The September 2017 Issue



The Promise of Telephone Triage and Physician Locator Services

By Peter L DeHaan, Ph.D.

Peter DeHaan, publisher and editorTelephone triage is a great solution that meets the healthcare needs for many patients. However, though I write about telephone triage, I have no first-hand experience. Alas, there are no telephone triage services available to me—or at least none that I’m aware of. I wish there were.

It may shock you to know I don’t have a primary care physician. But it’s not for a lack of trying. Here’s the short version: Years ago I called my doctor’s office to make an appointment when I was down with a cold. The doctor wouldn’t see me because I hadn’t recently seen him when I was well. When I was better I called to schedule an annual check-up. They declined. My paper records were in storage and apparently it was too much hassle to retrieve them. I suggested they treat me as a new patient, but my doctor wasn’t accepting new patients. Apparently he had fired me. That was ten years ago. I haven’t had a primary care physician since.

Over the past five years I’ve required medical attention four times. Once was a trip to ER for stitches. The other three times were to urgent care to snag a prescription for antibiotics. On my last visit they encouraged me to find a primary care physician. I agreed. After recovering, I went online searching for a conveniently-located doctor.

I ended up at the website of a large healthcare provider. I entered my ZIP code and asked for doctors nearby. The closest match was .06 miles away. That’s 317 feet, but this doctor was actually over twenty miles away, a thirty-five-minute drive. I checked the next fifteen providers, all of whom were reported to be within five miles. None were. I gave up.

I wish I could call a physician locator service, but there aren’t any in my area, at least none that I know of.

I’m convinced healthcare call centers can fill a vital need in the provision of healthcare services, both telephone triage and doctor locator services. If only they were available in my area. Hopefully the reality of what is will soon catch up with the potential of what can be. Until then I hope I don’t get sick.

Peter DeHaan is the publisher and editor of Medical Call Center News and AnswerStat.


Reduce Unnecessary ER Visits with Telephone Triage

By Charu Raheja, PhD

Telemedicine has been gaining acceptance as a means of lowering healthcare costs and decreasing the unnecessary use of the ER. Telephone nurse triage has become part of the telemedicine solution. By using standardized protocols to advise patients on their symptoms and indicate the appropriate care, triage nurses decrease unnecessary ER visits, resulting in significant annual healthcare savings. In addition, having nurses as the first line of care encourages patients to call since patients aren’t sure if they need a doctor to evaluate their symptoms.

Unnecessary ER visits cost patients, hospitals, and insurance companies approximately 4.4 billion dollars a year according to the RAND Corporation. This problem has become such an issue that earlier this summer Blue Cross Blue Shield of Georgia told patients with individual policies that they will not cover ER claims if the patient doesn’t have a legitimate emergency. They recommend patients use urgent care centers, retail health clinics, and 24/7 telehealth services.

The improper use of ER places a high financial burden on the entire US healthcare system. With the US healthcare system in serious need of cost-cutting, there is increased pressure to minimize unnecessary use, while ensuring people who truly need care receive it in a timely manner, thereby reducing the potential for life-threatening conditions.

One important, but often overlooked aspects of nurse triage is the human aspect of the service. Most callers are truly concerned about their symptoms, and having access to a triage nurse provides reassurance and guidance. It’s difficult to put a price on peace of mind. In addition, some callers may not realize the severity of their symptoms and may fear being responsible for the ER bill, thus delaying care for potentially life-threatening conditions. About one in fourteen callers thought their symptoms weren’t serious prior to the nurse sending them to the emergency room. Providing patients with a qualified telephone triage nurse prevents these patients from improperly self-diagnosing and ensures that they get the treatment they need.

As telemedicine expands into new services, providing innovative and cost-effective care, it’s important to remember that the benefits reach beyond budgetary significance. Nurse triage saves lives and provides comfort to callers worried about their symptoms and would have otherwise gone to the ER. However, a significant portion of the US population lacks access to telephone nurse triage. Implementing telephone medicine to a greater population can save lives and improve health outcomes.

Charu Raheja, Ph.D., is the CEO of TriageLogic and Continuwell. Both companies focus on telehealth by integrating communication solutions with medical expertise. TriageLogic is a leading provider of quality, affordable triage solutions, including comprehensive URAC accredited after-hours call center services and innovative online systems for use in both institutional and private practice settings. Contact TriageLogic to get a quote or set up a demo.


Is it Time to Consider Hospital Call Center Outsourcing?

By Keith Slater

“Patient experience,” “customer service,” “patient satisfaction scores,” and “value-based performance” are part of hospitals’ and healthcare providers’ everyday vocabulary. Value-based care pushes them to achieve many more financial objectives and improve the patient experience. Providers who lose patients because of poor customer service or inefficient physician referral processes feel a direct hit on revenue and, ultimately, on the bottom line.

Plus, there’s another financial incentive to improve customer service. The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) requires hospitals subject to the Inpatient Prospective Payment System (IPPS) annual payment update provisions to collect and submit data from the Hospital Consumer Assessment of Healthcare Providers and Systems (HCAHPS) survey to receive their full IPPS annual payment update. If they don’t, their annual payment update may be reduced by two percent. The HCAHPS survey measures patients’ perceptions of their hospital experiences, which include responsiveness of hospital staff and other service measures.

Balancing Customer Service and Clinical Care: Many hospitals and healthcare providers struggle to focus on the patient experience and customer service because of competing priorities. Value-based care; clinical, quality and safety initiatives; mergers and acquisitions; integrating employed physicians; software conversions and migrations; and supply management often monopolize their attention. Too often, they ignore call centers.

C-suite executives and leaders responsible for the patient experience are overburdened. Staff members often wear too many hats, leaving customer service and call centers to suffer. In most cases it’s not intentional. Healthcare organizations with in-house call centers don’t always monitor calls or track call metrics from a patient access or experience perspective. Many don’t realize they have a problem until revenue shortfalls and patient satisfaction scores show otherwise.

Signs of Medical Call Center Vulnerability: Perhaps the biggest reason in-house healthcare call centers fall short is because they’re not run like true call centers. It’s typical for a hospital or healthcare system to put existing front desk or scheduling staff in a central location to try to gain efficiencies and improve service. Many times they don’t emphasize the importance of excellence in customer service skills or invest in the rigor required to run a true call center.

Then they end up with unhappy employees, high staff turnover, and frustrated patients. Healthcare executives may not know when it’s time to pull the plug on a deficient call center and outsource those hospital call center services to a professional firm.

Why Medical Call Center Outsourcing Works: Running a call center requires specialized expertise—even more so when the calls entail patient questions about health issues and possible financial challenges. Outsourced medical call centers know how to hire representatives with good listening skills, a calm demeanor, a service mentality, and empathy for patients. They provide agents with ongoing, in-depth training on the medical aspects of the job and how to represent healthcare providers as if they were members of their clients’ staff. Good call center providers have advanced technology and tools to help ensure quality and report results.

Since 70 percent of all patient care occurs in a physician office setting and patients must call for appointment scheduling or to get their questions answered, why would you risk putting inadequate resources in place to manage your call center? Why not outsource to a professional healthcare call center that can get the job done?

Keith Slater is vice president of business development at Change Healthcare. Contact him at performanceinfo@mckesson.com. Download their new e-book to learn more about industry insights into patient satisfaction and key strategies to improving the total patient experience. For more information visit www.mckesson.com/callcenter.


Healthcare Call Center News

Ambs Call Center Honored For Excellence

Ambs Call Center received the ATSI 2017 Award of Excellence. This annual award is presented by the Association of TeleServices International (ATSI). Call centers from across North America and the United Kingdom take part in the program, which uses independent judges to place test calls to participating call centers. These secret-shopper calls occur over a six-month time frame. “Companies that earn this award are continuously focusing on delivering excellence in customer call handling,” said ATSI president Doug Robbins.

The award started twenty-one years ago to improve the quality of the telephone answering service industry. Now a fourteen-time winner Ambs Call Center earned the Emerald Award. “I am extremely proud of our team for earning this year’s award. Making sure that we deliver an exceptional customer service experience to our customers 24/7/365 is no small feat,” said Aaron Boatin, president of Ambs Call Center.

The healthcare division of Ambs Call Center provides medical answering service, patient satisfaction, physician referral, and class registration. Ambs Call Center is family owned and has been in business since 1932.

Schmitt-Thompson Clinical Content Joins the Air Force

Schmitt-Thompson Clinical Content (STCC) announced they have been awarded a ten-year agreement by the Air Force Medical Operations Agency (AFMOA) for the delivery of electronic triage protocols for telehealth nursing to medical treatment facilities enterprise-wide. This would entail a deployment over the next twelve months of the Office Hours content to all seventy-six Air Force military treatment facilities.

Each of the Air Force bases has a military treatment facility. Patients are seen in their walk-in clinics. Supplementing this is a triage telecom service (medical call center) with nurse staff ranging from as few as four telephone triage nurses per site (Air Force base) to as many as eighty-five nurses.


A Thought For Today

“An expert is a man who has made all the mistakes which can be made in a very narrow field.” -Niels Bohr

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The July 2017 Issue



The One Sure Thing About the Future of Healthcare

By Peter L DeHaan, Ph.D.

Peter DeHaan, publisher and editorI don’t like to write about politics, but politicians in the United States are once again messing with healthcare. Some call it repeal, and others view it as repair. Some are for it and others oppose it. No one knows for sure how things will shake out or when it will happen, if anything happens at all.

Whether you view the status quo as good or bad, the maneuverings of the politicians and the soundbites of the pundits are disruptive. This makes it hard to plan: hard for healthcare providers, hard for healthcare insurance companies, and hard for healthcare consumers.

Regardless of the outcome, however, there is one thing I’m sure of. Medical call centers will continue to play a key role in the provision of care now and a bigger role in the future. Healthcare call centers stand in the healthcare gap, improving patient care, enhancing population health, and reducing per capita healthcare costs. No group is better positioned to achieve these three goals.

Yes, the one sure thing in healthcare today is that medical call centers will play a key role in providing quality, cost-effective solutions tomorrow. The only variable is how big that role will be.

Peter DeHaan is the publisher and editor of Medical Call Center News and AnswerStat.


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The Receptionist Model for Telephone Triage Calls

By Mark Dwyer

Many triage call centers employ non-clinical staff to frontend the triage calls. This process is often referred to as the receptionist model. Hospitals that use this model typically provide the non-clinical staff with a predefined set of criteria to rank the acuity level of patients’ symptoms. These acuity levels are determined by key symptoms and terms used by patients when describing their symptoms.

Certain keywords together with certain known related conditions shape a likely emergent disposition. This is often done by providing the non-clinical staff with a list of key symptoms and conditions. If they exist, then direct the individual processing the call to interrupt a nurse currently on a call with a less acute patient. In this scenario, the nurse parks the current call, freeing her line to accept the potentially urgent call. If the call is deemed non-emergent, it is added to the nurses’ follow-up outbound call queue with the appropriately assigned acuity.

The best way to verify that each call added into the nurse callback queue has been assigned an appropriate acuity level would be to have all calls reviewed, assessed and, if needed, adjusted by acuity. To facilitate this, many sites have a charge nurse responsible for managing the queue throughout the day, making sure the highest acuity requests remain listed at the top of the “requests received for nurse callback” queue. Generally, callbacks should be made within thirty to forty minutes of receipt of the initial request.

Mark Dwyer is a 30-year veteran of the healthcare call center industry and the COO at LVM Systems, which provides healthcare call center software.


Healthcare Call Center News

Hospital CIOs Surveyed about Data Security and Clinical Mobility

Over the past twenty years, the avenues for sharing protected health information have multiplied, and data breaches have become much too common. In March 2017, Spok surveyed over 100 hospital CIOs to see how pressing the data security concern is for IT executives. They compiled the results and some interesting ones include:

Hospital secure texting:

  • 41 percent do not currently support HIPAA-compliant secure texting on any device but are planning to do so in the future.
  • 39 percent have secure texting only for personal devices.
  • 35 percent supply secure texting only on hospital issued devices.
  • 26 percent provide secure texting on both personal and hospital issued devices.

Secure communication methods used by clinical staff:

  • 88 percent use encrypted email.
  • 48 percent use HIPAA-compliant secure texting.
  • 48 percent use in-building Wi-Fi phones.
  • 17 percent use encrypted pagers.

Top four reasons why hospitals use pagers:

  • Most appropriate device for specific employee groups or departments
  • Reliability
  • Cost and time savings
  • Easy workflow integration

To underscore the severity of this data security issue, 95 percent of hospital CIOs are concerned about their data being compromised, but 26 percent are unsure how much PHI (personal health information) is being shared using unsecure technology.

Mobility and clinical process improvements are important to hospital leaders, and CIOs plan to make impactful changes,” said Spok. “However, the execution remains a work in progress. Greater than 30 percent of clinical staff cannot receive messages from colleagues on mobile devices.” This and other findings are presented in a revealing info graphic.


A Thought for Today

“We all have our time machines. Some take us back, they’re called memories. Some take us forward, they’re called dreams.” -Jeremy Irons

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The May 2017 Issue



Uncertainty is the Only Thing That’s Certain in Healthcare

By Peter L DeHaan, Ph.D.

Peter DeHaan, publisher and editorI don’t like to write about politics, but politics is once again affecting the future of healthcare. With all the bluster about repelling and replacing the Affordable Care Act (aka Obamacare), I was quite sure, that by now, we would have a new direction in place to chart our industry’s future. Alas, the bluster turned out to be no more than bluster.

It seems it’s much easier to criticize than to find workable solutions.

So, for now, Obamacare is the status quo. Whether we like it or dislike it, the Affordable Care Act is the framework in which we must work. All the while, we still hold our breath wondering if Obamacare might one day be replaced or more likely, amended. But will this make our jobs easier or harder? Uncertainty looms.

Regardless, the essential task is to ensure we keep our organizations viable so that we’re around to do our primary task of caring for people.

In this the call center will play a vital role. Of that, I am certain

Peter DeHaan is the publisher and editor of Medical Call Center News and AnswerStat.


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The Contact Center’s Role in Care Coordination and Management of Patient Transitions

By Traci Haynes, MSN, RN, BA, CEN

The need to coordinate care and manage patient transitions is growing fast. The ever-increasing number of chronic conditions in both adults and children has placed greater demand on healthcare resources and services. US healthcare spending reached an all-time high of $3.4 trillion in 2016. The Partnership to Fight Chronic Disease reported in 2015, 191 million Americans had at least one chronic disease and 75 million had two or more chronic diseases. It’s estimated that 15 to 18 percent of children in the US live with at least one chronic health condition.

Many of the complications of the most common and costly chronic conditions—such as heart disease, stroke, diabetes, COPD, and asthma—could be prevented or better controlled. In addition, many individuals who struggle with multiple conditions also have combined social complexities. Even the most clinically astute patients have difficulty navigating the complex and fragmented healthcare systems, especially when the responsibility falls to the individual alone without effective support or partnering. This often results in inefficiencies, increased costs, and poor outcomes.

In 2012, The American Nurses Association (ANA) stated that “Patient centered care coordination is a core professional standard and competency for all nurses and should be the foundation for all care coordination programs.” They also said, “Nurses need to position themselves within the interprofessional team to perform this core nursing process and contribute to better patient outcomes.”

Correct care coordination is systematic, organized, and involves teamwork including the patient and family; it requires communication among all participants.

Currently, care coordination is a primary concern with the National Quality Agenda and one of the six priorities of the National Quality Strategy (NQS). A coordinated effort, involving an interprofessional team with the patient and their family, can help to achieve the Institute of Healthcare Improvement’s (IHI) Triple Aim goals of better care, better health, and reduced costs.

The contact center can play a vital role in the effort to manage and improve the patient’s condition. By routinely checking on the patient at predetermined intervals and monitoring the individual’s plan of care, the contact center can communicate with the interprofessional team providing a picture of the patient’s current and recent status at that point in time. Using telecommunications can provide invaluable connectivity not only to monitor patients, but also to provide a meaningful 24/7 clinical assessment capability for episodic care and interventions, should the need arise.

Nursing organizations including ANA, the American Academy of Nursing (AAN), the American Academy of Ambulatory Care Nursing (AAACN), and the American Organization of Nurse Executives (AONE) have contributed resources to care coordination in the form of position statements, whitepapers, frameworks, policy briefs, a core curriculum, courses, and a certification in care coordination and transition management. There are also effective models and tools, along with hospital and community initiated programs.

Care coordination and transition management is a win for our healthcare system, for the providers (interprofessional team), and, most importantly, for our patients.

Traci Haynes, MSN, RN, BA, CEN is the director of clinical services at LVM Systems, Inc.


Healthcare Call Center News

New Study Examines the Challenges of Healthcare Switchboard Operators

A whitepaper by Parlance looks at the many different call handling and non-call handling duties assigned to healthcare switchboard operators, which can create difficulties in balancing service for callers with support for hospital operations and internal communications. The paper also recommends ways hospitals can better support operators to allow them to easily meet their many competing responsibilities.

Voice communications continue to play a crucial role in healthcare for both internal resources as well as external patients, vendors, insurance agencies, and other public callers. The common denominator among these disparate caller communities is the switchboard operator.

Beyond greeting callers, prioritizing their needs, and connecting them to the appropriate destinations or resources, operators are frequently tasked with a wide array of additional duties, such as announcing and tracking medical codes, coordinating emergency responses and medflights, or monitoring medical gas supplies and facility alarm panels. The workload related to these additional responsibilities, some of which are a matter of life and death, can detract from an operator’s core function of delivering excellent service that improves the patient experience and builds the hospital’s brand.

Learn more at info.parlancecorp.com/empowering-operators.

TriageLogic CEO Honored at Enterprising Women of the Year

TriageLogic CEO, Charu Raheja, PhD, was honored at the Enterprising Women of the Year Awards. The Enterprising Women of the Year Awards is a prestigious recognition program for women business owners. Dr. Raheja was recognized April 2 at the 15th Annual Enterprising Women of the Year Awards Celebration & Conference.

“The recipients of the 2017 Enterprising Women of the Year Awards represent an amazing group of women entrepreneurs from across the United States and as far away as The Netherlands, South Africa, Uganda, the United Kingdom, and Canada,” said Monica Smiley, publisher and CEO of Enterprising Women. “We could not be more proud to recognize their accomplishments as CEOs of fast-growth companies, community leaders, and role models and mentors to other women and girls.”

TriageLogic was also recently certified as a Women’s Business Enterprise and a Women Owned Small Business by the Women’s Business Enterprise National Council (WBENC).

Visit www.triagelogic.com for more information.


A Thought for Today

“To put everything in balance is good, to put everything in harmony is better.” -Victor Hugo

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The March 2017 Issue



We Live in Exciting Times

By Peter L DeHaan, Ph.D.

Peter DeHaan, publisher and editorTen years ago, whenever I’d mention medical call centers to people outside the industry, I’d get blank stares, as if I was talking in another language. My have things changed. Now many people know what I’m talking about when I mention healthcare call centers, while the rest usually give a nod of understanding once I give them an example.

Medical call centers will continue to play an important role in the provision of healthcare services and support. And their significance will grow over time to meet increased patient needs, cost-containment pressures, and expectations for improved quality of care. We live in exciting times. This industry is never boring, that much is sure.

As our industry grows, Medical Call Center News will grow with it, too. We plan to provide you with expanded coverage and more content in 2017 and beyond.

To make this possible, a group of leading vendors has given their support to Medical Call Center News. These sponsors—patrons, if you will—provide the means for us to do what we do:

If you’re familiar with these companies, please join us in thanking them. And if you’re not familiar with them, please go to their websites to learn more.

Thank you

Peter DeHaan is the publisher and editor of Medical Call Center News and AnswerStat.


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Enhance Your Communication Skills

By Dr. David Thompson

Using verbal communication is known to decrease patient stress, while increasing satisfaction, rates of compliance, and symptom resolution. Consider these steps to enhance your communication effectiveness when talking with patients:

  1. Slow Down: What you say is familiar to you, but it’s likely new to the patient. Make sure they have the best chance to hear you by talking slower and more deliberately.
  2. Use Plain Language: Explain things in patient-friendly language. Instead of “chief complaint,” say “reason for calling.”
  3. Include Visual Aids: Use pictures or drawings to explain concepts. For telehealth encounters, using a diagnostic platform with an “image recommended” prompt may help patients who have trouble describing what their condition is. On the telephone this is hard to do, but not impossible. Paint word pictures or send a follow up email with relevant images or links.
  4. Explain Important Concepts: Convey the most important concepts, and use repetition to enhance patient recall.
  5. Teach-Back: Ask patients to repeat your instructions back to you. Better yet have them explain what they need to do.
  6. Encourage Questions: Create a shame-free environment, enlist family and friends, and promote the Ask-Me-3 (What is my main problem? What do I need to do about the problem? Why is it important for me to do this?)
  7. Body Language: Physical behaviors like sitting rather than standing can improve communication. Body language also applies when talking over the phone. Sit up straight, smile, and relax your shoulders.
  8. Keep it Simple: For written communication, use plain language that is appropriate for your patients’ age and culture. Write at, or below, a sixth grade reading level. Use short paragraphs or bulleted lists, type in a large font, and use words with one or two syllables. These are great tips when sending emails to follow up on phone calls.

Follow these eight tips to enhance your communications skills.

David Thompson, MD, serves as CEO and chief medical officer for Health Navigator, Inc.


 Healthcare Call Center News

TriageLogic Announces Continuwell

TriageLogic Management and Consulting, LLC, launched Continuwell®, a telehealth product for businesses and organizations to decrease employee healthcare expenses and reduce employee sick days. This service is designed to complement and enhance existing wellness or telemedicine offerings already in place or as a turnkey solution.

You take care of your patients, but who takes care of your staff? When your patients have a medical issue arise, they call your office or triage line to evaluate their symptoms and get professional advice on what steps to take next. Why not extend triage services to your staff by making Continuwell part of your employee benefits package?

Continuwell is a telephone healthcare service with a network of experienced registered nurses and doctors. Continuwell provides 24/7 on demand nurses and doctors to evaluate employees or members and determine appropriate care for their symptoms.

Continuwell differentiates itself with its nurse-first model, where nurses use doctor-written guided protocols to evaluate callers and determine the care needed to resolve their symptoms. Their nurses are able to provide the necessary care without the need of a doctor in three out of four cases, saving the cost of a telehealth doctor visit and making the system affordable for employers and employees.

For more information call 844-258-4325 or email info@continuwell.com.

Record Revenue Helps Usher in Customer Direct’s 20th Anniversary

Customer Direct—a provider of outsourced contact center services in multiple industries, including healthcare—has entered its twentieth year of operations on the heels of record revenues.

What started in 1997 as an idea to deliver best-in-class, onshore, competitively-priced contact center services, has since grown into one of North America’s leading outsourced contact centers, with facilities in St. Ann and Arnold, Missouri, as well as an extensive work-from-home program. In addition, Customer Direct’s footprint is expected to grow with a significant expansion planned for the first half of 2017.

Based in St. Ann, Customer Direct provides multi-channel, multi-lingual Live Agent reservations, customer care, technical, and back-office operations support to leading companies throughout the U.S., and the world. Industries served include hospitality, publishing, healthcare, IT, retail, and e-commerce.

Spok to Add 60 Employees in Minnesota to Support Accelerated Solution Development

Spok, Inc., a wholly owned subsidiary of Spok Holdings, Inc. announced the company’s expansion of its Minneapolis/St. Paul presence by approximately 45 percent, with the addition of more than sixty employees over the next two years, the majority of which will be added in 2017. As part of Spok’s ongoing capital allocation strategy, which includes making key strategic investments in its product solutions and infrastructure, the company is increasing its team to enhance Spok Care Connect®, a healthcare communications platform that is transforming how hospitals coordinate care.

The newly hired associates will be based in Spok’s Eden Prairie, Minnesota, location. There, they will join the company’s collaborative teams that work with technology to create innovative product solutions. Healthcare organizations around the world rely on Spok to improve clinical communications by delivering information to care teams when and where it matters most to improve patient outcomes. Spok® solutions help hospitals evolve their communications strategy and technology from disparate systems to a single communications platform, which supports clinical workflows and allows for the seamless flow of data among departments.


A Thought For Today

“Would the boy you were be proud of the man you are?” -Laurence J. Peter

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The January 2017 Issue



Happy New Year!

By Peter L DeHaan, Ph.D.

Peter DeHaan, publisher and editorIn the last issue of Medical Call Center News, I encouraged you to work hard so you could finish 2016 strong. I hope that was the case and you were able to complete projects and tick items off your to-do list.

Though I accomplished much as the year wound down, I did not complete my number one goal for 2016. And this was despite blocking out the week between Christmas and New Years to wrap up my project. Alas the time filled up with critical yearend activity and work on my goal languished. I hope you had a different outcome for your projects (or your scheduled time off).

While I am disappointed over not completing all of my goals for last year, I’m happy for what I did finish and know that it’s important to set challenging goals that stretch me. And I was stretched in 2016, but it also shaped up to be a great year.

For 2017, I have again set challenging goals and will push myself to achieve them. In doing so, I hope that this year will be even better.

And may you be able to say the same thing!

Peter DeHaan is the publisher and editor of Medical Call Center News and AnswerStat.


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Addressing Health Literacy Challenges in Telehealth Settings

By Dr. David Thompson

For the estimated 89 million people in the United States who have limited literacy, managing everyday healthcare needs can be confusing and complicated. Health literacy, as defined by the Institute of Medicine, is the ability to obtain, process, and understand basic health information, services, and instructions. A person’s health literacy can be affected by their general literacy, age, job, insurance status, education, income level, or familiarity with English.

Physicians and healthcare professionals may have trouble identifying patients who have limited literacy, especially in telehealth encounters where clinicians and patients aren’t face-to-face. Cues that can alert providers to patients who may need extra help understanding their situation and care plan include missed appointments, lack of follow-through with laboratory or imaging tests, lack of response to referrals, and noncompliance with medication regimens.

Healthcare providers can make their office environment more supportive for all patients—not just those with limited health literacy—by considering the following factors:

  • Be Willing to Help: Telehealth and clinical staff can foster health literacy by offering assistance and providing information.
  • Schedule Appointments: Have real people schedule appointments, help patients prepare, and collect only essential information.
  • Office Check-in: Provide patient forms in easy-to-read formats and language, and be willing to help them complete forms.
  • Referrals and Supplementary Tests: Review referral information with patients, provide directions to the referral site, and offer guidance on insurance issues. It may also help to implement a telehealth platform that provides printable summaries of patient encounters for other physicians.
  • Provide Clear Instructions: Review important information and provide easy-to-read education materials. For telehealth providers, diagnostic platforms can immediately connect patients to aftercare instructions and informational resources.

Healthcare providers should also follow universal health literacy guidelines and consider licensing a telehealth platform that uses patient-friendly, plain language that can be coded into medical terminology. Such tools enable patients and providers to understand the telehealth encounter and related information in familiar terms.

David Thompson, MD, serves as CEO and chief medical officer for Health Navigator, Inc.


Survey Finds Increase in Mobility Planning but Gaps in Critical Infrastructure

Spok, Inc. released the findings of their fifth annual mobility strategies in healthcare survey. The survey is designed to assess mobile workflow enablement progress and trends in hospitals across the country. More than 550 healthcare organizations responded to the questions about mobile strategy documentation, bring your own device (BYOD) policies, communications infrastructure, and information security.

“The majority of hospitals and health systems are formalizing a mobility strategy, which helps define the goals and framework for all mobile-related projects,” said Vincent D. Kelly, president and chief executive officer of Spok Holdings, Inc.

The survey shows that mobile strategy plans and use cases continue to grow, with an emphasis on smartphones and apps. It also reveals there is a large gap in the infrastructure necessary to support these strategies and devices, including wireless network coverage and enterprise mobility management (EMM) solutions. “Fifty-four percent of respondents answered that Wi-Fi coverage is a current challenge for mobile device users, and 47 percent cited cellular coverage challenges. This gap will be critical for hospitals to address in an effort to mitigate security risks and enhance communications,” said Hemant Goel, president of Spok, Inc.

Survey findings reveal that the diversity of mobile devices is increasing as new types of devices (such as wearables) are added to the mix and existing tools remain firmly entrenched in clinicians’ workflows. “As the survey demonstrates, pagers continue to play a major role in communications,” added Kelly. “That’s why, as part of our portfolio, we maintain support for the paging demands of the market, including the introduction of our encrypted pager.”

The survey also showed that more hospitals are hiring outside experts to help with clinical mobility, from planning through technology implementations and rollout. “Mobility enablement is far more complicated than just giving users an app,” Goel said.


Healthcare Call Center News

Robert Lancaster Promoted to 1Call Sales Manager: The 1Call Division of Amtelco announced that Robert Lancaster has been promoted to 1Call sales manager for the western region. Robert (Bob) has been working in miSecureMessages product sales for 1Call since joining the company earlier this year. In his new position, Bob will be working with many current customers to ensure they are meeting their ever-expanding healthcare communication needs. Bob will also help new customers find the ideal 1Call communication solutions that meet the specific needs for their organizations.

Jeff Griedl, 1Call vice president of sales, stated, “Bob has already done an amazing job contacting customers to keep them informed about the miSecureMessages encrypted messaging solution. We are thrilled to have Bob working with more of our customers to present all of the 1Call solutions available for healthcare organizations.” Bob can be reached at blancaster@1call.com or 877-206-9159.

Health Navigator Partners With ERatHome: Health Navigator announced it has partnered with ERatHome, a network of retail clinics and home-based urgent care services, to expand access to providers and control the flow of medical information between patients and clinicians. As part of the collaboration, Health Navigator will support ERatHome’s Hive application, which is designed to share medical records and treatment history among care teams, provide patients with 24/7 access to doctors, facilitate appointment scheduling, send automated reminders and alerts, and share patient education resources.

Patients in the ERatHome network can use the Hive app to call or schedule a virtual visit with a doctor. Doctors use patient information to make a preliminary diagnosis based on symptoms and suggest the next steps to take. Health Navigator provides a diagnostic decision-support platform that features clinical codes, symptom checking intelligence, and process analysis for clinicians. By integrating Health Navigator’s comprehensive set of codes and analytics, ERatHome provides a more accurate, efficient diagnostic process, which can produce improved outcomes.

Andrew Mellin Named Chief Medical Officer for Spok: Spok Holdings, Inc. announced the appointment of Andrew Mellin, M.D. as Chief Medical Officer. In this new role, Dr. Mellin will be responsible for representing physician’s needs for communications software solutions to drive improvements in provider efficiency and patient care. Dr. Mellin joins recently appointed Chief Nursing Officer (CNO) Dr. Nat’e Guyton, in creating a clinical leadership team focused on using communication technologies to enable more effective workflow approaches that complement a health system’s investment in electronic records.

“We are delighted to welcome Dr. Mellin to our team,” said Vincent D. Kelly, president and chief executive officer of Spok Holdings, Inc. “He is an industry veteran, who brings over twenty years of healthcare experience—both as a physician and executive—to the position, and will play a key role in executing our long-term strategy to achieve growth in all healthcare markets.”


A Thought For Today

“A career is wonderful, but you can’t curl up with it on a cold night.” -Marilyn Monroe

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The November 2016 Issue



Finish Strong

By Peter L DeHaan, Ph.D.

Peter DeHaan, publisher and editorIs seems that 2016 is flying by. Before we know it, we’ll be turning our calendars over to 2017 (metaphorically speaking at least, since few people use paper calendars anymore). Halloween has just past, Thanksgiving will soon be here, followed by Christmas and then New Year’s. January 1, 2017 looms large.

How are you doing on your 2016 project list? If you’re like me your list for this year was more ambitious than the time available to complete it. Yes, I have many projects still to do. Though it’s tempting to coast through the rest of the year, doing only what needs our attention and starting anew on January first, remember that we still have two months left in this year. Let’s make the most of it.

How many of your pending 2016 projects and goals can you complete in the next two months? Make a plan and form a strategy to accomplish as much as you can. Not only will you finish the year with a sense of accomplishment – and relief – but you will also have fewer items to transfer to your 2017 list. (Please tell me that I’m not the only one to do that.)

As we look ahead to the rest of 2016, holidays, days off work, and a new year, remind yourself of one thing for these next eight weeks: finish strong.

The next issue of Medical Call Center News will come out in the New Year on January 3, 2017, and I’ll check with you to see how you did. Until then, remember to finish strong.

Peter DeHaan is the publisher and editor of Medical Call Center News and AnswerStat.


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Content Marketing: Need content for your blog or website? Let Peter DeHaan provide it for you. Rates are only $175 per page or post. Themes include healthcare call centers, customer service, general business, and more. Email Peter or call 616-284-1305.

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Good HIPAA Practices Make for Good Call Center Habits

By Janet Livingston

HIPAA, the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, has critical ramifications for medical call centers. A lack of compliance with HIPAA regulations can result in monetary damages in the form of fines for security breaches and reputation damages in the form of negative publicity over security violations.

While the full scope of HIPAA best practices are widespread, here are three areas of critical importance.

Address Internal Security: Not only does the call center facility need building security and secured access, but internal security is also a critical issue under HIPAA. Certain areas must be restricted to unauthorized personnel. For example, the operations room should be off limits to visitors and even some ancillary staff. Similarly the technology hubs, such as the computer room and telecommunications center, should be under lockdown at all times and accessible only to authorized technical personnel.

Enforce a Password Policy: Passwords are unpopular but necessary. Good passwords keep personal health information private. Call centers need a thorough password policy that is rigorously imposed. The policy should include periodic password changes, not reusing former passwords, and not sharing passwords with coworkers regardless of the circumstances.

Deploy Shred Bins: While many dream of a truly paperless office, the reality is that despite well-meaning intentions, printed documents that contain sensitive information will still result. This might be through negligence, oversight, or expediency. Regardless, call centers must destroy these paper documents as soon as their usefulness ends. The best solution is to immediately shred such documents in a micro-cut shredder. However, shredders are loud devices that don’t align well with the call center’s need to minimize noise. The solution is to position shred bins at convenient locations throughout the call center and surrounding areas. Authorized personnel will routinely shred the contents of the locked shred bin according to documented security protocols.

These three elements are not only key for HIPAA compliance in healthcare call centers, but they are emerging as call center best practices across all industries.

Janet Livingston is the president of Call Center Sales Pro, a premier sales and marketing service provider and consultancy that provides custom training solutions for all levels of healthcare call center and medical answering service staff. Contact Janet at contactus@callcenter-salespro.com or 800-901-7706 to learn more about arranging specific training for your organization.


 Healthcare Call Center News

Call 4 Health Relocates to Delray Beach: Call 4 Health relocated its headquarters and call center from Boca Raton to a larger facility in Delray Beach, Florida, where it plans to hire more than one hundred employees over the next twelve months. The company was founded in Boca Raton nineteen years ago. Call 4 Health CEO Joseph Pores said the business has grown by more than 50 percent a year each of the last three years. The company ran out of room to grow in Boca Raton, where it occupied 8,000 square feet in several locations. They considered multiple sites from before leasing 17,800 square feet at 2855 South Congress Avenue in Delray Beach.

The call center agents help schedule appointments, field after-hours calls, and operate as a hospital switchboard, among other duties. Most of their calls are inbound, and they’re open 24/7. It cost about $600,000 to renovate the new offices. Pores said it gutted the building and replaced the flooring, lights, and furniture. Its offices include a sound-masking system to dampen the noise in the call center, a mothers’ room, standing desks, and a meditation room. “We were able to design it to suit our needs for the next ten years and beyond,” Pores concluded.

1Call Conference Sets Record: The 1Call 2016 Leadership Conference and Training Seminar set a new record for number of attendees for the second year in a row. Several attendees presented their success stories on topics including “How MergeComm Improves Notification Practices and Increases Efficiencies,” “How to Roll Out miSecureMessages,” “Increasing Agent Productivity with Soft Agent,” and “Best Practices of Applications and Reports.”

Additional leadership topics included, “You’re Never Far From Good Health,” “Improving Workflows with MergeComm,” and “Disaster Planning for Your Call Center.” Attendees learned about the newest Infinity features, the new Genesis software switching solution, MergeComm, and miSecureMessages. Training sessions covered directories, on-call scheduling, and scripting. One of the highlights this year was a trip to the SSM Health Dean Medical Group to see their call center in action. Attend next year’s conference, September 12-14, 2017, in Madison, Wisconsin.


A Thought For Today

“Out of the quarrel with others we make rhetoric; out of the quarrel with ourselves we make poetry.” -William Butler Yeats


 

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