Tag Archives: telehealth articles

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



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

By Peter Lyle DeHaan, Ph.D.

Author Peter Lyle DeHaan

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Goal of the Telephone Triage Process



By Rose Moon, RN, BSN

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How to Build an Actionable and Strategic Patient Experience Plan



By Gary Druckenmiller

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

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

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

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

Integrate the Right Technology

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

Consider the following four solutions: 

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

In practice, a healthcare marketer may use the HCRM to understand the various touch points along the patient journey, including understanding which resources were engaged with before that first appointment was scheduled. An analysis as simple as this reveals valuable information as to which messages, channels, and tactics resonate with which demographic—and which are less effective. The longer a patient stays within the health system, the more data is integrated into their CRM profile, setting the stage for improved targeting and a better overall experience, along with the ability to apply those learnings to other consumers in the same cohort or segment. 

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

2. Marketing Automation: A marketing automation platform orchestrates the execution of personalized engagement plans. It allows healthcare marketing teams to send messages at the ideal time following specific customer interactions or touchpoints—for example, sending an email invitation to a diabetes management seminar the day after a user downloads an e-book about Type I Diabetes on the health system’s website. It’s simply not feasible to deploy this type of patient nurturing campaign at a large scale without marketing automation software, especially since the data within a HCRM only grows more complex over time.

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

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

4. Business Insights: With a business insights solution, healthcare marketers unlock the most valuable opportunities—such as a specific demographic, geographic market, or service line—on which to focus their initial patient experience campaigns. By examining a service line or geographic area with cross-sectional data, health systems begin to understand the basic needs and desires of this set of consumers. They can then shape lists of target consumers that fit the ideal persona, supporting informed, hyper-segmented engagement campaigns with messaging that speaks to those needs and characteristics.

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

Create Personalized Patient Experiences

Personalization is one of the most effective ways to improve patient experiences. One of the easiest ways for healthcare marketers to leverage personalization is by simply asking patients and consumers what they prefer. For example, they can indicate their preferred method of contact (such as phone, email, or text message) and set a time of day that works best to receive communication from their provider. Short online or emailed surveys are another great way for marketers to gather information about patient preferences and personalize campaigns accordingly.

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

Use Precision Marketing to Deploy Consistent Messaging

These principles apply to acquisition and retention. Once a patient has already converted to a health system, precision marketing campaigns continue to be effective in encouraging ongoing engagement with unique content. These campaigns leverage HCRM-connected workflows that strategically guide communications, track engagements with marketing materials, and monitor a patient’s journey from, for instance, pre-screening to specialist consultation to surgical procedure.

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

Final Thoughts

Today’s consumers expect seamless, personalized interactions from all businesses with whom they interact—and this includes their healthcare provider. Unsurprisingly, patient experience recently became the centerpiece of many health systems’ strategic growth initiatives. Healthcare marketers play a critical role in crafting a great healthcare experience, so it’s important they employ the right tactics to ensure positive interactions throughout the patient journey.

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

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

E-Cigarettes and Vaping



By David Thompson, MD, and Gary Marks, DO

Use of electronic cigarettes (vaping) has risen greatly over the last several years. Adult smokers have increasingly turned to e-cigs to quit or decrease tobacco smoking. An especially concerning fact is that e-cigs have become the most widely used tobacco products by youth. One in five high school students use e-cigs, and one in twenty middle schoolers. The U.S. Surgeon General declared the use of e-cigs among young people an epidemic.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has reported an outbreak of lung injury from smoking e-cigs. As of October 1, 2019, there have been over 1,000 cases with eighteen deaths.
Telephone triage nurses should be ready to answer questions from concerned callers. Here is an overview of this important topic.

What are Electronic Cigarettes (e-cigs)?

E-cigarettes go by many names such as e-cigs, e-hookahs, vape pens, vapes, tank systems, or ENDS (Electronic Nicotine Delivery system). E-cigarettes have three main parts: a battery, a fluid chamber, and a heating element. The battery powers the heating element and the heating element turns the liquid into vapor. Users inhale the vapor. This is why smoking e-cigs is also called “vaping.”

E-cigarettes may look like pipes, cigars, pens, regular cigarettes, or even USB flash drives. “Pod mods” are re-chargeable and have increasing popularity among teens. A popular brand is JUUL.

E-cigs may be less harmful than smoking normal cigarettes. Still, vaping does have health risks and complications. Click To Tweet

What Is in the E-cigarette Fluid?

E-cigarette fluid has three main types of chemicals:

Nicotine: Nicotine content ranges from none to 36 mg/dL.

Flavor: There are thousands of different flavors. Some flavors are chocolate, cotton candy, gummy bear, and bubble gum. Such flavors may add to the use of e-cigs and nicotine addiction in children.

Other Chemicals: Other likely harmful substances in e-cigarette vapor are propylene glycol, heavy metals (nickel, lead, tin), and possible cancer-causing chemicals. It is not easy for users to know exactly what they are vaping. There have been e-cigarette cartridges labeled “nicotine-free” that contain nicotine.

Some people use marijuana products or other drugs by vaping.

What Are the Risks and Complications?

E-cigs may be less harmful than smoking normal cigarettes. Still, vaping does have health risks and complications:

Nicotine: Nicotine is a stimulant. Nicotine is addictive and can lead to cravings. It is the same chemical that makes normal cigarettes habit-forming. Nicotine can harm the growing brain of adolescents and young adults. For those that are pregnant, nicotine can be harmful to an unborn baby.

Vaping-linked Lung Injury: The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has recently reported an outbreak of lung injury from smoking e-cigs. The cause of this is not yet known. Most of those with lung injury used a marijuana product (THC) with their e-cig. Symptoms are cough, shortness of breath, chest pain, fever, upset stomach, throwing up, diarrhea, and stomach pain. Symptoms appear over days to weeks.

In addition, battery failure can lead to an explosion or fire. And swallowing the e-cigarette liquid can be very harmful and even deadly, especially to children. Last, the long-term effects of vaping are not known.

Do E-cigs Help People Quit Smoking?

Many people start using e-cigs to quit or stop smoking normal cigarettes. It is not yet known if e-cigs work well for those trying to quit smoking. One study found that many smokers trying to quit regular cigarettes by using e-cigs ended up using both products. The FDA has not approved e-cigarettes to help people quit smoking.

Some Closing Recommendations

Here are some recommendations supported by the CDC:

  • Pregnant women, teens, and children should not use e-cigs.
  • If you don’t currently use e-cigs, do not start.
  • If you are currently using e-cigs to quit smoking, do not return to smoking cigarettes. Talk with your doctor about the patch or other treatments.
  • Do not buy e-cigarette products off the streets.
  • Do not change or add anything to the e-cig product beyond what the manufacturer has approved.
  • Call your healthcare provider if you use e-cigs and develop a cough or have trouble breathing.

David Thompson, MD, is the adult content author at Schmitt-Thompson Clinical Content, and Gary Marks, DO, is the adult medical editor at Schmitt-Thompson Clinical Content.

Combating Alarm Fatigue


1Call-call center

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


1Call-call center

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


1Call-call center

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.