Today’s entry-level workforce values jobs that allow them to grow mentally. Educational opportunities provided at work, or through work, help to better connect employees with the job they do, increase their job satisfaction, and lengthen their tenure.
Not only are learning opportunities a wise retention tactic, it’s also a smart recruitment tool. Many workers so value learning opportunities that they’ll take a lesser-paying job if it provides the chance to grow, versus a higher paying position that doesn’t.
Here are some learning opportunities that you can offer to your staff.
Delivering internally produced training to your staff is a cost-effective way to provide the learning opportunities they crave. This can be unstructured teaching offered as needed or more organized educational offerings. The best thing about developing in-house instruction is that you can tailor it to the specific needs of your call center.
Possibilities include one-on-one training, classroom scenarios, and management coaching. You don’t need to provide all these options or offer them to all employees, but the smart move is to offer some in-house training to those employees you want to keep or groom for promotion.
More general business training is available in the form of local seminars. These are usually half-day or full-day events. And since they’re local, there’s little expense beyond the registration cost. Not only do these provide important skills your staff can apply to their work, it’s also a way to increase their job satisfaction and enhance their self-esteem.
Don’t forget industry conferences and conventions. These include both those that are healthcare related and those that are call center related. If they cover both, that’s a bonus. These opportunities, of course, are more expensive. Registration for conferences and conventions carry a higher fee then local seminars, plus there’s also travel costs involved, which can add up. Therefore, reserve attendance at industry events for employees in management or on a management track.
Next on our list is post-highschool education, usually through college courses. Though this can be towards degree fulfillment, a better solution is to pick specific classes that will directly benefit your call center. Be sure to look for opportunities to audit the class. Although this won’t result in any credentials for employees, it could reduce or eliminate the cost for the class.
For these last three options, formal seminars, industry events, and formal education, you may want to ask participants to report what they learned to their colleagues. This has three benefits. One is that it reinforces what they learned. The second is that it allows others in your organization to also benefit from it. Third it enhances the employees’ self-esteem.
Develop a Career Path
To further enhance the value of these learning opportunities, integrate them with a career path for employees who you feel have the potential to advance in the organization. This includes both those who you see in various future supervisory roles, as well as managerial positions and support staff functions. When employees see the potential that awaits them from these learning opportunities, they will stay with your organization longer and provide increased value while they’re there.
The Benefits of Providing Learning Opportunities for your Staff
Not only will these learning opportunities extend staff retention, they’ll also increase job satisfaction and improve performance. However, most importantly, as you train employees to do more, they become a more valued resource for your healthcare call center.
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.
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.
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.
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
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
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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
Helping Hospitals that Help the
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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?
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?
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.
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.
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
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.
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
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.
so we thought.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
hours I will never forget.
Mark Dwyer is a thirty-three-year veteran of the healthcare call center industry. He currently serves as COO of LVM Systems.
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.
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,
Spend More on Retaining Staff and Less on
Hiring and Training Their Replacements
By Peter Lyle DeHaan, Ph.D.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
A call center is a team of frontline staff who answer phone calls and gather data. It’s a centralized department that handles a large volume of telephone calls, especially for screening new patients and providing customer service.
In Veterans Affairs (VA) Healthcare, connecting effectively with service providers through multiple channels of communication is the key toward implementing better patient experiences and minimizing costs. Optimized call center operations can play a crucial role in achieving these goals.
These days, VA Healthcare providers are becoming more patient-centric, raising the demand for call centers. With an increase in expectation to patient retention initiatives, appointment scheduling, and communications with referring medical professionals, health centers must keep pace with new communications technologies. VA Healthcare providers can extend their support to the patients by using call center services. This reduces call volume and results in more effective patient care by staff.
The level of convenience and the service offered to patients is different when VA healthcare providers use call center technology as a part of their practice. Most importantly, patients will always have continuous access.
Hospital management is an important responsibility. Therefore, it’s necessary to ensure the smooth functioning of the complete process. Hospitals need to take care of everything from equipment management to the maintenance of records for the minutest details. In this condition, a medical call center can help a hospital by handling activities such as record maintenance, appointment setting, patient follow-up calls, and appointment reminders. In addition, they can also use email to check with the patients on a regular basis.
Customers satisfaction has always been critical for businesses. This is applicable for VA healthcare providers as well. Providing accurate information to a patient is important since the well-being of the patient depends upon the services they’re receiving. Therefore, automating the complete process can be one of the major requirements hospitals should address. On the other hand, hospitals should also ensure that the personnel employed by a customer service center are familiar with patients’ needs and have the skills and expertise to address different situations.
The call center also brings improved customer satisfaction to employees because they’re able to complete tasks and still provide customer service to Veterans, which is an important goal of employees. They help check Veterans into their appointments, assist them with the self-service kiosk, and make calls to Veterans to remind them of their appointments.
A Focus on Customer Satisfaction
Call centers have improved customer satisfaction with VA Healthcare, where they answer the calls from patients to VA Healthcare professionals and then direct them to whoever needs to call them back. If Veterans are sick and need immediate medical attention, call center staff can help. With the call center answering all incoming calls, VA Healthcare can provide better customer service to Veterans who drop by their primary care teams.
When patients call their doctor’s office, the last thing they want to deal with is a cranky receptionist. Or, just as bad, be stuck on hold. Healthcare call centers can respond quickly to patients, reduce the burden on administrative staff, and help improve the patient experience.
Without constant interruption of phone calls, VA healthcare physicians can focus on the tasks at hand. This means that proper billing coding, prescription refills, diagnostic authorizations, and chart preparation all receive more focus.
Scheduling efficiency also improves. When you have a dedicated call center staff, fewer scheduling mistakes will occur, resulting in less rescheduled or missed appointments. Centralized call center staff also know which doctors are at what locations on any given day. This means that they eliminate the possibility of a patient calling the Middletown office looking for “Dr. Smith” (who only works in Somerset) and hearing the words, “We don’t have a Dr. Smith.”
Call Center Capabilities
Call centers bridge the gap between front and back office by maintaining administrative activity records of patients and prescriptions, which are often inefficient and difficult to manage. Call center services can prioritize and proactively distribute this work anywhere in the organization. It also provides business intelligence so you can improve operational efficiency, meet SLAs, and measure regulatory compliance.
Currently, many medical staff are doing multiple jobs, including answering a variety of patient calls: general questions, upcoming appointments, and benefit coverage. A VA Healthcare call center opens communication within departments by outlining what needs to be collected, establishing a hand-off process, and ensuring accountability.
A healthcare call center helps ensure every patient is set on a positive path. Patients today have options. They can always find another provider. That’s why every phone interaction must be perfect. If patients have an urgent need, they should get an appointment the same day. A quality call center will work with patients to make sure their experiences are positive. Every phone call is important. Companies who fail to train well could deliver bad service, where an agent is rude or lacks the level of sympathy, empathy, or professionalism that patients expect.
For many physicians, the biggest pain point is their daily practice management issues and challenges, such as a lack of staff. They simply don’t have the number of administrative staff to efficiently operate. And on the clinical side, it’s the same. They’re strapped. Healthcare call center support can take a burden off both sides. It is an ideal situation for physicians and their entire practice.
A Focus on Quality
A quality call center helps retain patients. When patients are helped in their time of need, they return. That’s the biggest ROI for any physician or practice.
But again, there’s also help for the administrative and clinical staff. A call center can work with them to ensure that they get the right appointment for each patient. An experienced agent can handle the entire transaction and allow the clinical team more time with their patients. This helps every patient get into the office and lets practitioners engage with patients who will return for care.
Call centers provide proactive engagement and notifications. Proactive customer service in VA Healthcare is a challenging objective for providers and physicians. Despite their personal commitment and the available technology, there are obstacles when trying to move to a proactive health model. Offering customer assistance through multichannel transactions can prevent customers switching to other options. Besides, keeping members informed of the progress so they don’t have to call, improves loyalty and ultimately the bottom-line.
One of the things we do know about healthcare professionals is that they have a difficult time getting through on the phone, which does not facilitate the progress of VA Healthcare.
The focus of roles within your healthcare organization staff is to collect the necessary information and improve patient satisfaction. A call center is an excellent way to handle this.
Call centers must deal with the continuing challenge of recruiting and training excellent personnel and attempting to increase retention rates. To improve service, management must constantly communicate with both employees and customers in an interactive, multidimensional process. In the global marketplace, improvement of service is not an option—it’s a matter of survival.
Bronson Tang is the marketing manager at Pulsar360, Inc. He has ten years of experience in digital marketing and has worked in the telecommunications sector for four. He is the author of the book, The Tao of Business. Pulsar360, Inc. with origins dating back to 2001, is an established Unified-Communication-as-a-Service (UCaaS) provider with a comprehensive set of offerings it has provided to over 160 medical centric call centers including: cloud based enterprise class call center IP PBX; premise-based IP PBX, Session Initiation Protocol (SIP) trunking, business continuity disaster recovery solutions, T38 Faxing that meets HIPAA, GLBA and other industry compliance regulations and carrier services.
From clinical process enhancements to facility improvements, there are many ways to drive better healthcare experiences for patients. One key area is call center optimization. More than one in three healthcare providers say their organization is updating their contact center or has plans to do so in the near future. Making call center upgrades doesn’t have to be difficult to have an impact. Healthcare teams just need to know what patients want and expect when they call.
Are patients frustrated by having to wait on hold? Are they satisfied with the interactions they have with call center agents? West surveyed 1,036 adults and healthcare providers in the United States to find out and identify ways healthcare organizations can provide better experiences for patients calling contact centers.
The following recommendations—which are driven by this survey data—show five call center improvements patients want healthcare organizations to prioritize.
1. Eliminate Extra Steps During Calls
Patients are frustrated by how often their calls are redirected. Callers want to reach a resolution in the fewest possible steps, but they’re often transferred multiple times and asked to restate information to several people during a single call. According to providers, more than one-third (35 percent) of patient calls are redirected at least once.
To create a better experience for callers, healthcare teams can make call center improvements that enable them to route calls to the correct place on the first try. For example, hospitals and health systems can adopt intelligent call routing software with speech recognition features so callers can specify what they need and who they want to speak with. Healthcare organizations can also interconnect their phone systems so calls can be transferred anywhere within their organization. This saves staff from having to ask patients to hang up and dial a different number to reach a different department.
2. Create a Single Point of Contact
Some patients struggle even before they pick up the phone because they don’t know which number to call or who they need to speak with. Dialing the wrong number can lead to confusion and frustration for both patients and staff, as well as making calls last longer than necessary. Nearly three in five of those surveyed (59 percent) say they have trouble understanding which phone number to use to contact their healthcare provider. More troubling is the fact that 28 percent of patients have called their healthcare team and been unable to reach the correct person or department.
Eight in ten Americans (80 percent) want a single person dedicated to their health whom they can call. Hospitals and health systems can give callers a better experience by upgrading to a centralized phone system and routing all calls through one main line. Doing this relieves patients from navigating complex call structures. It gives them one clear point of entry with one phone number they can call to reach anyone within an organization—whether they know who they are looking for or not.
3. Minimize On-Hold Time
Americans don’t like waiting on hold, and many patients feel they do too much of it when they call healthcare organizations. Fifty-three percent of patients report having been put on hold for a long period of time or without a callback option. Providers may be underestimating how much patients are bothered by having to wait and how much time patients spend on hold. Only 29 percent of healthcare providers think patients who call their office are put on hold for an excessive amount of time, confirming a disconnect between what patients and providers deem as an acceptable wait time.
To ensure patients feel their time is valued, healthcare organizations can take steps to reduce the amount of time patients spend on hold. For example, hospitals and health systems can give patients the option of receiving a call back so they spend less time waiting on the phone. This shows providers respect patients’ time, and it lets patients choose whether they want to wait to speak with a healthcare professional.
4. Equip Staff with Patient Medical Information
Patients want to feel known by their healthcare team. They want staff members to have knowledge of their health history and be able to answer questions and make recommendations. Unfortunately, 63 percent of patients say the person they reach when they call their provider doesn’t have access to their medical information and, therefore, can’t provide personalized recommendations. In addition, nearly one-quarter (24 percent) of callers say they haven’t been able to get their questions answered during calls.
To ensure patients get the help they need, healthcare organizations can make sure technology gives staff quick access to patient data. This will help them better support callers with tailored information. And, it will reassure patients that their medical team understands them on an individual basis. Ideally, organizations will have their contact center technology connected to electronic health records, their patient web portal, and other systems that house patient information.
5. Offer Smart Self-Service Opportunities
Patients recognize that sometimes the simplest route to a resolution is through self-service. So, it’s not surprising that nearly six in ten patients (58 percent) say they want healthcare providers to offer self-serve options to complete actions such as paying bills and scheduling appointments. To get the most out of self-service technology, healthcare teams should make sure their system is configured to recognize when inbound calls are coming from phone numbers that have recently been sent automated outreach messages.
For example, if a patient receives an automated message from a provider inviting him to schedule a preventive service or screening and the patient calls into the organization, the system should recognize the number and predict the caller’s intention. In this case, the system would ask the patient if he is calling to schedule an appointment and then walk him through the self-service scheduling process. By utilizing smart technology and giving patients opportunities to resolve calls on their own, organizations can give callers better experiences.
Healthcare organizations put a lot of time and resources into designing top-notch patient experiences. It makes sense to have call center optimization be part of those efforts. By following these suggestions, healthcare teams can deliver on expectations and create better experiences for callers.
Allison Hart is an advocate for utilizing technology-enabled communications to engage and activate patients beyond the clinical setting. She leads thought leadership efforts for West’s TeleVox Solutions, promoting the idea that engaging with patients between healthcare appointments in meaningful ways will encourage and inspire them to follow and embrace treatment plans, and that activating these positive behaviors ultimately leads to better outcomes for both healthcare organizations and patients. Hart currently serves as vice president of marketing at West, where the healthcare mission is to help organizations harness communications to expand the boundaries of where, when, and how healthcare is delivered.
For Optimum Results Schedule Agents to Meet Projected Call Traffic
By Peter Lyle DeHaan, PhD
Call centers rely on people—that is, agents—to meet the needs of callers. This requires developing an ideal agent schedule.
Having too many agents results in idle time, with staff on the clock but without enough work to do. This bloats operational costs. From a theoretical standpoint, an overstaffed call center should provide a high level of service, but this doesn’t always happen. Sometimes an overstaffed call center grows lackadaisical and provides poor service.
The opposite of overstaffing is not having enough agents. Not only does this cause agent burnout, but it also lengthens hold times and lowers service levels.
The key is to schedule the appropriate number of agents throughout the day to provide a suitable level of service at an acceptable cost. This minimizes complaints from both callers and agents.
If your call center agents work eight-hour shifts, I guarantee your schedule needs work. Though their average workload and service level may be acceptable, most of the day they will swing from either working too hard to not having enough to do.
This means moving away from eight-hour shifts and scheduling staff to work when you need them. This may result in shorter shifts or longer shifts. To accomplish this, you’ll need a mixture of full-time and part-time employees, with part timers usually being predominant. This could be a huge culture shift.
Analyze Small Time Increments
If you track call traffic by the day, your scope is too large. One hour is the longest increment you should consider, but quarter hour segments are better, and some call centers look at six-minute increments (a tenth of an hour), or even less. When you analyze traffic in this granular fashion, you’ll see predictable rises and dips throughout the day. Overlay your shifts to cover these peaks and miss the valleys.
Consider Historical Data
In most cases the call traffic from one week will approximate the traffic for the following week. Averaging several consecutive weeks produces a more accurate projection. You can also look at traffic from one year ago if you have seasonal fluctuations. Last, to staff for a holiday, consider the historical traffic from that holiday last year or other comparable days. This lets you project traffic demands and develop an accurate agent schedule.
Pursue Incremental Improvement
Hoping to develop one agent schedule that you can copy each week isn’t realistic. Even if traffic doesn’t change much, you’ll still need to fine-tune it to best align your agents’ availability with your patients’ calling patterns. Also, most call center traffic trends up or down from one season to the next. Be sure to adjust for that.
Finding your ideal agent schedule is part art and part science. It’s a time-consuming task, but the results of having an ideally staffed call center are worth the effort.
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.
As a practice manager or doctor, managing patient calls effectively is critical in ensuring high-quality, well-coordinated care for every patient. The first step is to make sure the people answering your phones triage patients efficiently and effectively. Establishing a consistent nurse triage system will improve the way you manage patient calls, improve patient satisfaction, and decrease unnecessary medical expenses. Triage nurses can direct patients to the appropriate care for their symptoms and give patients the peace of mind that their questions and concerns are being answered.
The benefits of nurse triage include better patient access, coordinated care, and cost savings. In addition, it gives patients better access to providers even if they are not seeking emergency care. This can improve patient satisfaction, prevent future complications, and allow providers to educate patients.
1. Do it Yourself In-house: Start Your Own Call Center: Starting your own call center involves setting up the call center infrastructure. The requirements depend on the scale and number of calls received. For daytime calls, many practices choose to have their own staff nurses take calls using daytime triage protocols.
These protocols are available in book form or in electronic format. For night calls, the requirements include hiring an experienced call center manager, purchasing triage software for night-time protocols, and hiring clinical and non-clinical staff to answer the phones and handle patient calls.
Pro: Having your own system gives your staff the flexibility to perform multiple tasks in addition to triage, such as physician referrals, scheduling, disease management, class registration, and surveys.
Con: Setting up a call center requires a high initial investment. It is labor intensive for the nursing department, and it requires human resources and IT involvement. Moreover, there are significant differences in terms of hardware requirements and capabilities with various software programs, so it is important to do your research and speak with a variety of vendors. This is a long-term project with a slow return on investment.
The organizations most likely to succeed with this approach are larger organizations with high call volumes, who expect to handle over 50,000 triage calls a year. These companies are the right fit because they already have some call center infrastructure and they just need to add to it. The high call volume also allows the center to use nurses’ time efficiently.
2. Outsource to a Nurse Triage Center: If the thought of setting up your own call center seems too daunting, you could use an outside vendor for your patient calls. The vendor provides access to a call center infrastructure that patients can call to access a nurse when they have clinical questions or concerns.
Pro: This option has a relatively low start-up cost. Your practice would not need to train nursing staff, and there is no need for human resources and IT staff. Since the outside vendor is already taking calls, startup is quick, and there is an immediate return on investment (ROI). In addition, vendors may have more experience and expertise in the niche area of triage, resulting in better care for your patients.
Con: When outsourcing your patient calls, you will have less direct control over the nurses and some nurse triage vendors cannot integrate with electronic medical records (EMR).
For the best outcome, be careful about interviewing vendors and make sure you are comfortable with them. In addition, costs may vary significantly depending on the vendor and while you “get what you pay for” you get less from some than others. Still, assuming you have done your homework in interviewing and discussing costs, outsourcing can be a good option for small to medium size practices.
3. Use a Combination of In-house and Outsourced Services: In this model an organization uses its own nurse triage software and nurses during high call volumes and outsources the triage to a service during low call volumes. This combination can be accomplished seamlessly with the call center technology, integration engines, and communication platforms available today.
Pro:A combined model can prove to be a way to improve services and decrease costs. Most triage centers lose money when the call volume is low because nurses are sitting idle waiting for phone calls. By outsourcing during those low volume times, the call center can continue to provide service at a reduced cost.
Your organization can continue to provide the same level or increased levels of service and at the same time decrease your operating costs to work within a given budget. It also allows organizations to keep their current infrastructure and resources. Under this option, your practice may also be able to expand into other areas of call center work to increase revenues.
Con: Just as in the previous option, it is important to take time to find the right partner with the technology and service-level knowledge to implement a combined model. There can be an interruption in patient care if their system does not align with yours.
This model is best for organizations that have some existing nurse triage infrastructure and face budget cuts. Physicians also have their own practice-specific needs, and those requests must be followed by both parties consistently. Therefore, it is crucial to select your partner carefully. Make sure you interview and discuss your software and services with your partner before making a commitment.
Each patient encounter starts with a phone call. Make sure your nurse triage service, whether in-house, outsourced, or a combination, is a seamless experience for your patient.
It is important to examine options for managing patient calls and find the solution and product that aligns with your needs.
Charu Raheja, Ph.D., is the CEO of TriageLogic a leading provider of quality, affordable triage solutions, including comprehensive after-hours medical call center software, day time triage protocol software, and nurse triage on call. Customers include both institutional and private practices. If your hospital or practice is looking for information on setting up a nurse triage service, contact TriageLogic to get a quote or set up a demo. If your organization is also looking for a tool to decrease employee absenteeism and save on staff healthcare expenses, contact us to find out more about TriageLogic’s latest product Continuwell.
Mary loved her job as a recreational therapist in a skilled nursing facility. Her co-workers marveled at her ability to assess the needs of residents and propose exactly the right activity for a patient recovering from a brain injury, stroke, or other trauma. Her thirty years of experience in all manner of expressive arts therapies helped her serve her patients well. She worked efficiently and effectively with quiet compassion.
And then came the inevitable hours of paperwork. For Mary, writing long detailed notes on medical charts was a normal part of her day. But she wasn’t as speedy as she once was, and documentation requirements were increasing. While physicians’ notes are usually transcribed from a dictated recording, medical support staff still struggle through pages of writing by hand in many facilities.
Her immediate supervisor, fifteen years her junior, pushed her to speed up. Mary felt stressed and unable to cope with the continuing pressure. After starting to dread her job and feeling like she was getting worse instead of better, she applied for and received a medical leave of absence. Was this the best solution for Mary and her employer? Probably not.
Mary is one of many valuable older workers who could have stayed productive on the job with some modifications in her work environment. Employers today are facing the fact that we need to keep our older workforce in place longer, and we need to help them stay healthy. Baby boomers make up about one-third of the U.S. workforce, and for the first time in several generations, there are not enough younger workers to replace them. Key industries, especially those that rely on workers with proven performance, knowledge, skills, and self-confidence, will be forced by labor shortages to rethink employee retention and how best to ensure health and safety by adjusting equipment and the work environment.
There are many fears and myths about getting old in our culture, but the reality is that people are living longer and healthier and can remain robust contributors to the workforce much longer than any previous generation. While age does not determine fitness, there are predictable changes that occur with age and can be accommodated.
The following are guidelines for employers who want to maximize the working environment for their most valuable asset: the reliable, responsible, loyal, conscientious, co-operative, collaborative, and wise older worker.
Move Around: Maintaining a stationary position for a long time is tiring – especially standing, which puts pressure on blood vessels. Repeated and prolonged static work can be harder on the body than dynamic work. Provide opportunities to change posture or position during the workday. Adjust work surfaces to encourage position changes.
Sit Smart: Sitting is generally good if chairs are well designed and adjustable. To avoid the dangers of prolonged sitting (weakened abdominal muscles, digestion and breathing problems, and damage to spinal discs), provide training on sitting properly and permit opportunities to walk about and stretch.
Lift Properly: Provide appropriate equipment for assisting in any type of lifting. Workers of all ages are vulnerable to injury by improper lifting techniques and lifting objects that are too heavy. Teach them to decrease the need to twist the trunk of the body during lifting, using leg strength rather than leaning over and placing the load as close to the body as possible.
Provide Right-Sized Tools: Because handgrip strength gradually decreases as we get older, the right grip or handle becomes important. Smaller handles become more difficult to use. Provide tools and controls with user-friendly handles.
Add Light: Light reaching the retina of the eye declines by as much as 75 percent from age twenty to fifty. Improved lighting helps all workers. Problems with adjusting to lighting contrasts can be improved by ensuring that the level of lighting in the room is similar to the light level on computer screens in the environment. Reduce glare by using low or non-glare computer screens.
Reduce Noise: Gradual, age-related hearing loss and decreased ability to hear high-pitched sounds can be addressed by installing sound-absorbing material to neutralize sound and minimizing air-conditioning noise.
Encourage Fitness: Offer incentives to encourage people to take part in fitness classes and quit-smoking campaigns. Older workers are more vulnerable to the possibility of sudden-onset and lasting health problems, especially if they are unfit and overweight.
Conclusion: The previous tradition of older supervisors and younger workers has changed, especially where workers are opting to stay on the job longer. It is important that younger supervisors be aware of different generational values and attitudes; they must avoid adopting a “child-to-parent” attitude toward an older worker. At the same time, treat older workers with the same requirements for performance and safety issues.
Whether older or younger, each individual is different. In Mary’s case, her facility eventually adopted a voice-activated recording system, which helped staff at all levels of the organization to get their notes written in a timely manner.
Businesses can improve their employee practices by having supervisors attend workshops on aging and the workforce. Talk to other employers who have successful experiences with hiring older employees and encourage employee feedback on aging issues by surveying your employees and listening to their concerns and suggestions. Hiring and retaining older workers can help your organization thrive.
Ruth W. Crocker, PhD, is an author, writing consultant, and expert on recovery from trauma and personal tragedy. Her book, Those Who Remain: Remembrance and Reunion After War, describes her experience following her husband’s death in Vietnam and how she found resources for healing. She is writer-in-residence at Riverlight Wellness Center in Stonington, Connecticut, where she teaches the art of writing memoir and personal stories.