Tag Archives: agent management articles

Healthcare Call Centers Help Bring Care to the Medically Underserved



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.

Medical call centers play a critical role in helping to serve the medically underserved. Click To Tweet

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

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.

An employee with the opportunity to learn more, will provide more value to your organization and be more loyal. Click To Tweet

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.

How Call Centers Can Add Value to Wellness Programs


Call Center Sales Pro, providing proven healthcare call center solutions

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.

Wellness programs empower employees to improve their health and help companies hold down healthcare costs. Click To Tweet

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.

Call Center Sales Pro, a full-service healthcare call center consultancy

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.

How Call Centers Can Support VA Healthcare


Pulsar360: strategic partners with the TAS industry


By Bronson Tang

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 well-being of the patient depends upon the services they’re receiving. Click To Tweet

Healthcare and the VA

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.

Summary

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.

Pulsar360: strategic partners with the TAS industryBronson 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.

5 Call Center Improvements Patients Say Would Improve Healthcare Experiences



By Allison Hart

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.

Survey responses confirmed that patients want calls resolved quickly and easily with minimal transfers and holds. Many will use self-service features, but they expect live agent availability to answer questions and make recommendations based on their individual medical data and needs.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. Click To Tweet

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.

Conclusion

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.

Develop an Ideal Agent Schedule to Maximize Call Center Efficiency and Effectiveness



For Optimum Results Schedule Agents to Meet Projected Call Traffic

 By Peter Lyle DeHaan, PhD

Author Peter Lyle DeHaan

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.

Consider these key points when developing an optimum agent schedule.Schedule the appropriate number of agents throughout the day to provide a suitable level of service at an acceptable cost. Click To Tweet

Balance Staff Needs with Patient Needs

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.

Conclusion

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.

Improve the Way You Manage Patient Calls


TriageLogic


By Charu Raheja, Ph.D.

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.

With the evolution of new technology there are several cost-effective options available for nurse triage services. We will detail three options available for setting up a nurse advice line:Hospital call centers play a significant role in any hospital’s clinical communications. Click To Tweet

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.

TriageLogicCharu 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.

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Seven Guidelines for Engaging and Accommodating Older Staff

By Ruth W. Crocker

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.

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. 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.
  7. 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 CrockerRuth 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.

[From the Dec 2014/Jan 2015 issue of AnswerStat magazine]

Ten Traits Employees Want in Their Bosses

By DeEtta Jones

Do you ever feel overwhelmed as a manager? Being overburdened by the responsibility of having to figure out what others want and need of you is a feeling shared among leaders. Fortunately, there is a best practice for obtaining just the kind of information needed to increase your leadership effectiveness – ask those who report to you what they want.

The following ten traits have emerged when frontline staff, supervisors, and middle managers have been asked to describe the traits they look for in a boss. As you read through this wish list, think about the kind of boss you are, the kind of boss you want to be, and what you look for in a good boss.

Employees want bosses who are:

  1. Innovative: Good bosses have good ideas, but their role in innovation is more as a facilitator than a consummate mastermind. They are not threatened by their employees’ talent, and they cultivate a working environment that allows each person’s creativity to come forward. They facilitate innovation.
  2. Coaches: Good bosses provide important guidance that helps employees see how their work is contributing to the larger goals of the organization. They help employees build confidence by giving stretch assignments that require demonstration of new skills and right-sized risk. Then they provide feedback that allows needed course corrections to be made early enough to avoid a major failure. When employees do fail, good bosses encourage reflection of what was learned that can be applied to future endeavors.
  3. Caring: Good bosses listen to their employees and show an interest in their opinions. They provide opportunities to talk openly, showing interest in their employees’ feedback. They encourage personal and professional growth, sometimes by giving access to resources and sometimes by removing barriers.
  4. Strategic: Good bosses can make hard choices and have the finesse needed to get people behind even unpopular decisions. They are able to secure resources for important initiatives that are worth pursuing. They use analytical frameworks for guiding change, promoting transparent processes, and enhancing communication. Strategic bosses are decisive but not closed-minded or dogmatic. Once a decision has been made, they stick with it and avoid changing directions quickly or sending mixed messages.
  5. Visionary: Good bosses are also visionary managers, able to clearly see and build a commitment toward a compelling future state. They articulate a sense of direction, map out the path, and shepherd the process.
  6. Demonstrate Trustworthiness: A good boss is genuine, has integrity, and behaves with consistency according to his or her word and values. Employees trust bosses they know to be intelligent, capable, and having a record of acting in their best interests. They give, receive, and invite feedback that is affirmative and constructive. They are fully aware of their scope of power in the organization and in their relationship with employees. They know how an off-handed comment or unpleasant glance may ruin someone’s entire weekend.
  7. Accessible and Adaptable: Good bosses are able to balance how they give support and direction with the freedom employees need to do their work, acknowledging the level of experience and expertise over his or her domain. They understand that each employee comes to the workplace with unique experiences, needs, and cultural lenses that require individualized attention and support; they can adapt their own style to ensure effective communication and levels of productivity.
  8. Passionate: A good boss is zealous, particularly about the vision and mission of the organization, the people they work with, and the customers who use their products and services. They are the first to roll up their sleeves to contribute, and they model the level of motivation and quality required for the achievement of organizational goals. They help employees stay connected to their own passion by encouraging the sharing of ideas and then helping to shape them to fit within and be supported by the larger organization.
  9. Champions: People want to know that the person they report to is on their side, even when mistakes are made. Champions look for opportunities to catch their employees doing a good job and go out of their way to point it out. They don’t take the credit for their employees’ work, and they don’t blame them when things go wrong. They “influence up” by being a conduit between their employees and higher-level decision makers, often helping their employees develop the strategies needed to take an idea to the top of the organization.
  10. Fun: Good bosses are willing to laugh, and they value a work environment that encourages meaningful relationships between colleagues. They inspire employees by making the connection between head and heart about the importance of their work and value to the company.

Reflect on this list and identify the qualities you are modeling. Think about where there is room for growth in your leadership practice – growth that will lead to increased levels of motivation and engagement. Finally, begin today by encouraging your employees to share their own needs, allowing for timely adjustments.

Remember, leadership is a journey. Bon voyage!

DeEtta JonesDeEtta Jones is a leadership strategist, social justice advocate, and author. She has more than twenty years of experience working with leaders and teams in some of the world’s most prominent universities and corporations. Her multidimensional background and fresh perspective leaves clients feeling empowered to take on some of the major organizational and workforce challenges of our times. For more information, visit www.deettajones.com.

[From the Dec 2014/Jan 2015 issue of AnswerStat magazine]