Tag Archives: customer service articles

Sticky Customer Service

With Increased Competition and More Patient Options, Providing Excellent Customer Service Is More Important Than Ever

Author Peter Lyle DeHaan

By Peter Lyle DeHaan, Ph.D.

I’ve covered various aspects of the call center industry, focusing here on healthcare contact centers, for the past 20 years. A persistent and reoccurring theme throughout this time has been customer service. This, I’m confident, will continue to be an essential focus for our industry going forward. 

Every telephone interaction we handle is a form of customer service in one way or another. Though I delight in sharing those customer service interactions that went extremely well, too often I find myself detailing customer service failures. During the past two decades, I’ve written hundreds of articles that address this critical topic of customer service.

Now, I’ve compiled the best of these articles, along with fresh content, in my book Sticky Customer Service. Just as with my articles, Sticky Customer Service celebrates customer service successes and explores customer service disappointments. We can learn from both. While the customer service wins give us something to cheer about, it’s the customer service failures that provide us with ample learning opportunities. May we learn much from these episodes that we can apply to make our content centers even better.

Though many of our customer service opportunities occur over the telephone, other interactions take place in person, while a growing number happen online. Each of these three areas are most relevant for the healthcare industry. And each of these connection points interconnect, with one channel often migrating to another. 

In Sticky Customer Service, uncover helpful customer service tips through this compelling read, encouraging your operation to do better and celebrating what you do best. Learn how to meet your patients’ (that is, your customers’) expectations every chance you get.

Sticky Customer Service is available in e-book, paperback, and hardcover.

Sticky Customer Service is the first book in the Sticky series. Upcoming titles include Sticky Leadership, Sticky Sales and Marketing, and Sticky Living.

Get Sticky Customer Service and turn customer service and patient retention into a core strength for your healthcare organization.

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

How Call Center Technology Helps Hospitals, Staff, and Patients

1Call, a division of Amtelco

By Nicole Limpert

Hospital call centers provide a critical service to both patients and healthcare organizations. In previous articles we’ve explored how call centers are supporting emergency departments during the pandemic, help patients connect remotely with their care teams via patient monitoring devices and telehealth, and how medical answering services have grown to include telephone triage as part of their support.

Healthcare communication is complex and notoriously disconnected. Different departments rely on different systems to perform their job and these technologies typically don’t talk with each other. It may surprise some, but some call center software is highly interoperable, which hospitals and clinics leverage to bridge communication gaps between disparate technology to streamline communication. This improves hospital workflows and both patient and staff satisfaction.

Integration engines, also called middleware, used in hospital call centers can streamline inbound and outbound communications, trigger scripting, and automate dispatching. Integration engines are the interoperable piece that connects different technologies, so they communicate with each other. A robust middleware is completely scalable and works with software from other vendors. 

Using Integration Engines to Enhance Patient Care

Here are some common applications:

Hospital Admissions: When a patient is admitted into a hospital, they may be moved from one room to another while waiting for tests and procedures, and during recovery. It can become difficult to locate and communicate with a patient once they are receiving care within the system. 

An integration engine with an HL7 interface can assign a fixed phone number to each patient, which will follow them for the duration of their stay. Associating each patient with one phone number helps:

  • Ease the stress of family and friends who are trying to find their loved one when they are transferred to a different room.
  • Streamline the communication process for anyone on the patient’s care team.
  • Reduce the number of calls to the hospital’s call center.

Critical Alerts: Integration engines work together with a hospital’s event notification software system to expedite enterprise-wide critical alerts in healthcare environments. The integration engine captures requests from hospital systems such as ADT (admission, discharge, and transfer) messages, nurse call messages, smart beds, pain management, alerts, alarms, orders, or appointments. Then, emergency notification software instantly sends those messages to designated recipients using a wide variety of methods, including Vocera badges, IP phones from Cisco and Spectralink, SMS, email, and secure messaging apps.

Using an integration engine means automated notifications, customized to fit a hospital’s needs, based on configurable rules. Notifications can be sent via preferred contact methods to an individual, an entire group, or the current on-call personnel, which enables recipients to respond quickly to provide better patient care. 

Accumulated statistics for each notification provide an easy-to-follow audit trail for reporting purposes and help healthcare organizations refine their communication processes.

Patient Transfer: The Joint Commission found 80 percent of serious medical errors were the result of miscommunication between caregivers during patient handovers. Multiple studies have highlighted the need for better communication during patient transfers. 

One study states, “Some challenges transferring physicians face with communication include physician shift changes, ancillary staff changes, delays between ordering tests and receiving results, and competing attention of other active patients. Accepting physicians also face their own challenges related to patient transfers. . . . Calls back to the transferring facility are far from efficient and are often routed through emergency departments, medical records departments, and radiology reading rooms making information gathering cumbersome.”

More hospitals are establishing patient transfer centers, and integration engines are facilitating communication between clinicians and transport assets. Each staff member involved in a patient transfer needs to have the same information. Integration engines enable staff to have access to key directory databases such as on-call, hospital personnel, and patient directories (which include ADT and EMR [Electronic Medical Record] data) to ensure information is communicated accurately and efficiently to enhance collaborative care. 

Using Integration Engines for Automated, Emergency, and Mass Notifications

Automated notification and reminder communications can help healthcare organizations ensure utilization of every resource to its full potential and reach more staff personal in less time. Notifications for emergencies, events, changes in weather, and everyday reminders can instantly be sent to designated recipients using secure messaging apps, Vocera badges, IP phones from Cisco and Spectralink, SMS, and email.

The primary role of an integration engine is to facilitate automated communications. An operator in a call center can initiate dispatch scenarios. But they can also run automatically based on inbound triggers such as HL7 and email messages, scheduled to run on a recurring basis, initiated by a web user running a web script, or triggered by a third-party application.

Mass notifications make it possible for an organization to be better prepared for planned and unplanned events, such as natural disasters, emergencies, service outages, meetings, and other instances when large groups, small groups, and individuals need quick and accurate notification.

Third-Party Integration with APIs

Third-party integration happens when a vendor connects to another vendor’s application. API’s (application program interfaces) can achieve this connection. Using an API means that developers can build a new solution using existing components instead of creating code from scratch. Integrating an API into another vendor’s solution saves an incredible amount of time, is less costly, and results in a solution that best fits a hospital’s communication and technology requirements.

The same APIs used in hospital call centers to streamline communication can also enable healthcare facilities to interface with:

  • alarms
  • dashboard workforce management
  • electronic health record (EHR)
  • faxing
  • landline to text
  • nurse call and triage
  • on-call
  • short message service (SMS)
  • secure messaging
  • telehealth video conferencing 
  • wireless communications transfer protocol
  • wireless devices

Web-based Communication

Both hospital call center staff and clinicians must be able to access the information they need at any time from any place; it’s a fundamental and critical part of any healthcare organization’s communication protocol. Hospital personnel can use some of the same web-based communication software used in their call center because it delivers fast, secure communications and adds efficiencies through remote access to reduce the number of potential errors caused by miscommunication and absences.

Web-based communication applications specifically developed for the healthcare industry include encrypted secure messaging, care team collaboration, and workforce management tools. Enterprise access to these healthcare communication tools improves workflows because clinical staff can find the information they need on their own, without interrupting co-workers or employees in other departments. 

Secure Messaging: Secure organizational communication is crucial for protecting patients, medical staff, and hospital organizations. HIPAA-compliant messaging apps can send secure text, photo, audio, and video content while protecting patient privacy and typically work on smartphones, tablets, and desktop computers. These apps simplify collaborative care to provide a better patient experience, and speed the process of patient admissions, lab results, and patient transport.

Care Team Collaboration: Nurses, physicians, and other staff use mobile-friendly care team collaboration applications to remotely access on-call schedules, directories, messages, reports, telephone scripts, and even historical call management data quickly and efficiently either through the Internet or through a healthcare organization’s internal networks.

Workforce Management: Staff can view, edit, copy, override, assign, and unassign schedules in real-time; use directories to quickly find and contact staff (titles, departments, office hours, and preferred contact method displayed); and use the reporting function to track, view, and print communications (with complete and accurate statistics). 

Any authorized staff member, from any location, can schedule and manage appointment calendars, class registrations, event calendars, and workforce schedules.

Paging Extensions

Hospital call centers are the hub of communication for an organization. This includes being part of an organization’s paging system to reach on-call personnel. However, some hospitals use the same status-based messaging system without involving an operator.

Physicians and staff members can call a special paging extension and enter an identification number for the person they want to reach. This paging technique locates the requested person in the personnel directory with information about that individual’s status such as in office, making rounds, out of office, or on-call.

The system announces the individual’s name and status to the person who has called the paging extension and prompts them to enter a callback number or message. Then the message or callback number is sent via the person’s preferred contact method.

This method also provides paging reports and analytics so departments can leverage the data to improve service metrics, workflows, and to help protect both patients and hospitals in litigious situations. The reports provide useful information such as the number of pages, detailed logs that indicate if each page attempt was successful or not, and counts for email messages, SMS messages, secure messaging app messages, and other types of paging.

Conclusion

Improving communication in hospitals is paramount. Healthcare organizations can reduce many root causes of inefficient communication by using the software and technologies that may already be in use in their call centers.

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.

Customer Service Book Released

Peter Lyle DeHaan Publishes New Book: Sticky Customer Service

Peter Lyle DeHaan released his latest book, Sticky Customer Service: Stop Churning Customers and Start Growing Your Business, on June 17. Sticky Customer Service addresses all aspects of customer service, with the telephone taking center stage.

Sticky Customer Service, by Peter Lyle DeHaan

“Customer service is part of every business, including healthcare,” DeHaan says. “Practitioners and leaders in the medical field can take these general business principles and readily apply them to patient interactions, informing day-to-day actions to lead to better outcomes and higher patient retention.”

In Sticky Customer Service, you’ll discover:

  • The three key areas where customer service occurs and why they must work together.
  • How to avoid common errors that too many businesses make.
  • Why delighting customers is not the best approach and sets up future failure.

“Customer service isn’t a once-and-done effort,” DeHaan states. “It takes ongoing work to truly meet your customers’ expectations.” In Sticky Customer Service, unearth practical, action-oriented insights to help turn customer service from an embarrassing weakness into a business strength.

Author Peter Lyle DeHaan

Sticky Customer Service is book one in the Sticky series. Future titles include Sticky Leadership, Sticky Sales and Marketing, and Sticky Living.

Sticky Customer Service is available now in e-book, paperback, and hardcover.

How to Build an Actionable and Strategic Patient Experience Plan



By Gary Druckenmiller

In recent years, hospitals have become increasingly familiar with the merits of providing a superior experience to patients and consumers. Studies show that organizations with successful patient experience strategies see up to a 5 percent increase in new patients, a 15 percent increase in patient retention, and an 18 percent decrease in out-of-network referrals.

It’s no wonder why 81 percent of executives consider patient experience a top priority. And yet, many health systems haven’t created an actionable strategy that genuinely improves the experience across all touchpoints along the patient journey. In particular, they fail to acknowledge the importance of marketing communications and outreach in these strategies.

Even if patients are part of a vast health system, they expect experiences tailored to them as individuals throughout the care continuum. This is why health systems need the right technology in place to craft data-driven patient experience plans—messaging that directly addresses a patient’s needs both inside and outside the health system’s four walls.

By improving the patient experience with personalized communications and data-driven outreach, health systems enjoy increased loyalty and satisfaction, higher ROI, and improved margins. Here are a few strategies that health systems can employ to build an actionable, strategic patient experience plan:

Integrate the Right Technology

To design an effective patient experience strategy, health systems must first ensure that the right marketing technology is in place to reach patients at the right times, over the right channels. 

Consider the following four solutions: 

1. Healthcare CRM: A healthcare-specific customer relationship management platform (HCRM) is an absolute necessity for a successful patient experience plan. A HCRM is the centralized hub for all precision marketing. With an HCRM, healthcare marketers collect and compile data in a centralized location, monitoring important information such as recent communications, changes to demographic information, and clinical details and propensities. This information is key to crafting the hyper-personalized experiences that today’s patients expect.

In practice, a healthcare marketer may use the HCRM to understand the various touch points along the patient journey, including understanding which resources were engaged with before that first appointment was scheduled. An analysis as simple as this reveals valuable information as to which messages, channels, and tactics resonate with which demographic—and which are less effective.

The longer a patient stays within the health system, the more data is integrated into their CRM profile, setting the stage for improved targeting and a better overall experience, along with the ability to apply those learnings to other consumers in the same cohort or segment. 

2. Marketing Automation: A marketing automation platform orchestrates the execution of personalized engagement plans. It allows healthcare marketing teams to send messages at the ideal time following specific customer interactions or touchpoints—for example, sending an email invitation to a diabetes management seminar the day after a user downloads an e-book about Type I Diabetes on the health system’s website.

It’s simply not feasible to deploy this type of patient nurturing campaign at a large scale without marketing automation software, especially since the data within a HCRM only grows more complex over time.

3. Patient Engagement Center: First impressions are everything—and often hospital call centers are the first interactions with consumers. To meet consumer expectations, call center representatives need to not only be personable, efficient, and conscientious, but they need to be proactive, demonstrating that the health system knows the caller, why they are calling, and can provide the best care. With that comes the need to prioritize first call resolution, as opposed to forcing the consumer to call back multiple times to ask follow-up questions.

To deliver proactive and world-class customer experiences, call center representatives need access to a dashboard containing all relevant caller information and proactive alerts about the caller. For existing patients, this includes details from the patient profile contained within the HCRM as well as clinical and demographic data sourced from the EHR. Other tools that provide insight into consumer data and marketing engagement history (even if the caller is not a registered patient) are also worth investing in.

4. Business Insights: With a business insights solution, healthcare marketers unlock the most valuable opportunities—such as a specific demographic, geographic market, or service line—on which to focus their initial patient experience campaigns. By examining a service line or geographic area with cross-sectional data, health systems begin to understand the basic needs and desires of this set of consumers.

They can then shape lists of target consumers that fit the ideal persona, supporting informed, hyper-segmented engagement campaigns with messaging that speaks to those needs and characteristics.

With the right technology, a health system ensures messages deployed across consumer touchpoints meet each patient’s needs. Using historical data to inform outreach, marketers improve patient experience while creating a seamless, convenient approach to care.

Create Personalized Patient Experiences

Personalization is one of the most effective ways to improve patient experiences. One of the easiest ways for healthcare marketers to leverage personalization is by simply asking patients and consumers what they prefer.

For example, they can indicate their preferred method of contact (such as phone, email, or text message) and set a time of day that works best to receive communication from their provider. Short online or emailed surveys are another great way for marketers to gather information about patient preferences and personalize campaigns accordingly.

Keep in mind, however, personalizing patient interactions helps build trust, but it’s important not to go too far. For example, if a consumer has passively searched online for oncology services, the call center representative should not mention their browsing history during a call. 

Use Precision Marketing to Deploy Consistent Messaging

These principles apply to acquisition and retention. Once a patient has already converted to a health system, precision marketing campaigns continue to be effective in encouraging ongoing engagement with unique content.

These campaigns leverage HCRM-connected workflows that strategically guide communications, track engagements with marketing materials, and monitor a patient’s journey from, for instance, pre-screening to specialist consultation to surgical procedure.

This strategy includes integrating decision points that influence the patient’s journey based on their actions, or lack thereof. If a patient registers for an upcoming cardiology seminar, they should be included in cardiology-related emailing lists. These workflows don’t just allow the most relevant messages to be sent, they record these non-clinical engagements, and support patients in their healthcare journey.

Final Thoughts

Today’s consumers expect seamless, personalized interactions from all businesses with whom they interact—and this includes their healthcare provider. Unsurprisingly, patient experience recently became the centerpiece of many health systems’ strategic growth initiatives.

Healthcare marketers play a critical role in crafting a great healthcare experience, so it’s important they employ the right tactics to ensure positive interactions throughout the patient journey.

They must tap advanced marketing technology to organize and analyze information from all aspects of the organization, both inside and outside the health system. With a comprehensive view of patient needs and demographics and a deep understanding of the experiences that they value most, health systems will enjoy improved ROI, sustainable growth, and a sharp competitive edge.

Gary Druckenmiller, Jr. is vice president of customer success at Evariant. With almost twenty-five years of digital makeover efforts behind him, he functions as a lead business strategist, a digital marketing thought leader, and a C-level executive sponsor for all Evariant enterprise clients, primarily focused on advising health system leadership of opportunistic methods to find, guide, and keep patients for life.

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


TriageLogic

By Ravi K. Raheja, MD

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

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

  • It is time-consuming for the doctor. They must call back and verbally listen to each case.
  • There is no confirmation if the provider received the page, which can lead to a delay in care if the nurse does not follow up closely.
  • The doctor may be involved in a critical procedure or another call and does not know how urgent the request is from the nurse.

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

With secure texting, the provider gets a notification from the nurse. The nurse can send protected health information securely. The provider can read the message, and the nurse gets a notification confirming that the message was received and read.

This approach supplies the provider with detailed written information as well as allowing them to evaluate the urgency for the call so they can determine the proper callback time and plan before they contact the triage nurse.

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

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

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

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

TriageLogic

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

1Call Expands Architecture Solutions Team to Support Growing Customer Base

1Call, a division of Amtelco

1Call, a division of Amtelco and a leader in developing software solutions and applications designed for the specific needs of the healthcare call center marketplace, announced the promotion of Amber Schroedl to solutions architect.

“Amber has been a key part of our success, and brings a unique, real-world set of skills to our department,” said Kevin Mahoney, director of solutions architecture. “We are thrilled to promote her to this important position and serve our customers better by reducing implementation and go-live times.

The Solutions Architecture Team supports existing and potential customers by performing live product demonstrations, providing custom documentation and templates, and validating customer’s voice, data, internet, and cloud computing application requirements to ensure effective use of all communication solutions.

1Call features a complete line of modular solutions specifically designed to streamline enterprise-wide healthcare communications, save an organization’s limited resources, and make them tremendously efficient by helping them bring wellness to their patients and their bottom line. 

1Call, a division of Amtelco

For more information visit www.1Call.com.

Mitigating Medical Call Center Risk


LVM Systems

By Traci Haynes

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

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

The five basic steps of risk management include: 

  1. establish the context
  2. identify risks
  3. analyze risk
  4. evaluate risks
  5. treat/manage risks

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

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

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

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

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

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

Clinical Management

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

Technology 

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

Physical Environment

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

Patients and Families

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

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

Using an Outsourced Telephone Triage Service for Suicide Prevention


TriageLogic

By Ravi K. Raheja, MD

Telephone triage nurses play a critical role in suicide prevention and serve as the first point of contact for callers in need of immediate assistance. According to the CDC, 123 Americans die by suicide every day, and for every person who dies from suicide every year, another 278 people think seriously about it but don’t kill themselves.

As the demand for mental health services grows, practices are turning to outsourced telephone triage call centers to support their practices. Call center triage nurses trained in treating patients with mental illnesses are better prepared to intervene and often alleviate lengthy interruptions to the normal call flow of a practice.

Common Warning Signs Of Suicide

  • Talking about wanting to die or to kill oneself.
  • Looking for a way to kill oneself.
  • Talking about feeling hopeless or having no purpose.
  • Talking about feeling trapped or being in unbearable pain.
  • Talking about being a burden to others.
  • Increasing the use of alcohol or drugs.
  • Acting anxious, agitated, or reckless.
  • Sleeping too little or too much.
  • Withdrawing or feeling isolated.
  • Showing rage or talking about seeking revenge.
  • Displaying extreme mood swings.

What Can Triage Nurses Do to Help?

In moments of crisis, connecting with a trained triage nurse can deescalate the suicidal crisis and provide immediate help. It is never easy to talk about suicide, but it is crucial for triage nurses to be comfortable talking about suicide in the same way they talk about chest pain. How they handle each call can be life-changing for the caller.

Triage nurses need to find a connection with the patient, find the patients local emergency assistance numbers, and be ready to involve all resources available to help prevent this patient from harming him/herself.

It is essential for the triage nurse to be sympathetic, non-judgmental, and accepting. The caller has done the right thing by getting in touch with another person. No matter how negative the call seems, the fact that it exists is a positive sign, a cry for help.

Triage nurses always have the caller’s safety in mind. They combine both clinical judgment and emotional connections to assess the patient’s situation to identify possible mental health issues.

Even though remote triage nurses typically can’t see their patient, they must develop that all-important trust quickly and by means other than visualization for the caller to open up and be honest with the nurse. Not all patients can accurately describe their condition, history, medical conditions, or other pertinent information. The telephone triage nurse must decipher this uncertainty.

Sometimes the patient needs emergency treatment, while other times they are reaching out for someone to talk with and work thru difficult situations like substance abuse, economic worries, relationships, sexual identity, getting over abuse, depression, mental and physical illness, and loneliness.

Just talking about their problems for a length of time gives some suicidal caller’s relief from loneliness and pent up feelings, an awareness that another person cares, and a sense of someone understanding them. Also, as they talk, they get tired and their body chemistry changes. These things take the edge off their agitated state and help them get through a bad night. Suicide calls can be difficult, but with proper training, protocols, and disposition, telephone triage nurses save lives, one call at a time.

TriageLogic

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

Secure Text Messaging and Email Security for Healthcare



By Aaron Boatin

Most healthcare providers send text messages and emails throughout their day. Unfortunately many choose unsecured methods of transmission. This is bad news for protecting patient data and worse yet, a clear HIPAA violation.

Embracing technology to increase the speed of healthcare is a good thing, but only if it’s done right. This means encrypting protected health information (PHI), to ensure the privacy protection mandated by HIPAA and HITECH.

Managing Protected Health Information with Secure Text Messaging

Standard texting on cell phones and alpha/text pagers is not HIPAA compliant. However, implementing secure text messaging for providers is a painless process, and allows users to receive HIPAA-compliant, secure text messages using a smartphone.

Secure messaging apps allow medical practices to stay on top of their customer service, anywhere they may be, and remain HIPAA compliant. App capabilities vary, but look for one with powerful enterprise paging and messaging application built for Apple iOS and Android mobile phones and tablets. This can replace or supplement current paging technology and enables instant two-way communications.

It’s ideal for organizations where HIPAA compliance is a necessity or when sensitive data needs to be securely delivered to mobile devices. When the recipient receives a new message alert, the secure message can be viewed instantly using the secure messaging app. The secure messages are kept separate from email and text messages.

Many apps allow staff to acknowledge they’ve received the call without having to speak to a call center agent. This saves time, money, and improves response time to patients. Faster response can have a big impact on patient satisfaction scores.

Socket Layer (SSL) Technology

Call centers that serve the medical community should seek solutions that offer compliance, privacy, and sender/receiver authentication, using 256-bit encryption SSL technology. This exceeds compliance standards and is the same technology that protects sensitive information on major websites that offer secure online transactions.

Other ways that most secure messaging apps are useful to medical practices complying with HIPAA and increasing efficiency include:

  • Reporting with an audit trail of all messages with all message events.
  • Issuing persistent alerts to the recipient’s mobile device, helping ensure immediate action.
  • Allowing users to designate high priority messages, displayed at the top of the message list.
  • Providing encrypted message delivery and message read receipts, indicating that the device received the message or the recipient opened the message.
  • No need to add a text messaging plan; the app bypasses traditional SMS messaging.
  • Free secure messaging between devices; no text charges apply.
  • Ability to send secure broadcast messages to a group.

Management of Secure Text Messaging for Medical Practices

The management of secure text messaging users is easy. For some apps, the management of devices is done through a web portal so that staff can add, delete, or change user settings. If a device is lost or stolen, the data on the phone can be deleted using the remote wipe function.

Secure text messaging solutions work by hosting the encrypted PHI on hosted secure servers. The phones then access this secure data via the secure texting app. This is a great solution for medical practices where most providers use their own phones. It fits in perfectly with BYOD policies in place at large healthcare organizations.

The best apps mimic the ease of use of regular text messaging, making adoption easy and intuitive. They also bring several nice enhancements and integrations. For example, the ability to send and receive images (x-rays for example) and audio files saves an enormous amount of time.

Many medical practices that have implemented secure text messaging have seen boosts in productivity. Aside from HIPAA compliance, the speed of communications accelerates dramatically. This has a direct positive effect on patient care.

Encrypted Email

Standard email is not HIPAA compliant. Without email encryption, email sent from one user to another is vulnerable at any point along that transfer route. Using unencrypted email not only puts the content of the information at risk but also the identities of the sender and receiver.

To provide additional protection for email communication in transit and keep electronic communication from prying eyes, companies often apply encryption methodologies to their electronic communication. Encrypted email refers to the process of encoding email messages in such a way that eavesdroppers or hackers cannot read it, but that authorized parties can.

There are two popular options for encrypting email. They are TLS and Secure/Multipurpose Internet Mail Extensions (S/MIME) encryption methods.

TLS Encryption: Transport Layer Security transcription (TLS) protocol prevents unauthorized access of emails while they are in transit. TLS is a protocol that encrypts and delivers email securely for inbound and outbound email.

It helps prevent eavesdropping between email servers. It’s worth noting that email messages are encrypted only if the sender and receiver both use email providers that support transport layer security.

Not all email providers use TLS. Not sure if an email server has TLS enabled? Use this online tool to test an email address.

S/MIME Secure Email: S/MIME (Secure/Multipurpose Internet Mail Extensions) is a widely accepted method for sending secure email messages. It allows users to encrypt emails and digitally sign them. It gives the recipient the peace of mind that the message they receive in their in box is the exact message that started with the sender.

It also ensures the person receiving the email knows it really did come from the person listed in the “From:” field. S/MIME provides for cryptographic security services such as authentication, message integrity, and digital signatures.

Conclusion

Putting it all together is a challenging endeavor, but doing nothing is risky for your organization and the patients’ PHI that is vulnerable for interception.

Aaron Boatin is president of Ambs Call Center, a virtual receptionist and telephone answering service provider, that specializes in medical answering services. His passion is helping clients’ businesses succeed. Melding high tech with high touch to provide the best customer service experience for clients is his core focus.

A Proven Solution to the Top 3 Challenges Facing the Medical Practices of Today and Tomorrow



By Matt Miller

 Navigating the ever-changing landscape of healthcare is becoming increasingly difficult. Rising patient demands, growing administrative requirements, and high operating costs are only a few of the many obstacles medical practices face as legislation continues to evolve and outside influence on care decisions continues to grow.

In some cases, these challenges prove to be too much for independent practice staffs to handle, so they end up selling to larger healthcare organizations or hospital systems. According to a recent study, three of the top challenges facing medical practices today include:

1. Patient Satisfaction

All healthcare providers want happy patients, because happy patients return for services, make recommendations, and are likelier to comply with post-care recommendations. However, patient satisfaction has become directly linked to financial performance through federal and private insurers that link reimbursement directly to patient satisfaction scores.

A main indicator of satisfaction is the perception that a provider has communicated effectively with the patient, and the patient received the appropriate treatment. The key word is communication. If patients feel they aren’t being heard—or that the overworked staff simply doesn’t care—satisfaction can drop significantly.

Not only does a practice need enough clinicians to handle the increasing patient loads, but these clinicians must also possess the training and skills to communicate effectively with patients to ensure the treatment is correct and the patient is ultimately satisfied.

2. Administrative Requirements

Even if a practice has a staff that has mastered the communication skills required to provide excellent patient care and maintain positive satisfaction scores, not having adequate staffing to handle the resulting administrative paperwork can have significant effects on the business.

Documentation and recordkeeping requirements are on the rise, and often practices must use clinical personnel to handle these administrative chores, leaving revenue on the table. By having staff dedicated to staying on top of these requirements, practices can free up clinicians to do more of what they do best: treat patients.

These first two obstacles can be managed successfully with the right staff. Unfortunately, the process of recruiting and maintaining such a staff often requires more time, money, and effort than a practice can afford. It isn’t only about hiring enough “warm bodies” to handle the workload; it’s about having the right people in the right places to successfully handle all the different external practice challenges, while continuing to provide the highest quality patient care and compliance. This is where the third challenge comes into play.

3. Staffing Turnover

According to a 2015 study in the Journal of the American Medical Association, employee turnover in healthcare had reached an all-time high of 19.2 percent. The same study revealed that nearly 40 percent of clinical and non-clinical healthcare workers were planning to leave their job within the next two years, and a staggering 69 percent were planning to leave within five years.

Perhaps the most concerning finding to come out of this study was that higher patient caseloads contributed to a seven percent increase in the chance of patient death. This final challenge is perhaps the most significant, as it often prevents practices from effectively addressing the initial two. So how can practices possibly deliver outstanding clinical services as they minimized costs and ensure all relevant documentation is done, while continuing to develop positive, long-lasting relationships with patients?

The Solution

The solution is closer than you think and starts with a partnership with a proven medical call center.

Partnering with a medical call center provides proven solutions to all three of these challenges. A medical call center utilizes a staff of RNs specially trained in communication and sensitivity regarding the unique needs of patient callers.

Medical call centers also offer post-triage patient engagement programs focused on care recommendations and compliance. As stated earlier, patient satisfaction directly correlates to the ability of a caregiver to focus on the needs of a patient and provide the most appropriate care advice.

Partnering with an experienced call center ensures patients will receive undivided attention and respect when they have a medical need. Call centers can document the entire triage process and enter the information in a practice’s patients’ EMR, reducing the administrative load and allowing clinicians to focus solely on patient care.

Medical call center partnerships also help practices eliminate the time, effort, and cost associated with hiring and maintaining an adequate staff. This not only frees up existing staff to focus on patient care, but it also allows more physical space within an office setting to provide care. Medical call centers can provide consistent, dedicated staff to ensure a practice never experiences a critical drop in service levels as patient loads increase.

While issues facing medical practices continue to grow and get increasingly complex, the solution to handling these challenges is easy. A medical call center partnership provides solutions to the top three challenges currently facing medical practices while remaining focused on the future state of healthcare.

Matt Miller is the marketing coordinator for the TeamHealth Medical Call Center. He joined THMCC in 2015 and has more than fifteen years of marketing and communications experience within the healthcare industry. The TeamHealth Medical Call Center is a premier provider of medical call center solutions. Contact them today to learn more about their daytime and after-hours telephone triage services and how they translate to solutions that address practice challenges.