to come back and get my brother. He was scared and agitated in his new surroundings, and when they tried to calm him, he swung at one of the staff. That’s all it took.

We turned around, reloaded his things, and headed back to the psych ward from whence he had come, feeling totally defeated. There had clearly been inadequate transitional care support. Not enough questions had been asked. My brother’s specific needs and issues were either not communicated or were not fully understood by the care facility agreeing to take him.

To add to our frustration, when we arrived back at the hospital, the less than friendly security guard informed us that the hospital could not, and would not, admit my brother unless he was willing to choose to admit himself. Mind you, we are talking about a man who has only fleeting moments of cognitive lucidity, and this guard wanted him to state he desired to be checked back in. Again, a perfect place for someone in the call center to have assisted in his transition back to the psych ward.

My sister-in-law lost it. She returned to the car, violently sobbing, determined to simply take her husband home and care for him herself. As she pulled away from the hospital, I reasoned with her explaining that there was no way we could take care of my brother at home by ourselves, and that with me leaving town the next day, there certainly was no way she could do it herself.

When it finally dawned on her that she had no medicines for my brother, she realized we had to return to the hospital. Fortunately, at her request, this time nurses from the psych department came down to the ED bay and facilitated getting him checked in and back to the same room he had left merely ten hours earlier.

Ten hours I will never forget.

LVM Systems logo

Mark Dwyer is a thirty-three-year veteran of the healthcare call center industry. He currently serves as COO of LVM Systems.

“Transitional care is defined as a set of actions designed to ensure the coordination and continuity of health care as patients transfer between different locations or different levels of care within the same location. Representative locations include (but are not limited to) hospitals, sub-acute and post-acute nursing facilities, the patient’s home, primary and specialty care offices, and long-term care facilities” (Coleman & Boult, 2003, p. 556).

a.   Transitional care is based on a comprehensive plan of care and the availability of health care practitioners who are well-trained in chronic care and have current information about the individual’s goals, preferences, and clinical status.

b.   It includes logistical arrangements, education of the individual and family, and coordination among the health professionals involved in the transition.

c.   Transitional care, which encompasses both the sending and the receiving aspects of the transfer, is essential for persons with complex care needs (Coleman & Boult, 2003).

Provide Meaningful Agent Benefits to Improve Agent Retention



Spend More on Retaining Staff and Less on Hiring and Training Their Replacements

By Peter Lyle DeHaan, Ph.D.

Author Peter Lyle DeHaan

We’ve looked at five tips to better retain call center staff. Agent compensation is first on most people’s list. However, it might not be the most important item, merely the one most cited. Pay rate alone isn’t enough to keep most call center agents happy and employed. Other items factor into this equation. A related issue is benefits. Today’s workers expect more than decent pay. They expect benefits too. This includes part-timers. Yes, your part-timers deserve benefits. If you want to keep them, you better provide what they want.

Paid Vacation

Your agents work hard for you and your callers. They deserve a vacation. This gives them a break from the routine of work, provides something for them to look forward to, and helps them recharge. A paid vacation is the top benefit employees seek. Be sure to provide it to them, both full and part-timers.

(As with all benefits for part-time agents, make it proportional to the average amount of time they work. For example, if they work twenty-hours a week, their vacation pay should be based on a twenty-hour workweek.)

Paid Time Off

Next up is paid time off. This includes sick days and personal days. Ideally, we want healthy employees who don’t get sick and who schedule their appointments on their days off. But this isn’t always feasible. Failing to provide paid time off could result in an agent coming into work sick or not attending to some important personal issue, which could have negative consequences later.

Retirement

Though not every employee thinks about retirement, some do. And for those who do, it’s of critical importance. They want to take control of what their retirement looks like, and that means planning for it now, regardless of how far away it is. Be sure to offer them the option to set money aside now for their retirement.

Continuing Education

Next up is the ability to pursue ongoing education. As with retirement, this isn’t a benefit that most people seek or will use, but for those who want it, it could make the difference between them quitting or staying. Tailor your program so that it provides value to participants and to your organization too. Also include a reasonable precaution to avoid abuse, but be fair. An employee with the opportunity to learn more, will provide more value to your organization and be more loyal.

Healthcare Coverage

The last significant benefit is healthcare coverage. Healthcare coverage is a growing concern for people in the United States. The cost rises and the coverage shrinks. Yet being in the healthcare industry, we’re in the unique position to help our agents with decent healthcare coverage, or at least we should be.

Conclusion

When it comes to retaining call center staff, don’t skimp on benefits. Offer them paid vacation and time off, retirement and continuing education options, and healthcare coverage. This will increase their loyalty to your organization and decrease the likelihood of them leaving your call center for another company that does provide these benefits. Just as with compensation, the cost of providing benefits concerns most managers. The key is to offer what you can without jeopardizing your organization. But if you think you can’t afford to offer benefits, the reality is that you can’t afford not to.

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

How Call Centers Can Add Value to Wellness Programs



By Janet Livingston

Wellness programs allow an employer or healthcare plan to provide participation incentives to members. These incentives may include cash awards, gym memberships, and premium discounts. Some popular options provided by wellness programs include smoking cessation, stress management, weight loss, and diabetes management.

Wellness programs have the direct goal of helping participants move into a healthier lifestyle, with reduced healthcare concerns. The indirect goal is lower healthcare costs. These benefit everyone: the employee, the company, and the healthcare provider.

Wellness programs can tap call center services to better achieve these two goals and add value to their program. Here are some things that a call center can provide to enhance a wellness program.

Telephone Enrollment

Though most signups for wellness programs happen online, this isn’t a solution for everyone. Some people feel more comfortable talking with a real person over the phone and others have questions. And what happens to those people who can’t access the web form or encounter problems once they get there? Provide a ready solution for these people by offering the option to enroll over the phone.

Class and Event Registration

Most wellness programs offer various classes and events to their participants. These might include stress reduction classes or a 5k race. Just as with enrollment, signing up for classes and events mostly happens online. But this solution won’t work for everyone. That’s why providing alternative phone backup is the way to go to help maximize participation.

Web Chat

Another service call centers can provide to wellness programs is offering web chat capabilities. When a website visitor doesn’t see the option they want or can’t find the answer to their question, help is a click away with web chat. From a technical standpoint, adding a web chat option to a website is easy. Staffing it around-the-clock is hard. That’s where a call center comes in. They’re available 24/7 to help participants anytime of the day or night.

Class and Appointment Reminders

Just because someone signed up for a class or made an appointment doesn’t mean they’ll show up. No-shows result in inefficiency and cause a financial loss for the provider, as well as accomplishing nothing for the participant. Making strategic reminders to participants by phone, email, or text will help increase their commitment and ensure their participation. It’s an easy solution for your call center to provide and pays off huge.

24/7 Availability

People increasingly expect 24/7 customer service and support. This is challenging for any organization to offer and cost prohibitive to provide in house. Yet a call center already has staff in place, so extending around-the-clock availability to program participants is a cost-effective solution.

Multi-Channel Access

We’ve talked about self-service over the internet and personal service over the phone. Yet there are other communication channels available for people to use. Why not let them use their channel of choice? This might include email, text messaging, or social media. A full-service call center is already set up to use these communication channels, so why not extend these options to your program participants?

Conclusion

Wellness programs empower employees to improve their health and help companies hold down healthcare costs. To maximize the utility and results of a wellness program, tap a full-service call center to add value. A call center can handle telephone enrollment, offer class and event registration, and provide web chat. They can also remind participants of classes and appointments. In addition, they offer 24/7 availability and multi-channel access, which will delight participants and increase their involvement. This improves health outcomes and saves money.

Janet Livingston is the CEO of Call Center Sales Pro, which provides medical answering service and healthcare call center services. Contact Janet at contactus@ccsp.us or call 800-901-7706.