Wellness programs allow an employer or healthcare plan to provide participation incentives to members. These incentives may include cash awards, gym memberships, and premium discounts. Some popular options provided by wellness programs include smoking cessation, stress management, weight loss, and diabetes management.
Wellness programs have the direct goal of helping participants move into a healthier lifestyle, with reduced healthcare concerns. The indirect goal is lower healthcare costs. These benefit everyone: the employee, the company, and the healthcare provider.
Wellness programs can tap call center services to better achieve these two goals and add value to their program. Here are some things that a call center can provide to enhance a wellness program.
Though most signups for wellness programs happen online, this isn’t a solution for everyone. Some people feel more comfortable talking with a real person over the phone and others have questions. And what happens to those people who can’t access the web form or encounter problems once they get there? Provide a ready solution for these people by offering the option to enroll over the phone.
Class and Event Registration
Most wellness programs offer various classes and events to their participants. These might include stress reduction classes or a 5k race. Just as with enrollment, signing up for classes and events mostly happens online. But this solution won’t work for everyone. That’s why providing alternative phone backup is the way to go to help maximize participation.
Another service call centers can provide to wellness programs is offering web chat capabilities. When a website visitor doesn’t see the option they want or can’t find the answer to their question, help is a click away with web chat. From a technical standpoint, adding a web chat option to a website is easy. Staffing it around-the-clock is hard. That’s where a call center comes in. They’re available 24/7 to help participants anytime of the day or night.
Class and Appointment Reminders
Just because someone signed up for a class or made an appointment doesn’t mean they’ll show up. No-shows result in inefficiency and cause a financial loss for the provider, as well as accomplishing nothing for the participant. Making strategic reminders to participants by phone, email, or text will help increase their commitment and ensure their participation. It’s an easy solution for your call center to provide and pays off huge.
People increasingly expect 24/7 customer service and support. This is challenging for any organization to offer and cost prohibitive to provide in house. Yet a call center already has staff in place, so extending around-the-clock availability to program participants is a cost-effective solution.
We’ve talked about self-service over the internet and personal service over the phone. Yet there are other communication channels available for people to use. Why not let them use their channel of choice? This might include email, text messaging, or social media. A full-service call center is already set up to use these communication channels, so why not extend these options to your program participants?
Wellness programs empower employees to improve their health and help companies hold down healthcare costs. To maximize the utility and results of a wellness program, tap a full-service call center to add value. A call center can handle telephone enrollment, offer class and event registration, and provide web chat. They can also remind participants of classes and appointments. In addition, they offer 24/7 availability and multi-channel access, which will delight participants and increase their involvement. This improves health outcomes and saves money.
The stakes have never been higher for healthcare providers to deliver a positive patient experience. According to a recent study by Prophet, 81 percent of consumers are unsatisfied with their healthcare experience, while only 40 percent believe providers are best meeting their needs. At the same time, data breaches in the healthcare sector are at an all-time high—occurring at a rate of more than one per day in the United States.
These security incidents not only jeopardize patients’ privacy but also put both patient trust and brand reputation at risk.
All the while, medical practitioners, hospitals, and insurers are pressed to keep up with the ever-evolving regulatory compliance landscape. This not only includes the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) but also the Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard (PCI DSS), the EU General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), and a long list of individual state regulations and data breach notification laws.
While you can’t please every patient, you can strike a balance between care and data security. The first place to address this is your contact center.
Although online interaction tools and patient portals are gaining in popularity, you can’t underestimate the value of the voice channel. Research by PatientPop shows that 58.5 percent of patients still prefer to schedule an appointment via phone.
As such, your contact center is often the go-to point of interaction for your patients and can set the tone for their entire experience. But this also means that your contact center intrinsically holds, processes, and stores copious amounts of personally identifiable information (PII), from medical records to payment card data. This makes the contact center an alluring target for fraudsters and hackers.
However, it’s not only devious cybercriminals who threaten your patients’ data. Company insiders, such as rogue patient service representatives (PSRs) or contact center agents, pose a massive threat, especially if they have access to patient data given over the phone or stored in desktop applications. In fact, 58 percent of all healthcare data breaches and security incidents are the result of insiders, according to Verizon’s Protected Health Information Data Breach Report.
Security Best Practices
With inside and outside threats, as well as vulnerable legacy systems serving as entry points for enterprise-wide breach incidents, contact centers are undoubtedly a weak link in your security chain. But protecting PII, maintaining compliance, and providing a positive patient experience first involve a hearty dose of security best practices:
Treat all data as potentially toxic: The more information that is available in the event of a breach, the easier it will be for a malicious insider or cybercriminal to steal a patient’s identity or access their private medical records.
Train all employees and always perform thorough background checks: Go beyond basic employee vetting and background checks, especially when hiring for your contact center environments. Educate PSRs and customer service agents on data security best practices and how to spot social engineering and phishing tactics.
Prepare your response management policy: Have an incident response management policy and process in place, preferably as part of an information security management system. Prepare for a worst-case scenario, and test your incident response plan at least annually.
Tokenize data: Replace PII with a meaningless equivalent, so even if a breach is successful, the hacked data will be of no value to the cybercriminal. This approach can also assist in the event of a social engineering attack, which can put even the most trustworthy employee at risk for exposing PII.
Enforce the principle of least privilege: Give employees the minimum level of access required to perform their job function at the appropriate time. Introduce exception procedures for when emergency access is needed.
Authenticate the user to authenticate the service agent: Prevent PSRs and agents from accessing patient data until the PSR has received the right data from the user. This means that until the caller has been successfully identified using the appropriate secure authentication approach, deny access to detailed PII.
With these tactics creating a foundation for security in your contact center, you can introduce descoping technologies. Such technologies not only strengthen data security and compliance by removing sensitive data from your infrastructure, but they also garner a positive patient experience and journey.
For the voice channel, in particular, dual-tone multi-frequency (DTMF) masking solutions hold great promise, allowing patients to discretely enter numerical PHI, such as payment card, insurance, or account numbers, using their phone’s keypad. The keypad tones, however, are masked with flat tones, so they are not exposed to anyone but the patient. The data collected is encrypted and sent to a compliant third party, bypassing the contact center’s environment completely.
While this process may invoke notions of automated interactive voice response (IVR) systems, it is not quite the same. Here, agents and PSRs can remain on the line in full voice communication with the patient, guiding them through the transaction, answering questions, and even handling wrap-up tasks. There are no challenges with misheard or miskeyed data, which can lead to premature hang-ups and abandoned calls. In addition, patients have full control over inputting their information and can enjoy peace of mind that their data is protected. This makes for a better overall customer experience.
Data security and privacy are key to providing positive interactions with your customers and patients, and there really is no longer any need to compromise in either area. A combination of security best practices, strategies, and emerging descoping technologies are ideal solutions to achieve both. No matter which route you take, the less PII you hold and handle, the better off you’ll be. Remember, no one can hack the data you don’t hold.
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.
Telemedicine has been a medical buzzword for several years, and the variety and depth of services provided have grown dramatically during this time. There is little argument that telemedicine is a great way to supplement traditional medical practices.
One of the biggest hurdles for doctors is that their time with patients is limited. In a traditional office setting, doctors have a nurse start a patient visit before the doctor comes in. Nurses take vitals, talk to patients, and evaluate their needs before a doctor walks in the room. The same type of process needs to be designed for telephone medicine, with the difference being that the nurse will do her job over telemedicine, just like the doctor.
First, some practices have nurses in their office taking patient calls and scheduling visits with a doctor. When managing these calls, the nurse needs to perform two tasks. First, the nurse must evaluate whether or not the patient needs the doctor at all or whether the nurse can help the patient over the phone with home care advice. Second, the nurse must document patient symptom information before making the appointment for the patient to speak with a doctor.
This is where having a good platform to document patient calls and ensure standard protocols comes in. This can ensure patient safety and help make the process efficient. Medical protocols such as Dr. Schmitt and Dr. Thompson’s protocols ensure a standard care every time a nurse takes a call. These protocols are also available electronically, making them easier to use as compared to textbooks. The electronic protocols can also allow the care advice to be documented directly on the patient chart for review by the physician during the telehealth visit.
However, not all doctors offering telehealth services have their own nurses always available to answer patient calls when they first come in. An alternative for these doctors is to hire a telephone nurse triage service. A nurse triage service can serve as an extension of the office by providing patients with a trained nurse to evaluate patient symptoms and determine what actions to take.
What sets a high-quality telephone nurse triage service apart is the ability for the physician to have custom orders and preferences built into the system so that the nurses can act as a true extension of the physician. A high-quality nurse triage nurse service is also able to schedule the patient appointments for those patients who need an appointment.
Providing patients with access to triage nurses can also be helpful for those doctors who don’t have the ability to provide telehealth services 24/7. If given the appropriate instructions, triage nurses are typically able to resolve over 50 percent of the callers’ issues without the need of a doctor.
Figure 1 comes from a survey of over 35,000 patient phone calls. In over 50 percent of the cases, the nurses were able to resolve the caller’s medical symptoms by giving them home care advice. These nurses were also able to determine which callers required a physical visit to an urgent care or an ER (in an event of an emergency, such as symptoms of a potential heart attack).
Telephone nurse triage allows a practice’s telemedicine program to work seamlessly, whether the office is open or closed. Setting up a nurse triage system where nurses use standardized protocols to answer patient questions increases the productivity and profits for your practice.
When your nurses use triage protocols, you can have the confidence that they are asking the right questions and not missing anything. The basic patient information, the protocols used, and the nurse notes can also be used as a quick reference for the physician prior to the telehealth visit similarly to the notes that the doctors receive when their nurses see a patient before them during a physical office visit.
Charu Raheja, Ph.D., is the CEO of TriageLogic a leading provider of quality, affordable triage solutions, including comprehensive after-hours medical call center software, day time triage protocol software, and nurse triage on call. Customers include both institutional and private practices. If your hospital or practice is looking for information on setting up a nurse triage service, contact TriageLogic to get a quote or set up a demo.
Historically, nurse triage and marketing referral services have been the cornerstone of most healthcare call centers. But recent healthcare reform initiatives have positioned healthcare call center nurses to play a far broader role. Their experience in assisting patients with complex care needs, supporting specialty referral, offering disease management, overseeing transfer management, providing behavioral health intake, delivering medication management, and even providing hospital readmission reduction programs have positioned the call center nurse as an integral player in the organization’s overall population health initiatives.
For the purposes of this article, we will define population health as a proactive solution with personalized care and a focus on wellness that includes all aspects of health (physical, mental, etc.), as well as social determinants of health. Population health goes beyond traditional disease management and incorporates both preventive and chronic care needs. It requires collaboration among healthcare providers to identify gaps in care on evidence-based guidelines and builds on practices to ensure high-quality, efficient healthcare.The failure to prevent hospital readmission adversely affects a healthcare organization’s bottom line. Click To Tweet
As a healthcare organization responsible for patient care, today’s nurse call centers must ensure patients have easy access to healthcare resources and that they take necessary steps to prevent adverse health outcomes.
To effectively engage patients in proactive management of their health, the call center needs to change from a focus on episodic care in response to inbound calls to one of outbound interactions to leverage the full power of the call center to positively impact patient’s lives. The cornerstone of such a strategy is an effective care coordination program that automates a series of defined interventions and supports communication with all stakeholders. A successful care coordination program must support multi-morbidity patients and include detailed health education materials, associated surveys, and targeted next steps.
The best care coordination programs support the management of individuals with co-morbidities. These plans focus on preventive standards of care based on age and gender, along with education and interventions for managing chronic conditions. Patient-centered care, as well as patient engagement and activation, are necessary to succeed in population health management. Self-management support contributes to increasing patients’ confidence and skill, so they can be the manager of their illness. This not only lowers costs but also redefines healthcare as an activity that encompasses far more than sick care.
The more we learn about the Affordable Care Act, the more we understand that prevention and management are of increasing importance. In many cases, the failure to prevent hospital readmission adversely affects a healthcare organization’s bottom line. When managed correctly, the call center can effectively decrease the penalties tied to high readmission rates. Active management of follow-up calls to verify the patient has filled and is taking the right prescriptions, scheduled and attended a follow-up visit, and is adhering to other post-discharge instructions are all verifiable through scheduled follow-up calls or other forms of communication conducted by the call center nurse.
Using an in-depth, post-admission course of care can greatly reduce the probability of the patient returning during the initial thirty days post-discharge, as well as facilitate behavior change over time. It represents the best in evidence-based theory and application.
Whether you choose to invest in a single-source solution to manage these population health components or select best-in-breed solutions interfaced with other internal patient data systems, it is critical that all aspects of the patient’s care be accessible by the call center nurse. A coordinated effort delivered by the call center can improve the coordination of care for numerous individuals while successfully reducing unnecessary costs tied to the delivery of multiple redundant programs.
Mark Dwyeris a 32-year veteran of the healthcare call center industry. Mark is in his sixteenth year at LVM Systems where he serves as COO. LVM Systems provides healthcare call center software. For more information or a demonstration of LVM’s call center solutions contact Carol Zeek, regional VP, sales, at 480-633-8200 x279 or Leann Delaney, regional VP, sales at 480-633-8200 x286
There is no question that hospitals and health systems strive to deliver the best possible clinical care. But today, organizations aren’t just focusing on providing exceptional clinical services; they also invest resources into efforts aimed at driving superior healthcare experiences at every touchpoint. For hospitals, maintaining high patient satisfaction is more important than ever, primarily because the financial impact of patient experiences has increased due to consumerization and value-based payment programs.
As a result, patient experience has become a force behind process improvements and facility upgrades. The push to improve patient experiences exists in cafeteria and dining service improvements, luxury hospital suites, and even redesigned hospital gowns. But what is surprising is that while hospital and health system teams vigorously work to make their facilities more welcoming and comfortable, many organizations are unknowingly greeting patients who call into their contact center in a much less welcoming way.
Calling a healthcare provider or organization shouldn’t be difficult or unpleasant for patients—even if that organization is a large hospital or health system. However, patients frequently run into issues that lead to frustration, when they attempt to connect with their healthcare team because they:
Do not know which phone number to call to find the help they need
Are transferred or put on hold multiple times
Must repeat personal information or reason for their call several times
Have trouble navigating automated options
Struggle to find the resolution they need in a timely manner
Do not feel their call is a priority
At least one in two patient callers will get “lost” in their healthcare provider’s automated phone system when calling into a hospital or large provider organization. That means at least one in two patients will not have a positive experience when they attempt to communicate about their healthcare needs.
Difficult-to-navigate automated phone systems require patients to be on the phone for longer periods of time. But patients say they appreciate efficient communication experiences. West surveyed more than 500 U.S. consumers to better understand communication preferences and how to define high-quality customer experiences.
Survey responses revealed that when customers or patients initiate an interaction, 77 percent of them rate speed to resolution as the best indicator of good service. Multiple transfers, repetitive conversations, and other confusing issues extend call times and hurt patient satisfaction.
Regularly evaluating the functionality, efficiency, and ease of use of automated phone systems is important for creating positive and welcoming communication experiences. But few healthcare organizations prioritize regular contact center testing. In fact, just over half of healthcare organizations occasionally review their automated phone systems to ensure they work correctly and provide value to patients.
Beyond testing the functionality of their automated systems, hospitals and health systems that want to deliver high-quality experiences can work to accomplish the following items.
Ensure Their Contact Center Serves as a Single Entryway for Their Organization
With a single point of entry for all patients, it is easier for organizations to guarantee every patient experiences a consistently branded user experience. It also means less confusion and frustration for callers and staff.
Routing calls through an automated centralized phone system increases efficiency. Overall, hospitals have more control over each caller’s experience when all calls route through one main gateway.
Interactive voice response (IVR) systems allow hospitals to automate call routing and handle higher volumes of calls. But IVR must be intelligent enough to make navigation easier for patients by detecting what they need.
Ideally, when a patient calls a hospital, the IVR system will authenticate the patient, identify possible reasons for their call, and connect them to the appropriate destination. The right IVR technology will not only make communications more efficient but also more patient centered.
Implement Automatic Data Pass with Every Transferred Call
Healthcare staff can better and more quickly assist callers if background information transfers with each incoming call. Without automatic data pass there is typically a lot of duplication during communication. Staff may end up asking patients for information they provided already to another representative during the same call.
Rather than having staff repeat work by asking questions about information already collected, teams can rely on technology to automatically provide necessary data. This helps patients feel as though they are heard and that the individuals they speak with are knowledgeable and focused on helping them.
Conclusion: A call to a hospital’s contact center is sometimes a patient’s first contact with the organization. Investing in contact center optimization is a must for creating a welcoming and satisfactory first impression. Even for patients who are not new to an organization, a hassle-free experience is appreciated. Giving patients positive communication experiences is not difficult; it simply requires that hospitals and health systems dedicate a bit more attention to call center functionality and optimization.
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 for TeleVox Solutions at West, where the healthcare mission is to help organizations harness communications to expand the boundaries of where, when, and how healthcare is delivered.
Are we speaking the same language? How telehealth can help
By David Thompson, MD
“Fever” may sound different in other languages, but it means the same thing. Whether a patient says fever, fiebre, or fièvre, it’s the telehealth provider’s job to deliver the correct diagnosis and treatment. Language differences can add complexity to an already confusing situation for patients. Fortunately, healthcare professionals can help bridge this gap using digital health tools to capture symptoms in the patients’ own language.
Language Translation: So, how can healthcare systems reach the broadest patient base possible and ensure telehealth options benefit everyone? One answer is offering an e-visit intake process (rapid medical history) to patients in multiple languages.
The most recent National Assessment of Adult Literacy (NAAL 2003) found that 89 million Americans have limited health literacy. It’s fair to say a significant percentage of those have English as a second language or speak no English at all. This highlights the need for global health literacy guidelines and healthcare options for all languages. Consider the following reasons to offer multilingual telehealth options.
Improve patient engagement: By using a multilingual telehealth platform, clinicians can help patients of all language backgrounds—even if they, themselves, don’t speak the same language. In addition, more tech-savvy patients can choose their language preference when using e-health applications. The simple ability to communicate health information in their preferred language can improve patient engagement and satisfaction by:
Providing easy-to-understand information;
Making patients feel they’ve received customized, personal attention;
Offering flexibility for individual situations; and
Giving patients control over their healthcare, regardless of language.
The bonus is that health systems using flexible telehealth platforms can also see improved retention due to patient engagement and satisfaction.
Support communication along the care continuum: Not only can telehealth technology offer engagement solutions, but it also has the benefit of connecting providers and patients along the care continuum. Patients can see health information in their preferred language, while the telehealth platform provides data coding and translates it into medical terminology. This data can then be shared among medical call center nurses, telemedicine providers, hospitals, and primary care providers. There’s never a need for patients to feel they have less access to quality care because of language barriers.
With advancements in translation technology and digital health platforms, the future of healthcare will be measured by how well organizations and providers appeal to a broad patient audience; capture health information; share data with other providers; and leverage that data to improve medical care, speed up care delivery, and reduce costs.
Consider the case of John Gomez, a twenty-two-year-old, whose primary language is Spanish. John has had knee pain for two days and contacts a telemedicine provider.
Step 1: The initial call: John calls a service representative who works with his doctor. This service representative does not speak Spanish. Using a symptom-checking engine that offers symptom options for “knee pain” in Spanish, she collects information about the patient’s condition. The representative then obtains John’s demographic information, transcribes his chief complaint and helps him complete an online “rapid medical history” for knee pain. The telehealth platform lists recommended care options based on John’s symptoms, his availability, and doctor preferences. The service representative then arranges a telemedicine encounter.
Step 2: The telemedicine encounter: John can speak with a Spanish-speaking doctor or an English-speaking doctor because his information has been transcribed and coded as data in medical terminology. The doctor reviews the medical history, validates the information during the telemedicine encounter and provides treatment recommendations.
Step 3: Follow-up: A nurse in a centralized call center contacts John in two days to make sure he is following treatment recommendations, getting better, and has no further questions.
Serving a broad population: Healthcare is confusing, but fortunately, patients are increasingly becoming more involved in their care. As healthcare and technology continue to evolve, healthcare systems and providers must adapt to serve a broad patient base with consumer-friendly tools and information.
David Thompson, MD, FACEP is CEO and chief medical officer at Health Navigator. A part-time faculty attending in the Northwestern Memorial Hospital Emergency Department, Dr. Thompson also works as an author and partner with Self Care Decisions, LLC and Schmitt-Thompson Clinical Content, LLC.He is board-certified in both internal medicine and emergency medicine, having completed a dual residency at Northwestern Memorial Hospital at Northwestern University. Dr. Thompson is a Fellow in the American College of Emergency Physicians. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
A robust and effective communication system is essential in any hospital, as it forms the backbone of the provision of exceptional patient care. The adaptation and growth of evidence-based medicine have led to growth in multidisciplinary approaches in patient care and increase in research among healthcare professionals.
Multidisciplinary approaches and evidence-based practice, therefore, have necessitated constant and efficient communication among health professionals, especially at the hospital level. The sensitivity of patient care and the fast growth of technology, both clinical and non-clinical, further necessitate a need for balance and maximizing of the right forms of technology for effective clinical communication.
The hospital call center serves as a vital platform in the cog of hospital communications. Often it serves as the patient’s first contact with the hospital. In general, the call center is tasked with providing patients and staff with information pertaining to emergencies, appointments, health monitoring, and the provision of specialist information. It is also a source of patient data and interdepartmental communication. This hospital call center platform, therefore, is multifaceted in its communication functionality. The facets of communications that are related to the hospital call center are patient-to-hospital communications, internal communications, and hospital-to-patient communications.
Patient to Hospital Communications: Call centers at healthcare facilities allow the communication of the patient with the hospital and provide treatment access and patient support. The hospital call center has evolved to be a key primary contact area in the healthcare system.
Patient support goes far beyond initial contact and the initial care received at the hospital. The medical call center has evolved to incorporate preventive and rehabilitative features into the platform. Moreover, call centers now use disease management programs to increase awareness of certain preventable diseases. Furthermore, they help the patient schedule appointments and remind them of screening programs.
The medical call center also helps patients access hotlines suited to their ailments, such as giving patients information about suicide prevention resources. Consequently, these platforms have improved communication features by integrating holistic curative, preventive, and rehabilitative features. This patient communication is an essential part of providing health services by a hospital.
Internal Communications: Additionally, the hospital call center supports clinical communication within the hospital staff. This is evident in environments where there is a centralized web directory. In such instances, the call center acts as the medium for vital information within the hospital. This essential information includes work schedules, contact information, and information about the employees on call. It is a critical component of providing well-coordinated care within the hospital system.
Furthermore, such call centers are tailored to communicate emergency codes and deliver critical messages to clinicians. These critical messages are essential, as they allow patient access to clinicians and contact among clinicians themselves.
A hospital call system, therefore, must be well-coordinated, time sensitive, reliable, and suited to the hospital devices available to the healthcare professionals. Hospital call centers and systems are further being improved upon to allow the tracking and escalation of messages provided to clinicians. This is essential in urgent and emergent service delivery in hospital environments.
Medicine is adopting a multidisciplinary approach to allow more holistic care and treatment to the patient. This requires constant and effective communication among medical professionals. Therefore, the hospital call center is essential, as it acts as a referral point among specialists and a resource for specialists to get access to a client base from the hospital.
Hospital to Patient Communications: Last, call centers allow the communication of the hospital and the patient who is the primary customer of the healthcare facility. The hospital marketing department benefits from the communications between the patient and the call center. The hospital call center is a point of increased patient satisfaction and improved marketing information. Patient satisfaction must be the most important goal and a practice ingrained within the organizational culture.
The hospital, therefore, should aim at optimizing the call experience for the patient. This can be done by cutting down the call waiting time, coordinating points of services, and improving patient registration and billing.
The internet has made it easy to widely disseminate information. A patient can communicate his experiences to a potential customer base. Patient experience, therefore, in the internet age, is an essential form of hospital advertisement. Improving patient experience builds upon the hospital brand and helps set it aside from the competition.
Optimizing patient experience goes beyond a single interaction to anticipate the needs of a patient and tailor services to meet those needs. The increasing need for data within the information age, therefore, cannot be understated. Data from call centers helps the marketing department find effective ways of communicating with the patient.
Each hospital call center must have a means of feedback. This helps identify and document potential issues the client had with the system. There is currently an adaptation of use of proprietary tools such as live metric dashboards and quality assurance and tracking tools. Therefore, most hospitals are collecting data to learn the needs of the patient and tailor their customer care services accordingly. For instance, most call centers now use customized call scripts; this ensures the provider maximizes care support and efficiency.
Optimizing the customer experience has led to call centers evolving as new and exciting forms of hospital income generation. The consequences of effective customer service are based on optimizing the patient experience, which leads to an increase in hospital revenue.
Final Thoughts: Clinical communication is a hugely faceted subject with far reaching consequences that go beyond hospital walls. Hospital call centers play a significant role in any hospital’s clinical communications. This role is expected to continue growing in the coming years as modern technology makes it easier and faster to communicate.
By optimizing communications, a hospital call center can improve patient health outcomes, fill an essential healthcare gap, and serve to improve overall patient care. It is, therefore, imperative that hospitals find effective ways of maximizing call centers, not just as a channel of communication, but also as a huge income-generating department.
Kevin Mahoney is a hospital and healthcare-related account advocate and sales engineer at Amtelco, a manufacturer and supplier of call center solutions. Contact him at email@example.com.
Understanding what drives patients to seek treatment can help you educate and prepare staff, which improves the patient experience. While you may have a gut instinct as to your patient’s chief complaints, have you ever crunched the numbers? Health Navigator has. We’ve explored approximately 20,000 medical call center patient interactions to identify the top reasons patients called, how urgent their symptoms were, and peak call times.
The analysis included information for patients from all age groups and found the top complaints included: fever, vomiting, stomach pain, cough, and head pain. Patients with the most urgent needs were babies or infants three to twenty-four months old (nearly 35 percent of calls), while the least urgent calls involved children (two to twelve years).
Understanding why and when people contact nurse advice centers allows telemedicine providers to manage staff expectations and prepare for common interactions. This can be accomplished by using a diagnostic telehealth platform that codes the chief complaints. This serves as a starting point to analyze the most common interactions at a hospital or health system.
If healthcare professionals and call center staff know what to expect in the average telehealth experience, they can:
Prepare a standardized call flow format and follow-up questions for their system’s top complaints.
Calmly and consistently handle patient calls and manage expectations.
Plan workflow and staffing needs, based on patient prioritization and time of day.
Diagnostic platforms can also provide data healthcare professionals can use to determine the suggested treatment protocol for common complaints and to enhance staff training, such as to:
Teach incoming staff the most common chief complaints.
Document follow-up protocol and questions to ask.
Prepare educational information about recommended treatments.
Consider the patient who contacts a medical call center about a persistent cough. The responding staff member recognizes this as a common chief complaint and asks follow-up questions suggested by the telehealth platform. This allows staff to consistently communicate the most common treatments for a cough and to provide care instructions for the patient. The telehealth platform can also provide easy access to printable aftercare instructions to share with patients.
This more efficient workflow can ultimately create a more effective environment for staff and contribute to patient satisfaction and retention efforts. The needs of a patient population may change over time, but data about common chief complaints can help understand these cycles and market services accordingly throughout the year.
David Thompson, MD, FACEP is CEO and chief medical officer at Health Navigator. A part-time faculty attending in the Northwestern Memorial Hospital Emergency Department, Dr. Thompson also works as an author and partner with Self Care Decisions, LLC and Schmitt-Thompson Clinical Content, LLC. In a collaboration with well-known pediatrician Dr. Barton Schmitt, Dr. Thompson has developed a comprehensive set of telephone triage protocols that are used in medical call centers and doctors’ offices in the United States and internationally. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.