Tag Archives: telehealth articles

Combating Alarm Fatigue


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Presented by 1Call, a Division of Amtelco

How Alarm Fatigue Affects Staff and Patients

If you step into any in-patient hospital or critical care center, you’ll notice one thing in common: near-constant, loud, piercing alarms. Of course, the purpose of an alarm is to get someone’s attention immediately when something abnormal occurs. One study records an average of 1.2 alarms heard by a nurse every sixty seconds or as many as 359 alarms per medical procedure. Few alarms are of any clinical value, making them frustrating to hospital staff and, in the worst cases, harmful to patients. Overall, frequent false alarms and noise levels do little to foster a healing, comforting environment.

Alarm fatigue results in increased response time or decreased response rate due to experiencing excessive alarms. Click To Tweet

The ECRI Institute listed alarm fatigue, or missed alarms, as the #7th Health Technology Hazard of 2019. An average nurse in the ICU has to deal with three dozen kinds of alarm sounds, but several studies support the fact that most people cannot differentiate between more than six different alarm sounds.

Imagine you’re a nurse who has just sterilized your hands to administer care to one patient, and you hear an alarm sound from another room. Immediately, you’re distracted from your task at hand. You must quickly identify the alarm type from where you’re standing and decide if it’s more important than the care you were about to provide. Regardless, you’re distracted from the task at hand.

To complicate matters further, many alarms are non-critical issues or irrelevant to the specific patient. In fact, recent studies estimate as many as 90 percent of alarms in critical care settings are either false or clinically irrelevant. This leads healthcare providers to believe that many devices are crying wolf, delaying practitioner response time when a real emergency occurs. This is alarm fatigue at its core: a delayed response, or no response at all. Sometimes, habituation results in some alarms not even being heard.

It’s no surprise that alarm fatigue is a severe challenge for healthcare providers. Alarm fatigue results in increased response time or decreased response rate due to experiencing excessive alarms. When nurses do not respond quickly enough to the few alarms that need response, patient care is affected. The Joint Commission made alarm management a National Patient Safety Goal over five years ago and has prioritized it every year. There were more than 560 alarm-related deaths in the United States from 2005 to 2008, and by 2012, the number was reduced to 80 deaths over a three-year period.

Strategies to Reduce Alarm Fatigue

Any time spent responding to false alarms is time that could have been spent focusing on patient care. Here are two strategies to reduce alarm fatigue: 

1. Reducing false alarms by considering the clinical context: A standardized set of alarms for every patient is one of the primary contributors to excessive, unnecessary alarms. These can be tweaked for the needs of the patient during check-in. For example, a sharp increase in blood sugar of a diabetic patient may be extremely important and time-sensitive, while the same alert in a non-diabetic patient isn’t a cause for concern. By taking the vital signs of the individual patient into consideration when setting alerts, practitioners reduce the number of false alarms from the start. One solution to this challenge is a dedicated messaging platform that allows for electronic health record (EHR) integration.

By taking a few moments to set up the customized alarms relevant to the patient’s characteristics, the frequency of unnecessary or unimportant alarms decreases significantly. Additionally, when a care team knows that alerts are chosen precisely, individual practitioners respond more carefully when alarms sound.

2. Alarm Priority Systems and Customization: Clinical alerting that routes alarms directly to practitioners’ devices reduce sensory overload for both patients and care providers. Patient care is improved when important alarms get a response as quickly as possible, but patient care is also improved by a restful, quiet healing environment. By funneling the important alarms directly to the physician or nurse on-call, the number of distracting, audible alarms on the floor decreases to only the most critical. 

A messaging platform that integrates with the nursing call center helps triage low-priority alerts to unit coordinators. Only actionable alarms relevant to the nurse’s unit are sent directly to them. More importantly, directing all alarms to one specific device reduces the cognitive load and number of distractions a nurse experiences during a shift.

Additionally, funneling alerts to one device means that the care provider can identify the type and location of the alarm immediately: without having to memorize dozens of alert sounds, drop their current task, or rush to another end of the unit.

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


TriageLogic

By Ravi K. Raheja, MD

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

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

It is critical for the nurse to get in touch with the provider who is on call, securely and effectively, to communicate the needs of the patient. Click To Tweet
  • It is time-consuming for the doctor. They must call back and verbally listen to each case.
  • There is no confirmation if the provider received the page, which can lead to a delay in care if the nurse does not follow up closely.
  • The doctor may be involved in a critical procedure or another call and does not know how urgent the request is from the nurse.

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

With secure texting, the provider gets a notification from the nurse. The nurse can send protected health information securely. The provider can read the message, and the nurse gets a notification confirming that the message was received and read. This approach supplies the provider with detailed written information as well as allowing them to evaluate the urgency for the call so they can determine the proper callback time and plan before they contact the triage nurse.

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

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

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

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

TriageLogic

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

Vendor Spotlight on AccessNurse (formerly TeamHealth Medical Call Center) How and Why We Rebranded Our Company


AccessNurse, A TeamHealth Company

As the TeamHealth Medical Call Center evolved over time, we outgrew our brand identity and core message, which is a natural part of every dynamic, growing business. We’re excited to share with you our new look and brand. 

Don’t get us wrong. We love our old brand and people loved it too, but it just doesn’t reveal the entire picture of who we are today and how we’ve evolved during the past several years. We’re not only changing our logo, but also our messaging and how we show up in the marketplace. 

Why We Changed Our Brand

Before we dive into our new logo, come with us behind the brand and allow us to explain how we got where we are today. We want to share with you the story of what we value as a company and strive to do for our clients.

Our previous logo mainly reflected our parent company, TeamHealth, and although they are a major part of our story, it’s just one strand of the fabric of our brand’s DNA. We created our medical call center in 1996 primarily for the purpose of providing support to TeamHealth physicians. It wasn’t long before TeamHealth recognized the need for medical call center services at a national level, so we began to grow and acquire external clients.

More than two decades later, we have evolved to become a premiere provider of medical call center solutions, providing services to more than 15,000 providers in individual and group practices, hospital systems, universities, community health centers, and other medical organizations across the country. Our brand today is more dynamic than it has ever been, so we felt the time was right to make the change. 

The new AccessNurse name is a textual representation of what we provide, believe in, and represent: providing clients and patients with 24/7 access to definitive nurse care.  Click To Tweet

Introducing AccessNurse: Behind the AccessNurse Name and Logo

Access Nurse

Since our conception, providing access to medical care has been the underlying theme and pulse of the call center. It’s woven into every fabric of our brand: from our story to how we treat our clients and their patients. 

We feel our new AccessNurse name is a textual representation of what we provide, believe in, and represent: providing clients and patients with 24/7 access to definitive nurse care. We also supplemented our name with the tagline, “A TeamHealth Company” to reinforce our alignment with TeamHealth and the medical integrity, experience, and resources that go along with that relationship.

The challenge with every logo design is finding a symbol that visually represents your core message. The icon we chose is a representation of the multiple solutions we use to provide a comprehensive and customized call center solution to meet each client’s unique needs.

We wanted our new logo to pop—something that jumps out and makes a statement. We chose to use multiple colors instead of one. While each color has its own meaning, they also represent the variety of services we provide. We share three of the icon colors with TeamHealth to maintain a solid visual connection to our parent company. The fourth color—the burnt orange—represents our evolution as an independent medical call center and how our brand will continue to evolve and differentiate itself over time.

Another challenge in logo design is creating something with meaning behind it. Besides the rings and color variations, if you look closely at the center of the icon, you’ll notice the shape of a medical cross in the negative space. It’s a subliminal message that reinforces our primary purpose: providing high quality, compassionate medical care with uncompromised standards and unfaltering compassion. It’s the promise we make to every client.

There you have it. Our new brand identity and logo design. We hope you’re as excited as we are about the new look and the evolution behind it. For more information about our solutions and how AccessNurse can meet your organization’s needs, please contact us at 844-277-6312.

Matt Miller is the marketing coordinator with AccessNurse. Learn more at their new website: www.accessnurse24.com.

Cyber Security and HIPAA in a Medical Contact Center



By Bobby Bennett

With cyberattacks on the rise, what steps should a contact center take to prevent falling victim? First is to recognize it could happen to anyone. Do not equate small with safe. According to a 2017 Trend Micro online survey, 45 percent of small business owners believe they will never be targeted. The cyber security firm 4iQ states in its 2019 Identity Breach Report that cybercriminals targeted small businesses with cyber-attacks at an inordinate rate in 2018—up 425 percent over the previous year. 

With cyberattacks on the rise, what steps should a contact center take to protect its patients health information? Click To Tweet

Ways to Prevent Cyber Attacks

  • Install, use, and regularly update antivirus and antispyware software on every computer used in your business.
  • Use a firewall for your Internet connection.
  • Download and install software updates for your operating systems and applications as they become available.
  • Make backup copies of important business data and information.
  • Control physical access to your computers and network components.
  • Secure your Wi-Fi network and make sure it is hidden.
  • Require individual user accounts for each employee.
  • Limit employee access to data and information. Also, limit authority to install the software.
  • Regularly change passwords.
  • Consider two-factor authentication such as password and PIN.

The Federal Communications Commission provides a Small Biz Cyber Security Planner on their website. 

Another factor to be mindful of as a call center that takes calls for healthcare providers and clinics is that you are a business associate of the covered entity. A HIPAA business associate is a contractor or vendor to a HIPAA-covered entity that creates, maintains, or transmits protected health information in performing a function or service to the covered entity:

If a covered entity engages a business associate to help it carry out its health care activities and functions, the covered entity must have a written business associate contract or other arrangement with the business associate that establishes specifically what the business associate has been engaged to do and requires the business associate to comply with the Rules’ requirements to protect the privacy and security of protected health information. In addition to these contractual obligations, business associates are directly liable for compliance with certain provisions of the HIPAA Rules. (HHS.Gov)

A business associate contract serves to clarify and limit, as appropriate, the permissible uses and disclosures of protected health information (PHI) by the business associate. They may use or disclose PHI only as permitted or required by its business associate contract or as required by law. 

A business associate is also directly liable and subject to civil and criminal penalties for making uses and disclosures of PHI not authorized by its contract or required by law. It is important that employees are trained and understand the HIPAA rules required of a business associate. You can find sample Business Associate Agreement Provisions and training resources on the HHS.gov website.

Text messaging or SMS has become the preferred method of message delivery for both the contact center and healthcare providers today. With this growing trend comes risk associated with the transmission of PHI. 

Standard forms of SMS could mean that text messages may remain on a device for an extended time. If the device is recycled, lost, or left accessible to unauthorized persons, HIPAA violations may occur. You must provide safeguards to reduce your exposure to these risks. 

Secure Messaging is a secure, HIPAA-compliant way to safely exchange sensitive information via text. Most contact center system vendors have developed secure messaging applications for use with their systems. However, quite often it is difficult for a contact center to convince a large medical group to make changes and convert from their current secure messaging provider to one offered by the contact center. 

If you are not using a HIPAA-compliant application for text messaging, do yourself a favor and contact your vendor to see what they have available.

Bobby Bennett is the western regional sales manager for Startel, Professional Teledata, and Alston Tascom, leading providers of best-in-class contact center solutions for healthcare and medical telephone answering service call centers. Startel’s Alston Tascom Division has created a stand-alone, vendor-agnostic secure messaging gateway which has integrations with some of the most popular secure messaging providers. Contact Bobby at bobby.bennett@startel.com or 800-782-7835.

Disaster Coverage: The Critical Role Hospital Call Centers Play During and After a Catastrophe


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By Nicole Limpert

The ever-increasing threats from natural and human-made disasters have made the use of disaster response systems a necessity. Nearly two-thirds of U.S. residents live in areas rated as having a moderate to very high risk of experiencing a natural disaster: hurricanes, tornadoes, floods, hail, wildfires, and earthquakes.

In the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s (FBI) report titled, “Active Shooter Incidents in the United States in 2018,” identified twenty-seven shootings as active shooter incidents, which resulted in eighty-five deaths and 128 people wounded (excluding the shooters).

When disaster strikes, both local and national call centers provide critical communication services to help coordinate first responders and rescue teams, organize relief efforts, enable communication between loved ones, and support communities during recovery.

Disaster Planning

Disasters often occur without warning. Weather events, mass violence, and other incidents can cause an outage or strain communication systems. However, organizations can formulate a disaster preparedness and business continuity plan in anticipation of a catastrophic event. Hospital call centers are an important component to any disaster preparedness plan because they often become a communications hub during an emergency.

Hospital call centers in a coordinated call center system, is crucial when developing a disaster preparedness and recovery plan. Click To Tweet

National, state, and local agencies often work with hospitals to develop a plan for coordinating call centers. They identify partnerships with organizations such as 9-1-1 and Emergency Medical Services (EMS), to determine how to integrate each call center into a larger communication network, for efficient allocation of services and dissemination of public health information.

The use of technology enables call centers to execute their disaster preparedness and business continuity plans quickly and efficiently. Automatic call distribution (ACD), interactive voice response (IVR), uniform call distribution (UCD), and other communication software can automate call routing systems. Leveraging automatic notifications and critical alerts helps to speed communications and shorten reaction times.

Disaster Communications

Methodist Medical Center of Illinois, part of Unity Point Health Methodist, located in the heart of Peoria, Illinois, includes a 330-bed hospital with almost 600 board-certified physicians. 

To ensure the safety of patients and staff, the technology used by the call center at Methodist helps to prepare them for any type of situation. By using a customizable critical alert system, operators can quickly contact multiple people when various disaster and code calls come through their center.

When an emergency notification is needed, an operator triggers the alert by simply selecting a group to notify and typing in the alert message. This broadcasts the message to the appropriate personnel via each recipient’s preferred contact method. This helps ensure that hospital personnel can respond to each situation as quickly as possible.

The flexible system allows the call center manager to determine whether each type of notification requires a response from the person who receives an alert. While a reply and estimated time of arrival is required from someone responding to a disaster, a reply may not be needed from a staff member on the leadership team who is using their real-time monitor to oversee the situation. Managers can view the estimated time of arrival for each person and determine if additional personnel need notification. Access to their web-based, real-time monitor can even occur from home should an alert occur in the middle of the night.

Cloud Technology and Virtual Servers

Communications failure is not an option during a disaster. Having the ability to route calls to another center in the event of an emergency is crucial. For example, if a call center is physically located in an area that has become inaccessible or damaged due to a catastrophe, calls can route to operators off-site, using cloud technology on a virtual server. A single virtual server, located anywhere in the country, can bring call centers together to operate seamlessly, even if they all use different PBX telephone systems.

Using web-based call center communication software, any computer may become a secure, professional telephone agent station accessible from the internet. Operators located in a different center or home-based agents handle the calls, and all the tools used by in-house operators are accessible to these virtual agents.

Hospitals and clinics that are part of a larger healthcare enterprise use this technology to provide backup call handling within their own system. Rossi Fraenkel, business analytics team lead for Allina Health in Minneapolis, Minnesota comments, “In the event that any of our other clinics were to have a power outage or go down, those calls roll to us at the contact center. We provide our organization with a really good, strategic value. It’s absolutely critical that we take calls no matter what.”

Disaster Recovery and Relief

Hotlines managed by agencies such as the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), provide callers with assistance related to government disaster aid, insurance claims, and home repairs.

Hospital call centers experience an influx of calls from people inquiring about hospitalizations of loved ones, safety advice, and help for themselves. Individuals who witness or experience a catastrophic event often face negative effects from it. Coping with the shock of a disaster can make someone fearful, confused, and suffer from anxiety.

Call center agents can connect callers with disaster crisis counseling to help people affected by traumatic events. Callers who are patients of a healthcare organization who participates in telehealth, may be able to take advantage of instant, secure video access to mental health professionals.

Summary

Including hospital call centers in a coordinated call center system, is crucial when developing a disaster preparedness and recovery plan. Establishing a comprehensive policy may require a significant time commitment and thoughtful input from a variety of agencies and organizations. However, the effects of organized communication and efficient use of community resources during a crisis, helps save lives and speed recovery efforts.

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.

State University of New York (SUNY) Upstate Medical University


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Integrating Epic’s EMR System with SUNY Upstate Medical University’s Call Centers Saves Time and Enhances Patient Caller Experience

State University of New York (SUNY) Upstate Medical University, located in Syracuse, New York, has a campus comprised of hospital, clinical, academic, research, residential, and campus facilities. The Upstate University Health System includes Upstate University Hospital, Upstate University Hospital at Community Campus, Upstate Golisano Children’s Hospital, and multiple offices to serve 1.8 million people. The care they provide extends from Canada to Pennsylvania and includes a robust telemedicine program to assist rural communities.

The origins of SUNY Upstate Medical University stretch back to 1834 and today is the only academic medical center in Central New York. The University includes four colleges: College of Nursing, College of Medicine, College of Health Professions, and College of Graduate Studies, with a total enrollment of over 1,500 students.

SUNY Upstate Medical University is the region’s largest employer with 9,460 employees. With a 600-million-dollar payroll and numerous facilities, Upstate is a powerhouse for the economy of Central New York, generating 2.3 billion dollars for the region.

Identifying Areas for Improvement

SUNY Upstate Medical University wanted to improve their healthcare call center performance and reduce caller wait times, shorten the time spent on each call, lower the call center’s abandonment rates, and provide a better caller and patient experience. 

When looking at the call answering process, they discovered the time it took for operators to obtain information from callers could be improved. “We realized operators had to ask a series of questions to figure out which patient they were talking to,” says Jody Williams, call center systems administrator for Upstate. “Right now, they answer the calls with, ‘Thank you for calling, this is Jody, may I have the patient’s date of birth?’ and they search for everyone by birth date.”

The call center operators needed more information about each caller sooner, to reduce the overall time of the call, and to handle calls more efficiently. Staff from Upstate’s IT and call center departments realized that integrating with the Epic electronic medical record (EMR) software used by the hospitals and clinics would save valuable time.

SUNY Upstate Medical University wanted to improve their healthcare call center performance and provide a better caller and patient experience. Click To Tweet

Healthcare Communication Partners

Healthcare organizations and their patients rely on good IT partners to help with fast and accurate communications. However, most healthcare facilities use a mix of disconnected technology, and sharing information among healthcare IT systems has traditionally been a challenge.

Upstate has used 1Call’s healthcare communication software since 2006 and works closely with 1Call staff to meet their enterprise-wide communication needs. Jody comments, “We use several products from 1Call. Perfect Answer enables us to record custom greetings and automatically plays those greetings before operators answer calls. We use appointment reminders and just started using MergeComm to send SMS reminders, which people seem to really appreciate.”

Upstate contacted 1Call for help, and 1Call confirmed it was possible for their guided scripting to bridge the communication gap, while making sure calls would look the same to operators.

For incoming calls, the automatic number identification (ANI) would be sent to Epic’s EMR database. Jody explains, “When the call comes in, the caller ID is pushed out to Epic, and then Epic returns the patient’s record on the operator’s screen. Operators can verify who they are speaking with using shorter lists of questions that are related to everyone who’s associated with that caller ID.”

Testing the Integration 

Integration testing began between Upstate, 1Call, and Epic. 1Call worked on the scripting piece, and Upstate’s in-house Epic staff worked with experts located at Epic’s Verona, Wisconsin campus.

“For this project, we collaborated with 1Call staff, several members of our IT group, and one of our Epic experts on site who worked with an expert from Epic’s home office,” says Jody. “Before the integration was a success, we had several calls between all parties to identify system requirements and build the scripts using suggestions from Epic. 1Call staff did virtually all of the scripting, and they’ve been outstanding to work with.”

Evaluating Results

Over time, Upstate will use 1Call’s detailed reporting function to assess the results of the integration and determine how much time this project has saved. 1Call keeps track of the time spent on calls and they are looking forward to seeing improved statistics.

“The integration will first be used with our ambulatory call center because they handle virtually all of the incoming calls for about fourteen of our ambulatory departments, which includes general medicine, dermatology, pulmonary, etc.,” Jody explains. “They do some appointment scheduling, a lot of message taking, and transferring calls to a nurse, and various requests that come from the patients. Any time a patient dials the main number for each of those departments, it goes to this call center and the wait time had been extremely high. 

“We implemented the Epic integration nine months ago, and as of now, it looks like we are saving an average of about fifteen seconds on each call. We’re hoping we can cut 10-20 percent off the duration of each call. That will make a huge difference over the course of the whole day.”

Future Integration Plans for Efficient Workflows

There are plans to use this technology throughout more of Upstate’s call center departments. Some of the call center groups rely heavily on scripts which are used for appointments, physician referrals, prescription renewal, scheduling, crises, and emergencies. These areas hope to also save time on calls and serve patients more efficiently by taking advantage of the Epic integration.

Scripts can be shortened because much of the information the operators need will already appear on their screen as they answer the phone call. According to Jody, “Our medical messaging group currently follows and completes a script with a caller’s name, patient name if different, provider information, and then they look up the doctor on call and add that to the script. After the integration, we will be able to pull most of that info from Epic.”

1Call, a division of Amtelco

Epic Systems Corporation, or Epic, is a privately held healthcare software company founded in 1979 by Judith R. Faulkner and located in Verona, Wisconsin.Since 1976, Amtelco has been providing innovative communication solutions to call centers around the world. In 1997, the 1Call Division was formed to offer enterprise-wide clinical communication solutions designed specifically for healthcare organizations. 1Call is dedicated to serving the unique call center and communication needs of healthcare organizations, helping improve communications between patients, physicians, and staff by connecting people and information.

Use Telehealth to Extend Healthcare and Save Money



By Nicole Limpert

Sometimes a simple visit to your doctor’s office can be more complicated than expected. Typical doctor office hours are 8:00 a.m. to 5 p.m., Monday through Friday. However, symptoms and complications from being sick don’t adhere to business hours.

It can be a challenge for people who live in rural areas just to have access to a local medical facility. Often going to a doctor appointment means time off work for travel to and from the medical office. Those with limited mobility experience similar obstacles, no matter where they live, because traveling is a time-consuming endeavor.

With the help of technology, telehealth makes healthcare more accessible by bringing medical services to the patient.

What is Telehealth?

The Health Resources Services Administration (HRSA) defines telehealth as, “The use of electronic information and telecommunications technologies to support long-distance clinical health care, patient and professional health-related education, public health, and health administration. Technologies include videoconferencing, the internet, store-and-forward imaging, streaming media, and terrestrial and wireless communications.”

One of the most common forms of telehealth is a Nurse Hotline. Most U.S. health insurance companies offer a toll-free nurse advice hotline to their customers. Other types of telehealth services include:

  • Virtual Appointments: Patients can visit a doctor or nurse via online videoconferencing or using a web-based question and answer portal.
  • Medical Staff Consults: Telehealth isn’t only for patient/doctor communication. Doctors, nurses, and specialists use virtual consultations to coordinate care for their patients.
  • Remote Health Monitoring: Communication between patient medical devices and doctors. Patients can use home monitoring equipment, wearable devices, or apps to wirelessly communicate various health readings to their doctor or medical care team.
  • Non-Clinical Services: Telehealth also refers to remote, non-clinical uses such as, administrative meetings and provider training and education.
With the help of technology, telehealth makes healthcare more accessible by bringing medical services to the patient. Click To Tweet

Removing Barriers to Healthcare

Telehealth not only makes access to healthcare easier for the public, it has also proven to be a necessity for both large organizations and niche markets.

Members of the United States military, and their families, are stationed all over the world. The Department of Defense’s (DOD) Military Health System (MHS) provides healthcare to more than 9.4 million people through a network of fifty-six hospitals, 365 clinics, and other facilities worldwide. Telehealth programs connect military patients to providers across the world to deliver direct access to quality healthcare, tele-radiology, and tele-pharmacy services.

The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) is heavily involved with providing telehealth services to rural communities and administers telecommunications telehealth grants through two major programs: the DLT Program and the Community Connect Program. Similarly, the United States’ Indian Health Service uses telehealth to assist with accessing health services for American Indian and Alaska Natives populations who live in outlying communities.

Other isolated, niche markets use technology to improve healthcare. Alaska’s Maritime Industry uses a telehealth platform to enhance access to care for those who work in the dangerous waters off Alaska. Internet connections are unreliable, so they primarily use a phone-based system to instantly connect with doctors. The Federal Bureau of Prisons (FBOP) uses telehealth to expand their internal healthcare program by consulting with external healthcare providers via collaborative practice agreements.

Telehealth and Medical Call Centers

Regardless of where people are located, telehealth is a critical tool that brings the best possible care to patients. Medical call centers play a significant role by providing the technology and medical expertise needed to bring remote healthcare to patients.

Technology enables medical call centers to effectively become an extension of a hospital or medical center’s operation. The communication software used by medical call centers can securely access a patient’s electronic medical record (EMR), update EMRs with notes, and record calls needed for insurance claims and workmen’s compensation. Because everything is documented, detailed reports can be generated for reporting purposes.

Medical call center operators can coordinate care, make follow-up calls, schedule visits, contact on-call medical staff, and manage referrals. Some healthcare call centers staff licensed medical professionals who are qualified to make health assessments, give medical advice, and escalate critical concerns.

The services provided by medical call centers are available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Medical operators can work different hours and be located anywhere in the world, in any time zone. For example, if a medical center on the east coast of the United States is closed, operators on the west coast are still available.

Telehealth Benefits Hospitals

In the 2017 American College of Healthcare Executives’ (ACHE) annual survey, hospital CEOs ranked their ten biggest challenges for the year. Telehealth services can address six of these ten concerns. Specifically, financial challenges (first), personnel shortages (third), quality of care (fourth), patient satisfaction (fifth), access to care (seventh), and population health management (ninth).

Multiple small and large-scale studies cite the use of telehealth as a cost-effective method to deliver quality care, improve outcomes, enhance the patient experience, and expand access to healthcare. The patient’s experience with their healthcare team plays a critical role in their satisfaction. Patients are asked to provide information about their care experience via the Hospital Consumer Assessment of Healthcare Providers and Systems (HCAHPS) survey. Unacceptable survey results can result in hospitals losing some reimbursements. In 2017 alone, approximately 1.7 billion dollars in reimbursements were withheld from hospitals.

The cost savings are also passed along to patients. Call center data from Health Navigator cites the top five reasons for calling a nurse hotline are fever, vomiting, stomach pain, cough, and head pain. Less than 10 percent of the cases were high risk. On average, telehealth appointments for nonemergency reasons cost approximately 45 dollars, as opposed to 100 dollars for an in-person visit at a doctor’s office or 160 dollars at an urgent care clinic.

The Future of Telehealth

The population growth for the United States, from 2008-2030, is estimated at 20 percent, totaling 363 million people. This spike in population will exacerbate an already strained shortage of healthcare professionals. Telehealth services may become more of a healthcare necessity rather than a convenience.

As technology advances, telehealth can become more complex by not only connecting patients with expertise in real-time, but also enabling computer assisted medical procedures in remote locations by specialists thousands of miles away, creating global care teams for patients.

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.

How Call Centers Can Add Value to Wellness Programs


Call Center Sales Pro, providing proven healthcare call center solutions

By Janet Livingston

Wellness programs allow an employer or healthcare plan to provide participation incentives to members. These incentives may include cash awards, gym memberships, and premium discounts. Some popular options provided by wellness programs include smoking cessation, stress management, weight loss, and diabetes management.

Wellness programs have the direct goal of helping participants move into a healthier lifestyle, with reduced healthcare concerns. The indirect goal is lower healthcare costs. These benefit everyone: the employee, the company, and the healthcare provider.

Wellness programs can tap call center services to better achieve these two goals and add value to their program. Here are some things that a call center can provide to enhance a wellness program.

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

Telephone Enrollment

Though most signups for wellness programs happen online, this isn’t a solution for everyone. Some people feel more comfortable talking with a real person over the phone and others have questions. And what happens to those people who can’t access the web form or encounter problems once they get there? Provide a ready solution for these people by offering the option to enroll over the phone.

Class and Event Registration

Most wellness programs offer various classes and events to their participants. These might include stress reduction classes or a 5k race. Just as with enrollment, signing up for classes and events mostly happens online. But this solution won’t work for everyone. That’s why providing alternative phone backup is the way to go to help maximize participation.

Web Chat

Another service call centers can provide to wellness programs is offering web chat capabilities. When a website visitor doesn’t see the option they want or can’t find the answer to their question, help is a click away with web chat. From a technical standpoint, adding a web chat option to a website is easy. Staffing it around-the-clock is hard. That’s where a call center comes in. They’re available 24/7 to help participants anytime of the day or night.

Class and Appointment Reminders

Just because someone signed up for a class or made an appointment doesn’t mean they’ll show up. No-shows result in inefficiency and cause a financial loss for the provider, as well as accomplishing nothing for the participant. Making strategic reminders to participants by phone, email, or text will help increase their commitment and ensure their participation. It’s an easy solution for your call center to provide and pays off huge.

24/7 Availability

People increasingly expect 24/7 customer service and support. This is challenging for any organization to offer and cost prohibitive to provide in house. Yet a call center already has staff in place, so extending around-the-clock availability to program participants is a cost-effective solution.

Multi-Channel Access

We’ve talked about self-service over the internet and personal service over the phone. Yet there are other communication channels available for people to use. Why not let them use their channel of choice? This might include email, text messaging, or social media. A full-service call center is already set up to use these communication channels, so why not extend these options to your program participants?

Conclusion

Wellness programs empower employees to improve their health and help companies hold down healthcare costs. To maximize the utility and results of a wellness program, tap a full-service call center to add value. A call center can handle telephone enrollment, offer class and event registration, and provide web chat. They can also remind participants of classes and appointments. In addition, they offer 24/7 availability and multi-channel access, which will delight participants and increase their involvement. This improves health outcomes and saves money.

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

Janet Livingston is the CEO of Call Center Sales Pro, which provides medical answering service and healthcare call center services. Contact Janet at contactus@ccsp.us or call 800-901-7706.

Balancing Patient Care with Data Security and Privacy Starts with the Contact Center



By Tim Critchley

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.

With HIPAA violations alone incurring fines as high as 50,000 dollars (for each violation or exposed record), healthcare organizations are finding themselves wedged between conflicting objectives: how do you protect patient data and maintain compliance, without losing sight of providing the best possible patient experience? Data security and privacy are key to providing positive interactions with your customers and patients. Click To Tweet

Contact Center Security

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.

Descoping Technologies

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.

Conclusion

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.

Tim Critchley is the CEO of Semafone.

How Call Centers Can Support VA Healthcare


Pulsar360: strategic partners with the TAS industry


By Bronson Tang

A call center is a team of frontline staff who answer phone calls and gather data. It’s a centralized department that handles a large volume of telephone calls, especially for screening new patients and providing customer service.

In Veterans Affairs (VA) Healthcare, connecting effectively with service providers through multiple channels of communication is the key toward implementing better patient experiences and minimizing costs. Optimized call center operations can play a crucial role in achieving these goals.

These days, VA Healthcare providers are becoming more patient-centric, raising the demand for call centers. With an increase in expectation to patient retention initiatives, appointment scheduling, and communications with referring medical professionals, health centers must keep pace with new communications technologies. VA Healthcare providers can extend their support to the patients by using call center services. This reduces call volume and results in more effective patient care by staff.

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

Healthcare and the VA

The level of convenience and the service offered to patients is different when VA healthcare providers use call center technology as a part of their practice. Most importantly, patients will always have continuous access.

Hospital management is an important responsibility. Therefore, it’s necessary to ensure the smooth functioning of the complete process. Hospitals need to take care of everything from equipment management to the maintenance of records for the minutest details. In this condition, a medical call center can help a hospital by handling activities such as record maintenance, appointment setting, patient follow-up calls, and appointment reminders. In addition, they can also use email to check with the patients on a regular basis.

Customers satisfaction has always been critical for businesses. This is applicable for VA healthcare providers as well. Providing accurate information to a patient is important since the well-being of the patient depends upon the services they’re receiving. Therefore, automating the complete process can be one of the major requirements hospitals should address. On the other hand, hospitals should also ensure that the personnel employed by a customer service center are familiar with patients’ needs and have the skills and expertise to address different situations.

The call center also brings improved customer satisfaction to employees because they’re able to complete tasks and still provide customer service to Veterans, which is an important goal of employees. They help check Veterans into their appointments, assist them with the self-service kiosk, and make calls to Veterans to remind them of their appointments.

A Focus on Customer Satisfaction

Call centers have improved customer satisfaction with VA Healthcare, where they answer the calls from patients to VA Healthcare professionals and then direct them to whoever needs to call them back. If Veterans are sick and need immediate medical attention, call center staff can help. With the call center answering all incoming calls, VA Healthcare can provide better customer service to Veterans who drop by their primary care teams.

When patients call their doctor’s office, the last thing they want to deal with is a cranky receptionist. Or, just as bad, be stuck on hold. Healthcare call centers can respond quickly to patients, reduce the burden on administrative staff, and help improve the patient experience.

Without constant interruption of phone calls, VA healthcare physicians can focus on the tasks at hand. This means that proper billing coding, prescription refills, diagnostic authorizations, and chart preparation all receive more focus.

Scheduling efficiency also improves. When you have a dedicated call center staff, fewer scheduling mistakes will occur, resulting in less rescheduled or missed appointments. Centralized call center staff also know which doctors are at what locations on any given day. This means that they eliminate the possibility of a patient calling the Middletown office looking for “Dr. Smith” (who only works in Somerset) and hearing the words, “We don’t have a Dr. Smith.”

Call Center Capabilities

Call centers bridge the gap between front and back office by maintaining administrative activity records of patients and prescriptions, which are often inefficient and difficult to manage. Call center services can prioritize and proactively distribute this work anywhere in the organization. It also provides business intelligence so you can improve operational efficiency, meet SLAs, and measure regulatory compliance.

Currently, many medical staff are doing multiple jobs, including answering a variety of patient calls: general questions, upcoming appointments, and benefit coverage. A VA Healthcare call center opens communication within departments by outlining what needs to be collected, establishing a hand-off process, and ensuring accountability.

A healthcare call center helps ensure every patient is set on a positive path. Patients today have options. They can always find another provider. That’s why every phone interaction must be perfect. If patients have an urgent need, they should get an appointment the same day. A quality call center will work with patients to make sure their experiences are positive. Every phone call is important. Companies who fail to train well could deliver bad service, where an agent is rude or lacks the level of sympathy, empathy, or professionalism that patients expect.

For many physicians, the biggest pain point is their daily practice management issues and challenges, such as a lack of staff. They simply don’t have the number of administrative staff to efficiently operate. And on the clinical side, it’s the same. They’re strapped. Healthcare call center support can take a burden off both sides. It is an ideal situation for physicians and their entire practice.

A Focus on Quality

A quality call center helps retain patients. When patients are helped in their time of need, they return. That’s the biggest ROI for any physician or practice.

But again, there’s also help for the administrative and clinical staff. A call center can work with them to ensure that they get the right appointment for each patient. An experienced agent can handle the entire transaction and allow the clinical team more time with their patients. This helps every patient get into the office and lets practitioners engage with patients who will return for care.

Call centers provide proactive engagement and notifications. Proactive customer service in VA Healthcare is a challenging objective for providers and physicians. Despite their personal commitment and the available technology, there are obstacles when trying to move to a proactive health model. Offering customer assistance through multichannel transactions can prevent customers switching to other options. Besides, keeping members informed of the progress so they don’t have to call, improves loyalty and ultimately the bottom-line.

One of the things we do know about healthcare professionals is that they have a difficult time getting through on the phone, which does not facilitate the progress of VA Healthcare.

Summary

The focus of roles within your healthcare organization staff is to collect the necessary information and improve patient satisfaction. A call center is an excellent way to handle this.

Call centers must deal with the continuing challenge of recruiting and training excellent personnel and attempting to increase retention rates. To improve service, management must constantly communicate with both employees and customers in an interactive, multidimensional process. In the global marketplace, improvement of service is not an option—it’s a matter of survival.

Pulsar360: strategic partners with the TAS industryBronson Tang is the marketing manager at Pulsar360, Inc. He has ten years of experience in digital marketing and has worked in the telecommunications sector for four. He is the author of the book, The Tao of Business. Pulsar360, Inc. with origins dating back to 2001, is an established Unified-Communication-as-a-Service (UCaaS) provider with a comprehensive set of offerings it has provided to over 160 medical centric call centers including: cloud based enterprise class call center IP PBX; premise-based IP PBX, Session Initiation Protocol (SIP) trunking, business continuity disaster recovery solutions, T38 Faxing that meets HIPAA, GLBA and other industry compliance regulations and carrier services.