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.
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
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
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
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.
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-lead 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
A call center is a team of frontline staff who answer phone calls and gather data. It’s a centralized department that handles a large volume of telephone calls, especially for screening new patients and providing customer service.
In Veterans Affairs (VA) Healthcare, connecting effectively with service providers through multiple channels of communication is the key toward implementing better patient experiences and minimizing costs. Optimized call center operations can play a crucial role in achieving these goals.
These days, VA Healthcare providers are becoming more patient-centric, raising the demand for call centers. With an increase in expectation to patient retention initiatives, appointment scheduling, and communications with referring medical professionals, health centers must keep pace with new communications technologies. VA Healthcare providers can extend their support to the patients by using call center services. This reduces call volume and results in more effective patient care by staff.
The level of convenience and the service offered to patients is different when VA healthcare providers use call center technology as a part of their practice. Most importantly, patients will always have continuous access.
Hospital management is an important responsibility. Therefore, it’s necessary to ensure the smooth functioning of the complete process. Hospitals need to take care of everything from equipment management to the maintenance of records for the minutest details. In this condition, a medical call center can help a hospital by handling activities such as record maintenance, appointment setting, patient follow-up calls, and appointment reminders. In addition, they can also use email to check with the patients on a regular basis.
Customers satisfaction has always been critical for businesses. This is applicable for VA healthcare providers as well. Providing accurate information to a patient is important since the well-being of the patient depends upon the services they’re receiving. Therefore, automating the complete process can be one of the major requirements hospitals should address. On the other hand, hospitals should also ensure that the personnel employed by a customer service center are familiar with patients’ needs and have the skills and expertise to address different situations.
The call center also brings improved customer satisfaction to employees because they’re able to complete tasks and still provide customer service to Veterans, which is an important goal of employees. They help check Veterans into their appointments, assist them with the self-service kiosk, and make calls to Veterans to remind them of their appointments.
A Focus on Customer Satisfaction
Call centers have improved customer satisfaction with VA Healthcare, where they answer the calls from patients to VA Healthcare professionals and then direct them to whoever needs to call them back. If Veterans are sick and need immediate medical attention, call center staff can help. With the call center answering all incoming calls, VA Healthcare can provide better customer service to Veterans who drop by their primary care teams.
When patients call their doctor’s office, the last thing they want to deal with is a cranky receptionist. Or, just as bad, be stuck on hold. Healthcare call centers can respond quickly to patients, reduce the burden on administrative staff, and help improve the patient experience.
Without constant interruption of phone calls, VA healthcare physicians can focus on the tasks at hand. This means that proper billing coding, prescription refills, diagnostic authorizations, and chart preparation all receive more focus.
Scheduling efficiency also improves. When you have a dedicated call center staff, fewer scheduling mistakes will occur, resulting in less rescheduled or missed appointments. Centralized call center staff also know which doctors are at what locations on any given day. This means that they eliminate the possibility of a patient calling the Middletown office looking for “Dr. Smith” (who only works in Somerset) and hearing the words, “We don’t have a Dr. Smith.”
Call Center Capabilities
Call centers bridge the gap between front and back office by maintaining administrative activity records of patients and prescriptions, which are often inefficient and difficult to manage. Call center services can prioritize and proactively distribute this work anywhere in the organization. It also provides business intelligence so you can improve operational efficiency, meet SLAs, and measure regulatory compliance.
Currently, many medical staff are doing multiple jobs, including answering a variety of patient calls: general questions, upcoming appointments, and benefit coverage. A VA Healthcare call center opens communication within departments by outlining what needs to be collected, establishing a hand-off process, and ensuring accountability.
A healthcare call center helps ensure every patient is set on a positive path. Patients today have options. They can always find another provider. That’s why every phone interaction must be perfect. If patients have an urgent need, they should get an appointment the same day. A quality call center will work with patients to make sure their experiences are positive. Every phone call is important. Companies who fail to train well could deliver bad service, where an agent is rude or lacks the level of sympathy, empathy, or professionalism that patients expect.
For many physicians, the biggest pain point is their daily practice management issues and challenges, such as a lack of staff. They simply don’t have the number of administrative staff to efficiently operate. And on the clinical side, it’s the same. They’re strapped. Healthcare call center support can take a burden off both sides. It is an ideal situation for physicians and their entire practice.
A Focus on Quality
A quality call center helps retain patients. When patients are helped in their time of need, they return. That’s the biggest ROI for any physician or practice.
But again, there’s also help for the administrative and clinical staff. A call center can work with them to ensure that they get the right appointment for each patient. An experienced agent can handle the entire transaction and allow the clinical team more time with their patients. This helps every patient get into the office and lets practitioners engage with patients who will return for care.
Call centers provide proactive engagement and notifications. Proactive customer service in VA Healthcare is a challenging objective for providers and physicians. Despite their personal commitment and the available technology, there are obstacles when trying to move to a proactive health model. Offering customer assistance through multichannel transactions can prevent customers switching to other options. Besides, keeping members informed of the progress so they don’t have to call, improves loyalty and ultimately the bottom-line.
One of the things we do know about healthcare professionals is that they have a difficult time getting through on the phone, which does not facilitate the progress of VA Healthcare.
The focus of roles within your healthcare organization staff is to collect the necessary information and improve patient satisfaction. A call center is an excellent way to handle this.
Call centers must deal with the continuing challenge of recruiting and training excellent personnel and attempting to increase retention rates. To improve service, management must constantly communicate with both employees and customers in an interactive, multidimensional process. In the global marketplace, improvement of service is not an option—it’s a matter of survival.
Bronson Tang is the marketing manager at Pulsar360, Inc. He has ten years of experience in digital marketing and has worked in the telecommunications sector for four. He is the author of the book, The Tao of Business. Pulsar360, Inc. with origins dating back to 2001, is an established Unified-Communication-as-a-Service (UCaaS) provider with a comprehensive set of offerings it has provided to over 160 medical centric call centers including: cloud based enterprise class call center IP PBX; premise-based IP PBX, Session Initiation Protocol (SIP) trunking, business continuity disaster recovery solutions, T38 Faxing that meets HIPAA, GLBA and other industry compliance regulations and carrier services.
From clinical process enhancements to facility improvements, there are many ways to drive better healthcare experiences for patients. One key area is call center optimization. More than one in three healthcare providers say their organization is updating their contact center or has plans to do so in the near future. Making call center upgrades doesn’t have to be difficult to have an impact. Healthcare teams just need to know what patients want and expect when they call.
Are patients frustrated by having to wait on hold? Are they satisfied with the interactions they have with call center agents? West surveyed 1,036 adults and healthcare providers in the United States to find out and identify ways healthcare organizations can provide better experiences for patients calling contact centers.
The following recommendations—which are driven by this survey data—show five call center improvements patients want healthcare organizations to prioritize.
1. Eliminate Extra Steps During Calls
Patients are frustrated by how often their calls are redirected. Callers want to reach a resolution in the fewest possible steps, but they’re often transferred multiple times and asked to restate information to several people during a single call. According to providers, more than one-third (35 percent) of patient calls are redirected at least once.
To create a better experience for callers, healthcare teams can make call center improvements that enable them to route calls to the correct place on the first try. For example, hospitals and health systems can adopt intelligent call routing software with speech recognition features so callers can specify what they need and who they want to speak with. Healthcare organizations can also interconnect their phone systems so calls can be transferred anywhere within their organization. This saves staff from having to ask patients to hang up and dial a different number to reach a different department.
2. Create a Single Point of Contact
Some patients struggle even before they pick up the phone because they don’t know which number to call or who they need to speak with. Dialing the wrong number can lead to confusion and frustration for both patients and staff, as well as making calls last longer than necessary. Nearly three in five of those surveyed (59 percent) say they have trouble understanding which phone number to use to contact their healthcare provider. More troubling is the fact that 28 percent of patients have called their healthcare team and been unable to reach the correct person or department.
Eight in ten Americans (80 percent) want a single person dedicated to their health whom they can call. Hospitals and health systems can give callers a better experience by upgrading to a centralized phone system and routing all calls through one main line. Doing this relieves patients from navigating complex call structures. It gives them one clear point of entry with one phone number they can call to reach anyone within an organization—whether they know who they are looking for or not.
3. Minimize On-Hold Time
Americans don’t like waiting on hold, and many patients feel they do too much of it when they call healthcare organizations. Fifty-three percent of patients report having been put on hold for a long period of time or without a callback option. Providers may be underestimating how much patients are bothered by having to wait and how much time patients spend on hold. Only 29 percent of healthcare providers think patients who call their office are put on hold for an excessive amount of time, confirming a disconnect between what patients and providers deem as an acceptable wait time.
To ensure patients feel their time is valued, healthcare organizations can take steps to reduce the amount of time patients spend on hold. For example, hospitals and health systems can give patients the option of receiving a call back so they spend less time waiting on the phone. This shows providers respect patients’ time, and it lets patients choose whether they want to wait to speak with a healthcare professional.
4. Equip Staff with Patient Medical Information
Patients want to feel known by their healthcare team. They want staff members to have knowledge of their health history and be able to answer questions and make recommendations. Unfortunately, 63 percent of patients say the person they reach when they call their provider doesn’t have access to their medical information and, therefore, can’t provide personalized recommendations. In addition, nearly one-quarter (24 percent) of callers say they haven’t been able to get their questions answered during calls.
To ensure patients get the help they need, healthcare organizations can make sure technology gives staff quick access to patient data. This will help them better support callers with tailored information. And, it will reassure patients that their medical team understands them on an individual basis. Ideally, organizations will have their contact center technology connected to electronic health records, their patient web portal, and other systems that house patient information.
5. Offer Smart Self-Service Opportunities
Patients recognize that sometimes the simplest route to a resolution is through self-service. So, it’s not surprising that nearly six in ten patients (58 percent) say they want healthcare providers to offer self-serve options to complete actions such as paying bills and scheduling appointments. To get the most out of self-service technology, healthcare teams should make sure their system is configured to recognize when inbound calls are coming from phone numbers that have recently been sent automated outreach messages.
For example, if a patient receives an automated message from a provider inviting him to schedule a preventive service or screening and the patient calls into the organization, the system should recognize the number and predict the caller’s intention. In this case, the system would ask the patient if he is calling to schedule an appointment and then walk him through the self-service scheduling process. By utilizing smart technology and giving patients opportunities to resolve calls on their own, organizations can give callers better experiences.
Healthcare organizations put a lot of time and resources into designing top-notch patient experiences. It makes sense to have call center optimization be part of those efforts. By following these suggestions, healthcare teams can deliver on expectations and create better experiences for callers.
Allison Hart is an advocate for utilizing technology-enabled communications to engage and activate patients beyond the clinical setting. She leads thought leadership efforts for West’s TeleVox Solutions, promoting the idea that engaging with patients between healthcare appointments in meaningful ways will encourage and inspire them to follow and embrace treatment plans, and that activating these positive behaviors ultimately leads to better outcomes for both healthcare organizations and patients. Hart currently serves as vice president of marketing at West, where the healthcare mission is to help organizations harness communications to expand the boundaries of where, when, and how healthcare is delivered.
As the healthcare landscape shifts toward a value-based care model, consumers and patients are taking more responsibility for their individual health. The combination of higher premiums, copays, and deductibles mean consumers hold the care they receive to a higher standard. They research competitive pricing, treatment quality, and customer service to make informed decisions.
This shift in focus within the healthcare sector has increased the importance of offering consumers and patients value that goes beyond quality care and treatment options. More specifically, healthcare marketers prioritize personalized engagement on an individual level. They match consumers with the resources, providers, and treatment options that offer the best overall health outcomes and highest customer experience.
In this effort, hospitals and organizations have started to optimize the role call centers play, adopting a variety of capabilities to merge disparate points of contact into one centralized, proactive call center. Also known as an engagement center, these modernized call centers, which work in conjunction with health care risk management (HCRM), enable healthcare providers to deliver the level of customer experience and personalization consumers expect.
The ideal customer experience that a consumer should receive when engaging with a call center is key. Healthcare providers should strive to deliver this level of customer service through technology and training.
Customer Service Expectations in Healthcare
Today’s consumer expects quality customer service across their health journey, from first point of contact to post-care engagement. Often the first point of communication between a customer and the healthcare organization, call centers are faced with the responsibility of living up to the expectations of modern healthcare consumers. In fact, they handle around 68 percent of all customer communications, further emphasizing why consumers hold the call center customer service they receive to a higher standard.
Personalized service: When patients and consumers interact with the healthcare call center, they expect insights, resources, and interactions personalized to their unique health journey. Therefore, call center agents must understand each patient’s issues and provide solutions proactively.
Single call resolutionIt’s crucial call center agents tap caller data to provide actionable and individualized recommendations, connect them with doctors and physicians, provide useful and relevant resources, and proactively anticipate consumer needs.
Cross-channel capabilities: Traditional call center operations are siloed, resulting in a fragmented customer experience. With an HCRM-enabled engagement center, health systems deliver the seamless and personalized experiences customers want across communication channels, including the call center, patient portal, and email.
Agents move callers forward along the patient journey: Quality customer service within the healthcare sector extends far beyond one phone call. Patients expect guidance and assistance from healthcare organizations throughout their care experience. This includes communication, connecting the consumer with necessary resources and solutions, and ensuring the experience is as convenient as possible.
Here’s an example: At the start of the patient journey, a consumer submits a website form submission requesting information on shoulder pain. After receiving the requested information in an email, the customer is placed in an outbound calling queue for follow-up.
The call center agent provides additional information and offers to connect the customer with a specialist. The call center agent connects them with an orthopedic physician near their home and sends timely reminders before the appointments.
During the appointment the physician recommends physical therapy. The patient receives a call the same day from the call center to match them with a physical therapist and schedule their first appointment. The patient receives an SMS reminder forty-eight hours before the appointment.
Each interaction with the organization is recorded in the healthcare CRM to ensure continuity and enable personalization throughout the patient journey.
Technology for Optimized Healthcare Customer Service
The customer service consumers expect from healthcare organizations forces call centers to evolve into comprehensive engagement centers. With the goal of serving as a strategic tool for engagement, revenue growth, and greater visibility into return on investment, these call centers combine technology with call center agent training for optimized customer service.
For call centers looking to shift toward becoming an engagement center, a healthcare CRM program can serve as the foundation for successful engagement. With an HCRM in place, call centers can provide consistent, unified communications with patients and consumers while connecting disparate points of contact throughout the health system. Additionally, an HCRM provides call center agents with a 360-degree view into the customer data needed to facilitate personalized, efficient consumer interactions.
More specifically, call center agents can take advantage of unique customer profiles—a collection of demographic data, prior interactions with the organization, contact preferences, and appointments and medical history—to ensure they’re utilizing the best method of communication (phone, email, or chat) and delivering relevant health information.
Call Center Training for Optimized Customer Service
Like any job, the better the training—the greater the impact. For healthcare call center agents, training is a significant facilitator to outstanding patient and customer service. One of the most important aspects of call center training revolves around the proper use of call center scripts.
By developing scripts to guide agent conversations, healthcare organizations ensure the call center customer experience aligns with marketing efforts. Additionally, scripts can help call center agents focus on guiding customers toward a pleasant and timely resolution of their queries.
As a good practice, call centers should equip agents with at least one script for each campaign that can be tailored to the individual customer while reflecting their location within the patient journey.
Another important element to call center training is ensuring agents can handle any non-clinical queries. Given the high volume of customer interactions call center agents handle each day, it’s crucial they have a clear understanding of the healthcare organization ecosystem, as well as the capability to handle queries on the fly.
Consumers today expect more value from their care providers. Optimizing the traditional healthcare call center into a modern engagement center helps provide the efficiency, personalization, and capabilities that have become synonymous with superior customer service.
To best leverage the potential of call centers and optimize the customer experience within them, healthcare organizations need to incorporate modern marketing technology and comprehensive training into their strategies.
Daymon Smith is the vice president, engagement center practice leader at Evariant. He focuses on leading health systems in their move to a proactive call center model that improves the overall patient experience and generates revenue for the system.
According to Statista, the percentage of businesses worldwide using a call center in the Americas is 66 percent. However, according to the Global Contact Center satisfaction index, the level of caller satisfaction dropped five points from 2010 to 2018. Medical call centers are now looking for ways to improve patient experience, while minimizing risk. The goal of a call center typically includes:
Increase patient satisfaction
Improve patient safety
Reduce missed appointments
Increase patient retention
Increase patient referrals
Resolve complaints and disputes
Increase patient lifetime value
In general, the medical call center should be tailored to increasing the satisfaction of the individual patient and not just the efficiency of the call. In addition to patient satisfaction, there is an overall feeling that many call centers focus too much on efficiency when they need to focus on effectiveness.
1. Call Center Etiquette Matters: The need for proper etiquette is essential. This includes how calls are answered, how the patient is treated during the call, and how well issues and questions are addressed.
2. Hire the Right People: Hiring experienced call center agents is critical to the success of any medical call center, as this will significantly reduce the likelihood for agent turnover as well as the costs incurred in training. When you hire the right people, the agent will be able to achieve first call resolution, resolve disputes quickly and effectively, assure quality and security on every call, and reduce wait times.
3. Use the Right Technology: The technology that both your agents and patients use is important. From an agent perspective, having the right technology includes agent desktops, call monitoring, queue callback, intelligent dialers, and CRM integration with screen pops. From the patient perspective, having the right technology includes various ways the patient can easily interact such as emails, SMSs, video chats, tweets, and Facebook posts.
4. Measure Success with Call Center Metrics: Measuring quantitative performance such as call quality, first call resolution, patient satisfaction, average speed of answer, abandonment rate, and wait time are some of the ways medical call centers can have a visible eye on the success of their operation.
5. Reward and Motivate Agents: How agents deal with patients is in direct proportion to how well they are dealt with in their own company. Rewarding and motivating agents can go a long way toward producing a pleasant experience for the caller. This also includes empowering agents so they feel confident in their ability to do the job.
6. Ensure Agents Adhere to Regulations: Every organization has their own regulations, and medical call centers are no different. It’s vitally important that agents are well informed and follow the rules outlined by the call center. The medical call center needs to put in place proper measures to ensure those expectations have been communicated and understood by the agents. Proper training is the key.
7. Evaluate Agents: A method for evaluating agents is important to any medical call center, as it keeps the organization up to date with what is actually going on with each employee. Depending on the organization, having daily meetings with agents can help reduce potential risks that can take place on live calls.
Conclusion: The medical call center is a crucial component within healthcare to improve the patient experience, while reducing risks. Ultimately the decision is yours as to how you go about minimizing risks in your call center. The key is creating a positive experience for the patient.
Bronson Tang is the marketing manager at Pulsar360, Inc. He has ten years of experience in digital marketing and has worked in the Telecommunications sector for four years. He’s the author of the book, The Tao of Business.
In the last decade or so we’ve seen dramatic improvements in customer service call center performance across a wide swath of industries. As a consumer, it’s far easier to troubleshoot your cable service, clear up confusion about your cell-phone bill, or change your flight today than it used to be.
But try calling your health insurance company, even for something simple like updating your address, and you’ll feel like you’ve traveled back to 1999. Long hold times and endless apologies from customer reps, who can’t find the information you need, remain the norm in health insurance call centers.
A customer rep might have to log into one system to find a doctor’s account information, another to look up specific policy details, and a third to understand the insurer’s arrangement with the hospital system the doctor works for. Tougher questions about procedures that need special authorization or involve complex agreements with large health systems might send the rep spelunking into unfamiliar systems they only access every few months.
This doesn’t happen in most industries, which over the last decade have upgraded to automated systems. Natural-language chat bots and other virtual solutions today handle many basic customer requests, which reduce call center traffic. And when customers do call, reps typically access integrated databases through a single screen. This is true even in industries like cable and utilities, which not long ago battled the same issues that plague health insurers today.
The Challenge of Upgrading Technology
For insurers, upgrading call center technology and systems has proved challenging and costly. The challenge lies in the way insurers’ databases have been assembled over the years. Many were brought together through acquisitions or built by various outside companies in response to a specific need or regulatory requirement. This hodgepodge has left insurers dealing with outdated physical directories. The result is that simple updates, like changing an address, must sometimes be done on paper. The systems can’t be electronically integrated, and the cost of replacing them is prohibitive.
But the status quo has its own costs. Often insurers pay exorbitant licensing fees that haven’t been renegotiated for years. Training customer reps to use multiple systems, some of which are anything but intuitive, is also expensive. And there’s another expense associated with those creaky systems: the fines assessed against health insurers when they give their members inaccurate information.
Antiquated customer service at health insurers also creates systemic costs. When you can’t figure out what exactly your policy covers you might just go to the emergency room when you’re sick. That’s a drain on the hospital’s resources and the insurance company’s bottom line.
And beyond that, insurers are missing a prime opportunity to help their members save money by staying healthier. Insurers know when we’re due for an annual physical and when our prescriptions need refilling. They can tell us where the nearest urgent-care clinic is, so we go there instead of the ER. Better customer service would not only be reactive—answering our questions when we go online or call—but also proactive, providing us with prompts and reminders to take actions to keep us healthy and save us (and them) money.
Pursue a Single-Screen View, Single-Login Solution
This is entirely possible, and it doesn’t require ripping out all the legacy systems and databases that plague health-insurance call centers today. Instead, insurers should focus on implementing technology that integrates the data in their disparate systems into a single view that every customer rep can access. That would give them a single login and a single interface to work through when seeking information about a customer.
Moving to a single-screen view, with all the databases connected on the back end, would end the time wasted logging into and out of different systems, switching screens and running around the call center trying to find accurate information. It can be done through an application programming interface (API)—software that connects to all the existing systems—without building new or different databases.
This would result in dramatically shorter hold times, fewer fines for misinforming customers, and happier, healthier members. It would also lay the groundwork for more advanced customer communications, like chat bots and artificial intelligence. So, before you can finish typing “find a doctor” in the chat box, the software suggests a cardiologist near you, because it knows you have high-blood pressure based on your prescription records.
All this is possible if we start by putting a single screen in front of every customer rep in the call center. It’s an elegant solution to a complex problem—and that’s exactly what technology should do.
Mark Nathan is founder and CEO of Zipari, a consumer experience software company for health insurance. He’s worked in insurance for the last twelve years, and prior to that worked at consumer-oriented companies including Apple and Disney, after serving as a robotics engineer for NASA.
The consumer has spoken. Patient experience is now healthcare’s core differentiator. In a recent study of 2,000 participants across five countries in four continents, six out of ten consumers identified patient experience as extremely important to them as they defined it. [Jason A. Wolf, Ph.D. Patient Experience Journal, Volume 5, issue 1, 2018]
Extraordinary first experiences delivered through your organization’s contact center and across initial touchpoints can strengthen relationships and build trust. First patient experiences influence hospital preference [SHSMD, 2012], and impact subsequent patient volume and corresponding revenue.
A strategic opportunity is to navigate the shift from transactions to deliver amazing, differentiating first patient experiences. Four insights can enable that shift.
1. Discover Your First Experience Differentiator
Exactly what is it that makes your organization’s brand of first experiences truly distinctive from the perspective of those you serve? That is, what separates you from all others in your market?
Consider these related questions:
Do your team members or associates feel personally supported and cared for? Are they eager to support and care for those they serve?
What level of trust have you earned with providers? Are they strong advocates for your organization with their patients?
Are callers to your contact center enjoying remarkable first connections? Are they so delighted that they become personal champions for your hospital or health network?
What do patients say about their experiences at your organization when they’re talking with friends across social media?
What is different about the first experiences you deliver? What’s better? What’s not so great?
Are the first experiences you deliver consistent at all first touchpoints across your enterprise? Where are they best? Where do they need help?
Stakeholders move through an integration or an assimilation process as they experience healthcare organizations. For many, hospitals are scary places. People die in hospitals. Initial emotions can easily include fear and distrust.
Intention and focused effort are required to move many stakeholders beyond negative emotions and over the tipping point into positive responses such as safety, trust, and finally, to advocacy.
A foundation of trust with team members or associates, enables them, in turn, to express confidence in the organization when they interact with providers, callers, and patients. Each individual stakeholder is at a differing level of negative or positive response based on their own personal experiences.
Identify a baseline measurement of how each key stakeholder group perceives your organization. Understand which behaviors move that group from negative to positive responses. Listen deeply and in-person to the concerns of members of each stakeholder group to clarify how to differentiate your organization for them.
2. Audit First Experiences Across Initial Touchpoints
Once each stakeholder group’s requirements to earn trust are understood (vertical alignment), it is time to achieve consistent first patient experiences across initial touchpoints (horizontal alignment).
Perhaps your organization provides the initial touchpoints. Audit first patient experiences from the perspective of stakeholders who utilize each of these first touchpoints.
Partner with the team members or associates in each of these patient experience one (PX1) touchpoint areas to eliminate barriers to extraordinary first experiences. Outline desired themes for first conversations, not word-for-word scripts, which become mechanical, but conversation guides that are responsive to each individual and relevant to their needs.
Role-play initial conversations. Each team member should experience the role of the “patient.” Then they can share how the experience felt and suggest ways to enhance it. Include these role-plays as a permanent and recurring component of team member education.
3. Earn High Trust
Trust must be earned. It is evidenced by deep, focused listening, which seeks to serve each unique stakeholder. Every interaction is an opportunity for a memorable decisive moment.
Once established, elevate trust—even catapult it—by delivering unexpected “wows.” A wow is a surprising, proactive response to a stakeholder’s need.
Here are several examples of first experience wows suggested by Inspire Digital Solutions’ National Advisory Council:
Deep, active listening to providers, callers, and patients by team associates
First experience ambassadors who make personal visits to hospitalized frequent callers
Personalized greeting and wayfinding by first experience ambassadors
First experience ambassadors in the ER to align ER patients with in-network PCPs
First experience ambassadors in the contact center calling an elderly patient’s caregiver, who might be a friend, neighbor, or relative to arrange transportation to follow-up appointments
A dedicated triage phone line for team members and associates
4. Multiply Extreme Service to Accelerate Results
Addition is one associate earning trust with one stakeholder at a time. Multiplication is a team of equipped first experience leaders who train and empower their first experience ambassadors at each initial touchpoint across the enterprise.Contact Center: The first contact with your hospital or health network is usually with the contact center. That first connection may be on the phone or online.
Establish behavior standards for that initial contact. As discussed above, outline key themes to guide the ideal first interaction. Listen deeply to acknowledge and validate both needs and feelings and to understand what the individual desires most—regardless if that desire is verbalized. Ask clarifying questions. Listen deeply.
Reduce or eliminate transferred calls. Make the contact center a single-stop solution. Once the initial request is addressed—whether online or on the phone—ask, “What can I do now to elevate your experience?”
First Touch Points: Establish behavior standards for delivering unexpected value. Work with first experience ambassadors to develop a unique list of wows at each initial touchpoint.
For example, first experience ambassadors for concierge, info desk, or wayfinding might include volunteer parking lot greeters who welcome patients with a smile, provide free parking vouchers, and escort them to their destination.
First experience ambassadors in the emergency department might carry a tablet loaded with contact center software, greet patients with kindness, and offer those without a primary care physician an immediate referral to an in-network provider for follow-on care.
First experience ambassadors in the contact center can reach out to a discharged elderly patient’s caregiver—such as a friend, relative, or neighbor—to arrange transportation to follow-up primary provider visits. This unexpected value reduces stress for the patient, increases kept appointment rates, and reduces avoidable readmissions.
A dedicated triage line in the contact center with a specific phone number expressly for team members or associates can speak volumes about the organization’s priority for caring for its own caregivers.
Hospital and Enterprise Integration: Preparation for service recovery should enable team members to seek first to understand, identify problem causes, discuss possible solutions, and suggest problem resolution.
First patient experience follow-up and follow-through should identify delays or roadblocks to appointments for needed services. Document complaints and compliments to enable both process improvement and recognition for excellence.
What is the monetary value of consistently delivered first patient experiences that positively distinguish your organization? Consider delighted patients who share their enthusiasm with friends across social platforms, higher satisfaction scores, and fewer avoidable readmissions. Also look at increased revenue and expanded market share. Is it one million dollars a year, ten million dollars a year, or more?
What is that value multiplied across your network? What is that value multiplied over five or ten years?
More fundamentally, what is the non-monetary value of an extraordinary first patient experience? This question goes to your reason for being, to your ethos, and your mission.
If your mission is satisfied by maximizing the bottom line over the immediate fiscal period, let’s be candid. In the near term, accomplishing transactions may be adequate.
However, if your commitment is to set a standard of excellence in quality care, then more is required. If your DNA is to transform the health of those you serve, more is needed.
We must navigate from success to significance. We must shift from processing transactions to deliver consistent, compassionate first experiences that earn trust. This is a hallmark of quality. This is access to optimal health.
Richard D. Stier, MBA is president of Inspire Digital Solutions. He brings three decades of results, improving first experiences as a senior executive, consultant, speaker, and author. He is honored to have led engagements resulting in more than 100 million dollars for clients. Inspire Digital Solutions partners with healthcare leaders to navigate the shift from transactions to deliver amazing first patient experiences.
1Call announced that healthcare customers who manage on-call and physician scheduling with the 1Call and QGenda scheduling platforms, can now deliver calls and messages to the right people, at the right time thanks to an integration initiative between 1Call and QGenda. 1Call’s comprehensive healthcare on-call scheduling and communications suite works seamlessly with QGenda’s physician scheduling software to provide a fully integrated scheduling platform.
The integration ensures that schedule assignments in both platforms are synchronized at all times. The result is a powerful tool that plays a critical role in helping nurses and doctors save lives each day.
“The 1Call on-call scheduling platform is utilized by healthcare organizations for critical communications and secure HIPAA-compliant messaging,” said Tom Curtin, president of Amtelco and the 1Call Healthcare Division. “This integration makes it possible to update on-call schedule shift assignments on a real-time basis in our Intelligent Series software with information originating in the QGenda application.”
1Call systems send roughly 14.5 million messages a day or 5.25 billion messages a year. QGenda provides automated physician scheduling for more than 170,000 providers, covering 20 million monthly shift hours.