Tag Archives: telehealth articles

Telehealth in Uncertain Times


LVM Systems

By Traci Haynes

The COVID-19 pandemic has placed telehealth at the forefront in providing healthcare services. It has forced changes in the environments in which clinicians typically practice. Individuals who, under non-COVID-19 conditions, would seek access in an emergency department (ED), urgent care, or healthcare providers’ office are now avoiding these settings. And with community spread, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends alternatives to face-to-face triage and visits in an office setting if screening can take place via telehealth (that is over the phone, through patient portals, or online self-assessment tools). A recent report from Frost and Sullivan suggests that telehealth will increase by over 64 percent nationwide this year and continue to increase in the years ahead.

The Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ) defines telehealth as “the use of telecommunications technologies to deliver health-related services and information that support patient care, administrative activities, and health education.” It typically consists of a two-way, real-time interaction over distance between a patient and a clinician using audio or visual technology. 

Telehealth or Telemedicine?

Telehealth can help communicate with and coordinate care for individuals with chronic condition. Click To Tweet

Many consider the terms telehealth and telemedicine synonymous and interchangeable. However, telemedicine can describe a more limited set of remote clinical services such as diagnosis and monitoring.

In recent years, telehealth has become more recognized, especially in the aftermath of natural disasters (such as hurricanes, tornados, earthquakes, floods, and blizzards), when seeking routine care can be dangerous for both clinicians and patients. There was a tremendous uptick in telehealth interactions following Hurricanes Irma, Maria, and Harvey in 2017. Crises tend to increase the urgency of telehealth needs. 

Using telehealth in rural communities to bridge the healthcare gap delivering routine care or providing access to specialists that typically exist in more urban areas is well known. Telehealth also makes services more readily available or convenient for individuals with limited mobility, time restrictions, or transportation issues. Furthermore, telehealth can help communicate with and coordinate care for individuals with chronic conditions in supporting self-management as well as assist with earlier interventions in the face of impending exacerbations. 

Social Distancing

The critical need for the recent social distancing between providers and patients has driven increased demand for telehealth. In response to the pandemic, the Trump administration has expanded access, albeit temporary, with changes to telehealth reimbursement policies. 

Beginning March 30, 2020, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) allowed more than 80 additional services through telehealth. Clinicians can bill immediately for dates of service on or after March 6, 2020. According to CMS, it will now pay for telehealth services under the Physician Fee Schedule at the same amount as in-person services. 

Healthcare providers, including physicians, nurse practitioners, clinical psychologists, and licensed clinical social workers, are now able to offer telehealth to Medicare beneficiaries, including standard office visits, mental health counseling, and preventive health screenings. Medicare often is the early adopter for changes in reimbursement, with other health plans following their lead. 

A May 9, 2020 report in Modern Healthcare, said that Providence went from 700 video visits a month to 70,000 a week. New figures from Blue Cross Blue Shield of MA reported that daily claims for telehealth grew from approximately 200 to more than 38,000 in May. A May 26, 2020 article in FierceHealthcare reported experts predicting 1 billion telehealth visits by 2021, and currently almost half of practicing physicians are now using telehealth appointments. 

With this shift in practice, healthcare providers will increase their use of telemonitoring devices to measure blood pressure, pulse oximetry, heart rate, temperature, and weight readings. Telemonitoring also will assess EKG tracings and views of the retina and tympanic membrane, as well as other data to diagnose patients.

Emergency Department

There is growing concern about the decreased number of ED visits for emergent situations such as acute myocardial infarctions, cerebrovascular accidents, and other life-threatening situations. Recent statistics, as reflected in emergency medical system calls, offer evidence of increased deaths at home. EDs also report that patients are waiting too long to seek care, and as a result, have often suffered irreversible damage. 

An article in HealthDay News on May 20, 2020 reported that U.S. EDs are seeing about half as many heart attack patients as usual. The data from Kaiser Permanente Northern California included 4.4 million patients. In looking at records from January 1 through April 14, they found that the weekly rate of hospitalizations for heart attacks decreased 48 percent. Moreover, fewer individuals with pre-existing cardiac conditions went to the ED from March 4 through April 14, when compared to pre-COVID-19 timeframes from the year before.

Telehealth Nursing Practice 

Telehealth, in support of the Institute for Healthcare Improvement’s (IHI) triple aim has shown improved access, quality, and cost-efficiency of healthcare delivery and has resulted in an increased demand for telehealth nursing practice (TNP). 

A medical call center with TNP registered nurses (RNs) using decision-support tools provide recommendations for care at home or accessing a higher level of care based on the caller’s symptoms. RNs do not give a diagnosis, nor do they prescribe medications, although in certain situations, RNs can provide refills or e-prescribe medications based on physicians’ orders. 

The breadth and scope of TNP have advanced throughout the years. It has had a major presence in the United States since the 1960s, in Canada since the 1970s, and the UK beginning in the 1990s. 

In the last half of the 70s, health maintenance organizations (HMOs) began using telephone triage and advice services as a gatekeeper to control consumer access to care. In the 80s, hospital marketing departments used telephone triage as well as physician and service referrals, class registration, and health education and information services to attract and keep their market share. Once again, in the early to mid-90s, managed care organizations further expanded telehealth services for demand management, recertification, and referral authorization due to the ever-increasing incidence of chronic illness and multi-morbidities as well as the associated rise in healthcare costs. 

Present-day, the COVID-19 pandemic, has led to the role of telehealth nurses providing triage, surveillance, and monitoring for disease management, care management, case management, care coordination, and clinical prevention programs.

Conclusion

The use of telehealth has grown exponentially during this pandemic. It has filled a much-needed void in providing qualified medical care by clinicians without the necessity of commuting to a higher level of care. It has proven positive outcomes and high degrees of satisfaction. Telehealth is convenient and accessible, and while an option for many medical situations, it is especially important to know of its reliability during a public health emergency.

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

The Future of Healthcare is Here with Help from Telehealth and Hospital Call Centers


1Call-call center

By Nicole Limpert

Those of us in the healthcare communication field already know the value of telehealth and virtual care. As the COVID-19 pandemic evolved, telemedicine gained worldwide recognition as a critical healthcare tool to keep both patients and medical staff safe.

Telehealth has predominantly been used to bring healthcare to rural areas or isolated populations, such as overseas military personnel and those who work in the maritime industry. Until recently, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) placed certain stipulations on telehealth providers and would only reimburse for services provided in rural areas with specific audio-visual equipment.

However, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, on March 6, 2020 CMS relaxed restrictions and removed many of the conditions clinicians had to adhere to in order to provide telehealth services to patients living across the United States. Later, CMS expanded its telehealth adoption to include eighty-five new telehealth services to their covered list and set provider reimbursement rates for telehealth visits to be the same as in-person services.

As the COVID-19 pandemic evolved, telemedicine gained worldwide recognition as a critical healthcare tool to keep both patients and medical staff safe. Click To Tweet

Are We Ready for Telemedicine?

Many people are new to the concept of telemedicine. On July 31, 2019 JD Power reported that nearly three-quarters of Americans weren’t aware of telehealth options or didn’t have access to technology to partake in telehealth. Yet, the American Hospital Association states that 76 percent of U.S. hospitals were already using telehealth before the coronavirus pandemic. Currently, forty-eight states require telehealth coverage in insurance plans.

Healthcare-related industries already had infrastructure in place and were prepared for the use of telemedicine and telehealth. However, few, if any, expected how quickly the use of these virtual tools would grow or how they would be used in new ways when COVID-19 began to spread. The coronavirus pandemic has dramatically accelerated the adoption of telemedicine usage. Telehealth visits sky-rocketed by 50 percent in March 2020 according to data from Frost and Sullivan, and analysts at Forrester Research estimates that virtual healthcare interactions will reach more than one billion by the end of 2020.

Hospital Call Centers Experience Increased Telehealth Calls

The pandemic has affected call centers in every industry. Most business websites have placed a message at the top of their home page warning of long hold times and delays in service. 

In healthcare, communication setbacks can mean life or death. Understandably, hospital call centers experienced a substantial increase in calls early in the pandemic. Many healthcare call centers assist with telehealth efforts and they also serve as a hub for their healthcare organization during a crisis.

“We played an immediate role in the hospital’s corporate response to the coronavirus pandemic,” explains Shelley White, MS, CHAM, FACHE, director of patient access services for State University of New York (SUNY) Upstate Medical University.

“A COVID-19 hotline was established, and we took calls from multiple counties in our area. Within two weeks, our call volume drastically increased, and we needed more space in our call centers to work while practicing social distancing. We used free operator licenses from our vendor to set-up additional remote operator workstations so more of our agents could work from home. This kept our staff safe while serving the community.”

Running a call center in a virtual server environment, or in the cloud, is giving hospitals the ability to stay flexible and available by using remote operators. These tools are scalable and result in fully functioning call handling to transform any personal computer into a professional telephone agent station.

Call Center Software Assists Telehealth Communication

Using telehealth for virtual appointments with medical staff and patients has been essential during this pandemic. There are other ways healthcare systems use telehealth communications. Hospital call centers are using their communication software, often in new ways, to provide their communities and staff with accurate information, quick responses, and in some cases—hope.

  • Nurse Triage Centers: Agents use a customized script to triage calls.
  • Improved Navigation Menus: Callers are directed to additional, updated information.
  • Non-Clinical Services: Telehealth also refers to remote, non-clinical administrative uses such as establishing and maintaining on-call shifts for COVID-19 volunteer pools. They can even create announcements using a song, tone, or message to broadcast throughout the hospital when a coronavirus patient is released. It’s a wonderful way to spread hope and encouragement to patients and staff.

Many telehealth agents are working from home and it is crucial for them to have access to the IT support they would normally use when working in the call center. Jennie McWhorter, information services operations manager for Ephraim McDowell Health in Danville, KY explains how the system can help here as well. “We have entered a ‘Telehealth Support Hotline’ in the call center software that allows the operators to connect to our help desk directly,” says Jennie. “This is very important as our main help desk line is usually a voicemail-only system that creates a ticket in our help desk software.”

Remote Operators Help Medical Staff

Shelley White’s team has also been able to help staff who are still located within the hospital. SUNY Upstate Medical University is the only ACS certified Level I Trauma Center in the region and serves about 1.7 million people and 28 referral hospitals. Shelley says, “During this coronavirus crisis, our ER registration is short-staffed, but we are able to help by watching our track board, which is tied into the EMR system with Epic. When a COVID-19 patient is admitted, we can call the patient to register them and verify insurance information over the phone. This process would normally be done in-person by ER staff, but we can do it remotely and ease some of their workload.”

According to numbers reported from Becker’s Hospital Review on April 7, 2020, employees from 243 hospitals have been furloughed during the pandemic. Hospitals are taking steps to save supplies, suspend elective procedures, and focus on treating COVID-19 patients.

To avoid layoffs, some healthcare organizations reassigned their medical staff as remote call center operators. “We were able to redistribute existing staff from other departments and tap into their skills to cross-train them to work for the switchboard,” states Shelley. 

“In our situation, patient access staff and medical answer teams were trained on easy calls and were then able to work from home as remote operators. These staff members are now even more valuable to our organization.”

Kathleen Kerrigan BSN, RN, and manager of medical communications center, radiology contact center and pager services for Nebraska Medicine mentions her experience: “Nebraska Medicine has created a flex pool for employees that work in areas of the organization that have closed or severely cut their workflows due to COVID-19. I was able to add nineteen of these employees to my team, including both nurses and agents.”

Telehealth as the New Normal: Telehealth has suddenly become crucial for patients and healthcare organizations. The use of telehealth has undeniably shown what a valuable tool it is in maintaining a healthy population. 

Hospital call centers and healthcare professionals have already shown agility in adapting communications software in new ways to improve telemedicine applications while enhancing patient care—even during a pandemic. Advances in technology and our ability to use it could soon make the use of telehealth a standard healthcare practice. 

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.

Vendor Spotlight On TriageLogic


TriageLogic

Adapting to the Demands of Healthcare with High-quality Solutions for Nurse Triage and Remote Patient Care

In 2006 by Charu Raheja, Ph.D., founded TriageLogic with the purpose of using modern nurse telehealth technology and medical expertise to improve access to healthcare. Their goal is to ensure everyone receives the same standard of care regardless of where they live. Ravi Raheja, MD, serves as the medical director and COO, overseeing all nursing and technology operations in the company to ensure patients receive the highest level of care.

Over the last thirteen years, TriageLogic has stayed true to its mission and continues to provide innovative nurse telehealth technology and mobile applications. TriageLogic also operates one of the largest URAC-accredited healthcare call centers in the United States. As healthcare has evolved, TriageLogic has continued to adapt and release new product lines to meet the changing needs of the industry.

The year 2020 has challenged our healthcare system, causing many medical professionals to work around the clock to implement emergency remote support solutions for patients. TriageLogic has been proud to assist with the COVID-19 pandemic by quickly adapting and creating easy-to-implement solutions for hospitals, medical organizations, and health centers to use for patient care during the COVID-19 crisis.

The following lists some of the solutions available for clients:

Nurse Triage On Call

TriageLogic maintains one of the most sophisticated URAC accredited nurse triage systems in the United States. Their call center software allows clients to customize orders after nurses evaluate the symptoms presented by patients. Nurses can share handouts with patients on behalf of doctors, and MDs can communicate securely with nurses using HIPAA-compliant texting. The company quickly ramped up its services and software implementation as it observed a call volume increase by as much as 35 percent due to COVID-19.

Customized Coronavirus-Trained Hotline and Patient Triage System

These hotlines include a combination of online systems and a remote call center telephony with triage protocols. By partnering with physicians, TriageLogic helps millions of concerned callers, evaluate their symptoms, and coordinate testing for thousands of patients.

Remote Call Center with a Phone System for Doctors and Nurses

TriageLogic can set up nurses and doctors to work remotely, including connecting all staff to a call center-grade, HIPAA-compliant phone system. This system allows organizations to keep their clinical staff at home and coordinate as a team as if they were in the office. From front desk staff to nurses and doctors, the entire team stays together while working remotely, including scheduling visits and conducting telehealth visits. Using secure phone lines keeps patient information confidential.

Nurse Triage Software with Up-To-Date Protocols (including COVID-19)

MyTriageChecklist is a fast-to-train, web-enabled software from TriageLogic that provides continuity in patient care and education. It takes less than an hour to implement, does not store any sensitive patient information, and offers an easy-to-use interface to ensure nurses ask and consistently document all relevant questions related to patient symptoms.

It also includes triage protocols written by Dr. Schmitt and Dr. Thompson, which are updated in real-time. For example, COVID-19 protocols receive regular updates as information becomes available.

Remote Patient Monitoring (RPM)

As monitoring technologies continue to gain traction, the healthcare industry views RPM as a way to help control the cost of care for those with chronic diseases such as congestive heart failure, COPD, asthma, and diabetes.

However, the amount of data that’s generated by monitoring technologies is vast. TriageLogic has partnered with several device companies to create a full end-to-end monitoring system. The system makes it easy for doctors to monitor their chronically ill patients without adding administrative or clinical burden to their staff. TriageLogic can also create specific protocols for nurses to use based on devices and patient conditions.

Reporting Portal

Finally, all TriageLogic solutions come with a robust reporting portal to provide in-depth analytics on the outcomes from patient interaction. TriageLogic aims to stay ahead of the demands of healthcare and create ready-made and easy to implement solutions to continue helping providers give the best possible care to their patients.

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.

TriageLogic Implements Emergency COVID-19 Hotlines and Remote Care Solutions


TriageLogic

TriageLogic announced easy-to-implement solutions that hospitals, medical organizations, and health centers can use for patient care during the COVID-19 crisis. As the healthcare sector adapts to the coronavirus pandemic, many medical professionals work around the clock to implement emergency support solutions for patients who present worrying symptoms, as well as those who need help understanding the guidelines for care. 

A COVID19 hotline is available 24/7 to screen patient questions, provide information, and follow scripts on behalf of specific practices and medical groups. Click To Tweet

The following solutions have minimal implementation time requirements:

  • A Coronavirus-trained hotline is available 24/7 to screen patient questions, provide information, and follow scripts on behalf of specific practices and medical groups. With a significant increase in patient calls, the ability to discern which ones require additional medical attention and which are only seeking advice is paramount to a functional office staff. 
  • Nurse triage software with Covid-19 protocols, through MyTriageChecklist, is a fast-to-train, web-enabled software that provides continuity in patient care and education. It takes less than an hour to implement, does not store any sensitive patient information, and offers an easy-to-use interface to ensure nurses consistently ask and document all relevant questions related to patient symptoms. 
  • Remote call center with phone system can enable your certified nurses to work at any location connected to a call center-grade, HIPAA-compliant phone system. This allows an organization to keep their clinical staff at home and coordinate as a team to remotely evaluate patients.

“We are working around the clock to help our current clients as well as other health centers put processes in place to help patients and concerned callers. We are also working with remote monitoring companies to have a process in place to help patients at risk, or after a hospitalization at their homes,” said TriageLogic’s Ravi Raheja, MD.

TriageLogic

TriageLogic offers easy to implement solutions for healthcare organizations to address the COVID-19 crisis. This includes setting up information hotlines, giving nurses the tools to evaluate patients over the phone, and helping set up remote call center phone systems. Visit www.triagelogic.com for more information or email info@triagelogic.com.

Implementing Virtual Call Centers with Telehealth Systems to Address COVID-19


TriageLogic

TriageLogic announced a quick-to-deploy and easy-to-use telehealth system with a virtual call center that hospitals, medical organizations, and health centers can use for patient care during the COVID-19 crisis.

As health organizations adapt to the coronavirus pandemic, they look for a system they can deploy quickly for staff and nurses to work remotely to set up doctor visits, answer patient questions, evaluate their symptoms, and determine who needs further evaluation by a doctor. Team members can communicate with their physicians and set up two-way video visits using secure, HIPAA-compliant texting options that do not require the use of a mobile app. This allows the remote hospital associates to set up and coordinate telehealth visits for doctors instead of in-person visits.

Nurses can also be included in the solution by having COVID-19 and other medical protocols available in a web-based system. The information from the phone call can be exported to the hospital’s EMR system or be integrated with Salesforce.

TriageLogic was able to set up a telehealth system within a couple of days for our nurses and doctors to work remotely and continue their medical visits. Click To Tweet

TriageLogic can deploy the following solutions related to sending staff home:

  • Cloud-based HIPAA compliant call center telephony system for coordination of remote staff
  • Phone system to connect remote workers with queueing and full contact center capability
  • COVID-19 nurse triage protocols for use with existing EMR or CRM such as Salesforce
  • Web-based triage software with COVID-19 and other protocols
  • Coordination of telemedicine visits between non-clinical, nurses, and doctors in client EMR
  • TriageLogic assists in recommending efficient workflow and implementation of two-way video visits

Additional solutions such as a fully staffed COVID-19 hotline and remote patient monitoring are also available. “TriageLogic was able to set up a telehealth system within a couple of days for our nurses and doctors to work remotely and continue their medical visits,” said Melinda, director of PPM business operations for a large children’s hospital.

TriageLogic

Visit www.TriageLogic.com or email info@triagelogic.com for more information.

Emergency Medical and Continuity Remote Care Solutions to Address the Coronavirus Outbreak


TriageLogic

By Ravi K. Raheja, MD

The Covid-19 pandemic continues to change nearly all parts of our lives and businesses. As a result of this national emergency, medical professionals, hospitals, and organizations are working around the clock to implement emergency support solutions for patients presenting worrying symptoms as well as those who need help understanding the guidelines for care.  

This article focuses on emergency solutions that providers can implement quickly in this time of crisis.

Set-up a Virtual Doctor Office

We understand that virtual visits are going to be necessary to save time and decrease in-person patient contact. However, medical practices must consider how to create a system that allows medical visits to continue as if they were in the office. 

Here are some things to consider:

Doctors can evaluate patients over the phone and prescribe. Many practices already have the technology to see patients virtually, and there are several platforms available that healthcare providers, who do not yet have the technology, can implement quickly. When selecting a technology, choose a vendor that can provide HIPAA-safe calls, record information as needed, and make it easy to access without a mobile application.

Medical practices must consider how to create a system that allows medical visits to continue as if they were in the office.  Click To Tweet

Nurses play a vital role in helping contain the epidemic and alleviate the calls that go to the doctors. Nurses need to use triage protocols (including COVID-19 protocols) to evaluate and determine which patients require a consultation with a doctor. The protocols experience regular updates, written by doctors, as the latest information becomes available. These protocols are available for free from TriageLogic.

Software System

Look for a company that can quickly implement a virtual office that allows front desk, nurses, and doctors to continue working and operating remotely as if they were in an office. Vendors that have a record of working with doctors can implement these solutions quickly and affordably.

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. For more information visit www.triagelogic.com and www.continuwell.com or email support@triagelogic.com

Coronavirus and the Healthcare Call Center


LVM Systems

By Mark Dwyer

Healthcare call centers face unprecedented challenges in response to the Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. At a time when efficient call processing is even more critical than usual, due to increased call volumes, call times have lengthened. Much is attributable to the plethora of misinformation individuals have readily available to them over the internet, via the media, and from family and friends. Now, not only do call center nurses need to calm the caller, they must correct the caller’s misunderstandings.

Add to this the pace at which medically valid updates occur. Triage call centers must keep up with the weekly, and sometimes daily, changes to the guidelines for handling possible COVID-19 calls.

COVID-19 has generated tremendous activity related to telehealth as a method of triaging and treating those who are infected. Given that COVID-19 symptoms can vary from very mild to severe and that the virus spreads through close contact, telehealth can be a powerful tool in combating the crisis.

Health center providers may now deliver in-scope services via telehealth to individuals who have not previously presented for care at a health center site and who are not current patients of the health center for the duration of this public health emergency. These include triage services with or without initial consultations. Some of the specific changes include:

  • Continuation of zero member liability (such as copays and cost-sharing) for care that is delivered via telehealth.
  • Any services provided virtually will be eligible for telehealth coverage.
  • All prior authorization requirements for telehealth services will be lifted for dates of service from March 17, 2020, through June 30, 2020.
  • Telehealth services may be delivered by providers with any connection technology to ensure patient access to care.
COVID-19 has forced healthcare to look at all aspects of its care delivery system. Click To Tweet

New Telehealth Policies Expand Coverage for Healthcare Services

Numerous states have taken steps to waive their requirement that a physician is licensed in the state to provide care to patients through their declarations of statewide emergency. More states are sure to follow.

According to Gregory A. Hood, MD, an internist in Lexington, Kentucky, who is on the advisory board of Medscape Business of Medicine, “The waiving of state licensure requirements should help ease a number of stress points of the current crisis in ways that benefit society.”

Healthcare providers, supported by states and payers, can leverage telehealth in ways not possible in previous epidemics to triage, diagnose, and treat patients while effectively protecting healthcare workers and reducing the spread of the disease. States that have broad authority as payers can play a crucial role in driving the use of telehealth as a method of treatment by implementing reimbursement policies that enable providers to offer virtual care services to patients.

Like many other aspects of the United States’ healthcare industry, when COVID-19 ends, the healthcare call center will never be the same. We will work smarter, more efficiently, schedule more creatively, and support more remote staff. We will embrace telehealth, tele-triage, and telemedicine with video calls, chat, and online physician consults.

More insurance companies will reimburse for online physician visits enticing more to participate. Triage call centers may also have more opportunities to work with EMS and police stations to help triage patients. Finally, data sharing will increase to the patient’s PCP into their EMR records or other approved endpoints. Data aggregation and reporting will enable call centers to analyze better yearly trends leading to heightened prediction and prevention of disease. 

COVID-19 has forced healthcare to look at all aspects of its care delivery system. May we all be the better for it. 

LVM Systems logo

Mark Dwyer is a veteran of the healthcare call center industry and serves as COO of LVM Systems.

What Kind of Healthcare Coverage Do You Provide to Your Staff?



Take Steps to Meet the Healthcare Needs of Your Healthcare Call Center Staff

By Peter Lyle DeHaan, Ph.D.

Author Peter Lyle DeHaan

I enjoy going to the zoo with family. We go several times each year. A special bonus are those opportunities to interact with the zookeepers and learn more about the animals under their care. During a recent visit we had the privilege of an extended discussion with one of the caretakers after she tended to the zoo’s three lions.

She shared insider information about their feeding, their training, and their healthcare. After covering the extensive medical care these three amazing creatures receive—the testing, monitoring, medication, and access to specialists—she grew momentarily somber. “They receive much better healthcare than I do.” We sadly nodded that we understood. Then she perked up and resumed telling us about these animals that she so clearly loves.

I wonder if a similar thing happens in our healthcare call centers. Do employees hang up from a phone call and shake their heads in dismay, muttering “That caller receives far better healthcare than I do.”? I hope not, but I fear it’s true far more often than it’s not.

It may be understandable for this to happen occasionally, but it’s inexcusable if it happens often. This needs to change. Take steps to better meet the healthcare needs of healthcare call center staff.

A key aspect of enabling call-center staff to best meet the healthcare needs of callers is to start by making sure you best meet the healthcare needs of your staff. Click To Tweet

To expect workers in healthcare call centers to serve patients and callers with excellence, they must first have a good perspective for them to work from. This includes providing healthcare workers with adequate healthcare coverage and services.

Falling short of doing so handicaps them from performing their jobs with distinction and serving callers with appropriate empathy. It would be like making restaurant staff work on an empty stomach but expecting it to not impact their patrons’ experience.

Call centers invest money on ongoing agent training, coaching, and quality assurance programs. Make sure to also invest in call center staff’s healthcare. This will help ensure that they better connect with the people they talk to on the phone, without negativity and resentment showing through.

A key aspect of enabling call-center staff to best meet the healthcare needs of callers is to start by making sure you best meet the healthcare needs of your staff. If you find yourself needing to make changes, you may not be able to fix everything all at one time. But you can move in that direction. Start today.

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.

The Goal of the Telephone Triage Process



By Rose Moon, RN, BSN

Telephone triage processes are proven to improve access to care professionals, lower patient anxiety, save on ER costs, and prevent unnecessary health complications. The primary goal of the telephone triage process is to deliver safe, quality-oriented telephone triage partnered with outstanding customer service. The health, safety, and wellbeing of the patient is at the forefront of every telephone encounter. 

The purpose of the telephone triage process is to assess the patient’s current signs and symptoms, concurrently evaluating their past medical history and current medications. It performs the patient assessment in accordance with protocols which guide the nurse to determine the proper triage disposition to direct care to the safest, most cost-effective solution available at that time. 

Triage nurses don’t always have to be right; we just can’t afford to be wrong. Click To Tweet

To accomplish the goals of the telephone triage process, an organization needs to recruit, hire, train, and retain experienced telephone triage nurses. Two valued components that will result in quality patient outcomes are providing comprehensive, detailed orientation, as well as equipping the nursing staff with needed tools: gold-standard telephone triage protocols. 

However, the final determining factor of quality phone triage lies in the training of nurses to utilize the protocol tool properly. Anyone can read a protocol. It is the knowledgeable triage nurse who applies the following attributes of enhanced assessment skills, superior judgment, prior nursing experience, and exceptional decision-making abilities to the protocol tool that results in safe, quality outcomes and cost-effective patient care. 

Performing hands-on patient assessment allows the healthcare provider to visualize cyanosis, smell foul drainage, palpate an abdomen, and use a stethoscope to assess patients’ lung sounds. Telephone triage nurses don’t have such luxuries to assess patient needs. They’re limited to their ability to query and listen intently to the caller to obtain the necessary details of the patient’s medical symptoms and then direct medical care accordingly.

Successful triage nurses live by the following golden rules of the telephone triage process:

  • Every call is life threatening until proven otherwise.
  • Complete an ABCD assessment with every telephone encounter: Airway, Breathing, Circulation, Deficit (Neuro).
  • Assessing patients over the phone is high risk; therefore, take the callers word as truth. 
  • Follow your sixth sense: protocols are decision support tools; nursing judgment determines outcomes.
  • Know your patients’ medical history and current medications.
  • Assess your callers as well as your patients. Be a patient advocate.
  • Never provide a dosage of a medication without a complete patient assessment. 
  • Always confirm labeled dosage of a medication as well as the means in which the caretaker plans to administer the drug.
  • Always assess the caller’s level of comfort with the established plan of care before ending the call:
  • “Are you comfortable with these recommendations?”
  • “Now tell me what you plan to do next.”
  • If it isn’t documented, it didn’t happen. Use defensive documentation. Paint a picture.
  • Regardless of the reason for the call, always obtain a rectal temperature on an infant under the age of three months.
  • Document the exact mechanism of injury.
  • Be alert for red flags. Any time a caller uses or implies one of the following phrases be sure to clarify the underlying meaning. Carefully analyze your disposition and recommendation for follow-up care:
  • Grunting or moaning
  • Lethargic or listless
  • Sleeping more than usual 
  • Just doesn’t look right, act right, or is fussy
  • Sleeps through a rectal temperature
  • High pitched cry or unusual, funny cry
  • History of sickle cell or immune deficiency 
  • Frequent caller
  • Caller that expresses anxiousness or numerous questions after discussing a plan of care
  • Patient symptoms of headache, dizziness, disorientation, nausea, fatigue, or irritability; flu versus carbon dioxide exposure
  • At the conclusion of the patient telephone encounter, instruct callers to call back or seek medical evaluation if current symptoms become worse or additional signs and symptoms of concern develop.

Triage nurses don’t always have to be right; we just can’t afford to be wrong. Always err on the side of caution.

Learn more about telephone nurse triage and how to implement successful triage nurse centers by downloading the free e-book: Telephone Nurse Triage Handbook

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. 

Patient experience recently became the centerpiece of many health systems’ strategic growth initiatives. Click To Tweet

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.