Category Archives: Issues

The current issue of Medical Call Center News. (Scroll down to see past issues.)

The August 2010 Issue

Don’t Let Afternoon Fatigue Slow You Down

By Dr. David Tanton

If you are one of many medical call center agents who work during the day, you probably have very productive mornings.  Then the clock strikes noon, and you head to lunch.  Following lunch, you return to your desk, often feeling tired, drained, and less-than-productive.  While the morning was filled with efficiency, now energy is plummeting fast and the afternoon slump has set in!

When you work in a medical call center, feeling alert can be critical to both your job performance, and your job security.  Let’s evaluate what causes the afternoon slump, and take steps to eliminate it.  Following is the formula that will make the difference.

You Are What You Eat

  • What you eat for lunch is important.  A heavy meal means that an increased amount of energy will be diverted to the stomach for digestion, leaving less energy for your brain.
  • The combination of foods you consume is also important.  For example, meat and starches in combination are slow to digest.  Eating fruit or drinking fruit juice with a meal greatly increases digestion time as well.  On the other hand, eating a lighter lunch and chewing thoroughly speeds up digestion.
  • If you find it difficult to stay awake at times, any medications you are taking might be the problem.  Of the 200 most prescribed medications, 175 (87.5 percent) listed “fatigue” or “drowsiness” as possible side effects!
  • Hypothyroidism, hypoglycemia, dehydration, or insufficient oxygen can all influence your mental capacity and your ability to remain alert.
  • Anemia, caused by insufficient red blood cells, is one well-known contributor to fatigue.  Taking a high-potency vitamin B-complex, along with 50 mg of Coenzyme Q10, twice daily, (upon rising and at noon), can help maintain your energy level and prevent fatigue throughout the day.

You Deserve a Good Night’s Sleep: Insufficient sleep can lead to carelessness regarding important medical data or other work-related errors.  Adequate sleep affects your ability for efficient retention and recall.  During sleep, healing and regeneration to take place, enabling you to be healthier and more productive.  Surprisingly, you won’t accomplish more by sleeping fewer hours – you will actually be less productive during the day.

Attitude Makes the Difference: Your attitude plays an important role in beating lethargy and that afternoon slump.  Nothing contributes to drowsiness faster than boredom, but this can often be eliminated with a minor attitude adjustment.  You might consider striving to become Employee of the Month – every single month.  If you are in hyperdrive, you might want to enjoy an afternoon cup of green tea.  It contains ingredients that produce more mentally productive alpha waves, which helps you stay focused.

On the phone or interacting with coworkers, always have a cheerful, upbeat attitude and strive to be a team player.  By incorporating these recommendations, your afternoons can be every bit as productive as your mornings, and you can say good-bye to afternoon fatigue.

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In the Cool of the Morning

By Peter Lyle DeHaan, PhD

Author Peter Lyle DeHaan

I got up early this morning and, in the predawn, began pulling in cool 60-degree air into our warm abode.  In short order the temperature dropped seven degrees to an agreeable 70, where it stayed most of the morning.  Attired only in t-shirt and shorts, I was quite comfortable.

What is perplexing is that six months ago, in the midst of winter’s fury, with the thermostat set at 72, I would layer on the clothes and still be cold.  This is a strange personal phenomenon that occurs with predicted regularity each year as we cycle from summer to winter and back again.

I’ve never known why.  One possibility is that since I like summer and dislike winter, it is a psychological response to my frame of mind – meaning that it is all in my head.  I don’t care for that theory.

Alternately, a physiological explanation is more palatable, but on what might I blame it?  The answer is that I don’t know.  What I do know is that I like summer and am quite comfortable – and happy!

I wish the same for you.

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

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Many Americans Still Confused About New Healthcare Reform

Not sure what’s included and what’s not in the new healthcare legislation signed into law by President Obama in March?  You’re not alone.  More than 2,100 adults were given a list of eighteen reform items and asked to identify what’s included and what’s not included in the law.  Only four items were correctly identified by the majority of those polled.

Most (58 percent) knew that the reform package will prohibit insurers from denying coverage to people because they are already sick; 55 percent knew that the law permits children to stay on their parents’ insurance plan until age 26; and 52 percent realized that people who don’t have insurance will be subject to financial penalties.  Additionally, half of those polled were aware that employers with more than fifty employees will have to offer their workers affordable insurance.  These are some of the major findings of the HealthDay/Harris Poll conducted between July 15 to 19, 2010, among 2,104 adults (aged eighteen and over).

Among other findings: 82 percent thought the bill will result in rationing of healthcare, or at least that it might; 79 percent didn’t know if drug companies will pay an annual fee; 73 percent didn’t know that the law establishes a new tax on the sale of medical devices; 66 percent weren’t sure if the legislation will result in insurance exchanges where people can shop for insurance; and 63 percent didn’t know if the new law will increase the number of people eligible for Medicaid.

“The problem for the (Obama) administration is that healthcare reform is fiendishly complicated because the healthcare system is fiendishly complicated, and it is not politically feasible to tear up the system and build it again,” said Humphrey Taylor, chairman of the Harris Poll, Harris Interactive’s long-running public opinion poll.  “Instead, you have to build on the system that you have.  When you try to build on a fiendishly complicated system, you have fiendishly complicated reforms.”

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Concern Stated Regarding Ghostwritten Medical Literature

On June 24, 2010, the office of United States Senator Charles Grassley released a report entitled “Ghostwriting in Medical Literature,” highlighting his concern “about the lack of transparency that exists in medical ghostwriting.”  The report rightly calls for more uniform disclosure of financial and editorial support in medical publications and more specificity in acknowledging editorial assistance.  However, one heading in the report states that “the role of pharmaceutical companies in medical publications remains veiled or undisclosed.”  As evidence, it references events that predate the global ethical standards that guide the development of medical publications today.

The International Society for Medical Publication Professionals (ISMPP) shares the senator’s goal of improving transparency in this field.  “ISMPP believes full disclosure and acknowledgment of all contributions to medical publications are essential elements of ethical publication practices that ultimately protect the health and safety of patients, and maintain the integrity of our profession,” states Julia Ralston, CMPP, president, ISMPP.

ISMPP will continue to work with industry companies, the academic community, journal editors, and other professional societies to ensure global standardization and the highest levels of integrity in practices related to medical publications.

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Visiting Nurse Service of NY Helps Meet Increasing Demand for New York City Home Care

Optimum Lightpath, a provider of Ethernet-based communication solutions for New York metropolitan area businesses, announced that Visiting Nurse Service of New York (VNSNY) has deployed its telecommunication services to deliver increased patient care capabilities, cut costs, and continued growth to meet increasing demand and opportunity.  The roll out affects the nation’s largest not-for-profit home health organization’s more than 140,000 patients in New York City, 3,500 clinicians, and 3,000 office space staff.  As a result, Visiting Nurse Service of New York has experienced an annual cost savings of more than $150,000.

VNSNY staff and clinicians had been leaning heavily on the Internet to use Web-based applications, and for secure communication with other healthcare providers, from the office and out in the field.  As Internet usage grew due to strong demand, there was a desire to expand access to more clinicians and staff.  Further, VNSNY was eager to roll out a teleworker initiative and provide increased support for its 24/7 contact center.

To meet these emerging opportunities and needs, VNSNY relocated its data center and turned to Optimum Lightpath to double Internet bandwidth and improve circuits to support high-quality VoIP services, all at a lower annual cost.

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WellPoint, American Well Collaborate to Bring Health Care Home

WellPoint, Inc., a large health benefits company, announced that it is collaborating with American Well to support and deploy American Well’s Online Care platform, which will allow WellPoint to make Online Care services available to members of its affiliated health plans.  Online Care enables individuals to access physicians and clinicians via video, secure chat, or phone.

“We recognize the need for healthcare to become more accessible and convenient than ever before, especially for individuals living in rural areas,” said Dijuana Lewis, executive vice president and chief executive officer of WellPoint’s Comprehensive Health Solutions business.

The Online Care service will allow members of WellPoint’s affiliated health plans to engage in live encounters with primary care and specialty physicians, as well as with other clinicians.  Members will be able to initiate these encounters from their home or workplace at any time, via the Web or telephone.  During each live interaction, physicians will be able to review the member’s available clinical information, speak with the member, prescribe medications as appropriate, and suggest follow-up care.  The system will automatically create a complete record of each encounter, supporting continuity and collaboration among the providers caring for a member.

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Parents Expect Kid’s Doc to Be Board-Certified

Parents have high expectations of quality in their children’s doctors and say they’d switch doctors if those expectations aren’t met.  Parents believe that staying current with board certification is necessary in showing that quality.  Those are the findings of a new University of Michigan study published in the Journal of Pediatrics.  The study aimed to characterize parents’ attitudes about board certification and other factors that influence their choice of doctors, says Gary L. Freed, M.D., M.P.H., the study’s lead author and director of the Child Health Evaluation and Research (CHEAR) Unit at the University of Michigan Health System.  “New quality measures that are a part of the maintenance of certification process appear to strike a chord with parents,” Freed says.

Parents expect their physicians to be board-certified and to maintain their certification over time.  In fact, 77 percent of parents would likely change physicians if they knew he or she did not maintain their board certification.  Researchers believe that as issues of patient safety and external measures of competency gain public interest, greater public pressure will likely be placed on hospitals, health plans, and individual physicians to be more transparent regarding board certification status.

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An App That Saves Lives

International Anxiety Disorder elimination specialist, Charles Linden, announced that his Linden Method Program is now available as an app for the iPhone, iPad, and iPod Touch from the Apple App Store.  This “first in genre” app cures anxiety disorder in all its forms.  To date, The Linden Method (TLM) has helped over 135,000 people to recover.  The Linden Method addresses all high anxiety disorders including panic, OCD, agoraphobia, and PTSD, and the curative success rate is above 96 percent among complying clients.

The app not only delivers The Linden Method Program in full but also offers extensive new products that have been developed to address high anxiety as it happens.  It enables sufferers to move around more freely, empowering them to tackle moments of “anxiety crisis” in the moment.  These moments of high anxiety would normally render them hopeless and scared, but with the TLM App, they have the cure in their pocket.

Apple’s growing interest in medical applications for their technology reinforces the necessity for such high quality apps.  The Linden Method-Cure Anxiety App is available on the iTunes platform.  The maker claims that no other application that addresses anxiety conditions is available for the iPhone, iPad, or iPod Touch.

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Elderly Most Likely to Use Ambulances 

Patients with Medicare or Medicaid, the uninsured, the elderly, and the critically ill are the heaviest users of ambulances for transport to the emergency department, making them the most vulnerable during periods of ambulance diversion.  The results of a study of more than 30,000 patients taken to emergency departments by ambulance were published online in Annals of Emergency Medicine (“At-Risk Populations and the Critically Ill Rely Disproportionately on Ambulance Transport to Emergency Departments”).

“The most surprising and somewhat disturbing finding in our study was that close to half of critically ill patients come to the ER on their own, without ambulance transport,” said lead study author Benjamin Squire, MD, of Harbor-UCLA Medical Center in Los Angeles.  “It has shed a whole new light on how dangerously ill some of the patients in the waiting room are.  When a patient comes to the emergency department by ambulance, he is being monitored continually, which is not the case for a patient coming in on his own.  This finding changed my view of triage.”

Only 57 percent of critically ill patients went to the emergency department by ambulance.  Among the critically ill, privately insured patients were less likely to rely on ambulance transport than those with Medicare, public insurance, or no insurance.

The July 2010 Issue

Is the Current Recession Compromising Hospital Quality?

During past recessions, the financial stability of hospitals seemed to be nearly indestructible, but researchers at the University of Michigan Health System and St. Joseph Mercy Health System say that the current national economic crisis may be an exception.  Hospitals are reporting declining profits, most likely due to individuals losing their health insurance when they lose their jobs.  As a result, hospital plans for renovation and new construction are being scrapped, and hospitals are being forced to reduce their staff, according to an analysis in the May/June issue of the Journal of Hospital Medicine.

The researchers speculate that hospital cutbacks may risk the quality and safety of healthcare delivery.  “In uncertain economic times, it’s especially important to have certainty that hospitals are doing things safely.  However, as hospitals reduce staff and make other changes to make ends meet, we don’t necessarily have that certainty.  That’s why it’s as important as ever to not only measure the quality of hospital care, but also understand the systems that do deliver consistent, cost-effective and high quality care,” says lead author Jeremy Sussman, MD, MS, an internal medicine physician and Robert Wood Johnson Foundation clinical scholar at the University of Michigan Health System.

During this recession, every source of income for hospitals is at risk.  Almost three-fourths report receiving less reimbursement from insurance payers per discharge, and over half report a decrease in patient admissions, according to the American Hospital Association’s report, “The Impact of the Economic Crisis on Health Services for Patients and Communities.”  Though this is a difficult time for hospitals and many other organizations across the country, the authors say this is a critical time to improve monitoring of hospital quality.  They encourage the federal government to increase public awareness of local medical needs, hospital financial stability, and available patient services.

“We were surprised by how well hospitals have done during recessions in the last several decades and how, despite the economy in the last twelve months, relatively few hospitals are closing down.  Instead, hospitals seem to be dealing with the economic crisis by reducing staff, scaling back or completely stopping new construction projects, and implementing various efforts to improve efficiencies of care,” says Sussman.  “Our primary concern is that hospitals are making decisions to hold off on improvements in infrastructure and technology and cut staffing in ways that lead to a decrease in quality of care.”

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Enjoy Being “Broke” This Summer

By Judy Carter

It’s summertime, and you look forward to your time away from the call center: vacations, long weekends, and day trips.  Due to today’s still precarious economy, many of us are choosing to cut back on our leisure activities.  Here are some tips from Judy Carter, corporate humorist and author of The Comedy Bible, on how to enjoy life outside of the call center without maxing out your credit cards.

Discover the joy of a “broke” vacation.  Being broke forces creativity, and creative people have more fun.  Happiness is not a fancy hotel.  Some inexpensive alternatives are:

  • Camp out in your own backyard.
  • Stay at a youth hostel even if you’re pushing fifty.  How much time do you really spend in a hotel room anyway?
  • Go on a “volunteer vacation” to a foreign country.  There are plenty of opportunities to use your skills to assist someone less advantaged than you.  Why have another boring vacation when you can help someone and have an adventure at the same time?  Trust me, when you see how little other people have in other countries, you’ll feel rich.

Go on a “broke date.”  Find alternatives to eating out at pricey restaurants.  You can get a great bottle of wine for under ten dollars, a loaf of fresh sourdough bread, a hunk of cheese, and enjoy a picnic in the park.  Food from street vendors is fun and romantic.  Walking around New York City, eating a classic hot dog or some roasted chestnuts and visiting art museums won’t empty your bank account, but it will be an enriching experience.  Go on a tour of a winery or a food-processing plant.  There’s no admission charge, and they usually offer free wine and food samples afterwards.

Don’t wait until you can afford an expensive gym membership to get fit.  Countless studies show being active triggers “feel good” brain cells to activate.  The proverbial “runner’s high” is a scientific fact.  You don’t need a treadmill to walk.  Just walk!  You don’t need a Stairmaster; just take the stairs.  You don’t need an Abs Roller; have some sex!

Go on a “broke” shopping spree.  Buy used stuff on eBay.  Go to garage sales.  Check out thrift stores in rich neighborhoods.

There are so many simple pleasures available, no matter where you live or what the state of your bank account is.  Instead of focusing on what you can’t afford this summer, explore the range of activities available to you – and enjoy!  You’ll find yourself back at work refreshed and relaxed.

Judy Carter, the author of The Comedy Bible, is a motivational-humorist offering training and keynotes for corporate America.  She has appeared on Oprah, Good Morning America and CNN.  For more information, visit Corporate Comedy Works, or email judy@corporatecomedyworks.com

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DoD Approves 911 Call Center Software

Amcom Software, Inc’s pc/psap 911 call center solution has received Joint Interoperability Test Command (JITC) certification and is now listed under the Department of Defense’s Unified Capabilities Approved Products List.  This encompasses Information Assurance (IA) accreditation from the Defense IA/Security Accreditation Working Group (DSAWG) and Interoperability Certification (IOC) from the Joint Staff (JS).  This accreditation means that pc/psap provides the highest levels of security and interoperability as required by the US Government and the US Military.

The pc/psap 911 call center solution lets military bases handle 911 calls made from the base as well as from off-base housing.  The system speeds dispatching and response to 911 calls through intuitive functionality for call handling, integration with mapping systems, and the ability to record all 911 calls.  Call-takers can use recordings to work with internal or local police as well as other nearby 911 call centers in the event that the call center covers a large geographical area.

“Our customers in the military, government, higher education, and healthcare industries often remark on the importance of security and how comforting it is for them to be able to use a solution with the stamp of approval from the US Government,” said Chris Heim, CEO, Amcom Software.

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Service Helps Lessen the Impact of Caregiving from the Office

RememberItNow! LLC announced new additions to their eHealth service, making long-distance care easier.  According to a 2009 study by AARP, over seven in ten caregivers were employed at some time when caregiving.  Among them, two-thirds have gone in late, left early, or taken time off to deal with caregiving issues.  That means 66 percent of caregivers are struggling to find a balance between work and care.

“When I started RememberItNow!, I was working full-time and trying to manage my father’s healthcare.  I didn’t know who his doctors were or how to keep track of all his medical information.  Keeping the family updated on his health was a challenge.  In addition, Dad kept forgetting to take his pills, and I wanted an easy way to remind him, without being a nag,” reflects Pam Swingley, CEO and founder of RememberItNow!

A caregiver spends twenty hours per week on care-related tasks, similar to a part-time job.  This unproductive time affects that person’s efficiency at work, and adds to the stress of caring for a loved one.  RememberItNow! makes it easier to manage care from the office, providing caregivers with peace of mind.

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Health Insurer Launches Live Chat

UPMC Health Plan has announced the launch of live chat, an Internet technology that allows members to engage in live online discussions with a UPMC Health Plan representative about any subject that could previously have been discussed over the phone.  The Pittsburgh-based health insurer said that this will enable company representatives to advise members online on everything from claims, billing, covered benefits, eligibility, enrolment forms, ID cards, and changing a primary care physician.

As the healthcare industry shifts away from paper-based systems and increasingly relies on the Internet for online communications, health insurance companies have been enhancing their Web sites with tools that give their members a wide range of services, including offering patients the ability to pay their bills online, assist with cost estimates, receive medical advice, and locate doctors.

“This is another example of how we strive to provide great service for our members and providers,” Mary Beth Jenkins, chief operating officer of UPMC Health Plan, said in a statement.  UPMC Health Plan conducted a survey of members who had used live chat and found that more than 89 percent said they would more than likely use online chat again to contact the company.  More than 73 percent of providers indicated that they were likely to use live chat again.  [This information is provided by InformationWeek Healthcare.]

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RateMDs.com Receives One-Millionth Doctor Review

RateMDs.com, a Web site founded in 2004 to allow patients to rate their medical doctors, announced receiving their one-millionth patient-submitted doctor review.

RateMDs.com cofounder John Swapceinski stated, “We believe that by checking their reviews on our Web site, doctors will come to realize that customer service is an often overlooked, but important part of the patient experience.”  Swapceinski further said, “We are gratified to be able to help millions of patients across the US and Canada find good doctors, which improves their quality of care.”

The one-millionth review was for Dr. Duanne Pitt, an orthopedic surgeon in Scottsdale, Arizona, and reads in part, “Thank the Lord for Dr. Pitt and his knowledge.  He saved my life, my sanity, and my marriage.  I fully recommend him to anyone who requires back surgery.  His staff was always very helpful.  Whenever I saw him in his office, it was normally within fifteen to thirty minutes.  He was always very polite and helpful when explaining the treatments.”

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U-M Poll Finds Parents Want E-communications with Kids’ Docs

Healthcare reform legislation includes promoting electronic health records to improve the efficiency and quality of medical care.  Yet little attention has been paid to understanding whether parents have an interest in (or have access to) electronic methods for interacting with their children’s physicians.

The C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital National Poll on Children’s Health asked 1,612 parents of children from birth to age seventeen across the United States about how they communicate with their children’s healthcare providers.  The poll found that about one-half of the parents think it would be very helpful to be able to accomplish administrative and clinical tasks, such as requesting records or prescription refills, through email or online.

Half of the parents would like to have access to electronic communication features with their children’s doctor’s office.  However, less than 15 percent of parents report that they are currently able to use email or the Internet to schedule appointments for immunizations, obtain lab records, complete screening forms, request prescription refills, or get medical advice.

While having access to electronic methods of communicating with physicians may increase efficiency for parents, challenges exist for widespread adoption of online communication by physicians.

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Young Physicians Taught to Practice Defensive Medicine

According to a national survey of physicians by Jackson Healthcare, the vast majority of physicians (83 percent) between the ages of twenty-five and thirty-four report being taught to practice defensive medicine in medical school or residency by an attending physician or mentor.  “Defensive medicine” is defined as medically unnecessary tests and treatments ordered by physicians to avoid lawsuits.

“Older physicians are sharing lawsuit stories and advice with younger physicians,” reported Richard Jackson, chairman and chief executive officer of Jackson Healthcare.  “The US is the only major country in the world where physicians are personally financially liable for mistakes,” he added.

Data suggests that, with each decade, defensive medicine is growing in prominence and practice, with the percentage of respondents, by age group, that reported they were taught defensive medicine listed as:

  • 83 percent (ages twenty-five to thirty-four)
  • 63 percent (ages thirty-five to forty-four)
  • 47 percent (ages forty-five to fifty-four)
  • 32 percent (ages fifty-five to sixty-four)
  • 19 percent (ages sixty-five and older)

The survey also found that defensive medicine negatively affects physicians and patients beyond financial costs.  It limits patient access and quality, slows the adoption of medical innovations, and discourages future generations to pursue the practice of medicine.

For more information, contact Bob Schlotman at 770-643-5697.

The June 2010 Issue

The Challenge of Elderly Callers

By Barry Spiegelman

Delivering and receiving critical information by telephone is an especially challenging proposition when an elderly caller is on the other end of the line.  Whether the impediments are technological, physiological, or psychological, or a combination of all three, telephone communication with seniors requires an elevated level of skill, attention, and patience.

While the younger generation is busy applauding the convenience, mobility, and personalization new technology brings, this is often viewed quite differently by seniors.  As a rule, older people are less at ease with technology.  To most seniors, smaller, faster phones with their buttons and gizmos can present a daunting challenge.

BlackBerries and iPhones are just one of the communication challenges that face older people today.  The perceived benefits of new technology are negligible to many elderly persons whose telephone needs are very simple.  In addition, seniors can also find the telephone challenging because of physical or sociological factors.  These could include:

  • Hearing loss, which may interfere with both speech and comprehension.
  • Diminished vision and mobility, which may create obstacles to dialing, following phone prompts, and writing or reading notes.
  • Strokes, foreign accents, or even ill-fitting dentures, which may complicate even the simplest verbal communications.
  • Memory loss, dementia, and age-related attention disorders, which may cause a caller to lose the thread of conversation, forget to ask important questions, become frustrated and angry, repeat themselves, or even fall asleep during the course of a call.
  • Loneliness and isolation, which may cause callers to engage in lengthy conversations.
  • Social or cultural norms, which may lead the elderly caller to avoid discussing problems directly.

Frustrating as they are to the older people themselves, these issues also create daily challenges to unprepared call center agents at the other end of the connection.  Learning and practicing effective communication techniques is one of the most important skills for all call center personnel, especially those in the medical industry.

Based on nearly two decades of experience answering more than 15 million calls, many from the elderly, here are four essential ingredients to communicating with seniors over the phone:

1. Patience: Patience means listening carefully, empathetically, not rushing the speaker or jumping to conclusions, not interrupting, and never finishing the caller’s sentences for them.

2. Careful, thoughtful speech: Speak slowly and enunciate clearly, and also pay special attention to vocal quality.  If an elderly caller is agitated, their voice may rise in pitch and volume.  Unconsciously mirroring that tone or being drawn into the caller’s agitation can quickly turn a helpful call into a confrontation.

3. Special probing skills: Questions may need to be asked, rephrased, and asked again, and the answers paraphrased and reconfirmed.

4. Respect: Using titles such as Dr., Mr., and Mrs. is particularly important.  At the same time, be careful to avoid patronizing language or tone.

Medical call centers can do their part to aid in the communication process by providing their agents with special training specifically focused on speaking with elderly callers so they can be better prepared to be of true service to this important segment of the population.

Barry Spiegelman is cofounder and chief customer officer of The Beryl Companies.

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Your Call Center’s Role in a Disaster

By Peter Lyle DeHaan, PhD

Author Peter Lyle DeHaan

A few years ago, Dr. Maurice A. Ramirez recommended “Five Questions to Ask Your Hospital Before Disaster Strikes.”  Be it a natural disaster, a manmade catastrophe, a terrorist attack, a pandemic, or any other large-scale emergency, it is critical for all medical personnel to be trained and ready, including the call center.

Dr Ramirez’s five questions were:

1) What has been done to prepare?

2) Who is grading the drills?  It should be an independent evaluator.

3) Does the ER door lock?  Many ERs have easy access, so the ER and everyone in it can quickly be contaminated.

4) Who is being trained?  It is shortsighted to only train ER staff.

5) What decontamination facilities are available?  In a disaster, 80 percent of the victims arrive in something other than an ambulance, which means they show up potentially contaminated.

Now apply these thoughts to your call center – regardless if it is part of the hospital or not.

1) Be ready.  Have a plan for your call center and test the plan.  During an emergency, priorities change – or at least should change.  Making adjustments on the fly is never a wise idea.  Determine these changes ahead of time.

2) Seek an independent review.  Then implement and test the recommendations.

3) If the ER is locked, expect panicked calls.  Know what to tell callers and how to reassure them.

4) Include all call center agents in disaster training.  While they will not be offering in-person assistance, they could very well become the first line of defense – via the telephone.

5) Train call center on decontamination protocols.  They will need to know the options and processes so that they can knowledgeably inform callers.

Now that the basics are covered, ask what else your call center can do.  In addition to handling an influx of incoming calls, outbound notification calls can also be placed on behalf of other departments or organizations.  Several vendors offer automated emergency notification systems so that key personnel can be quickly informed.  Also, include a calling list for your agents; some of them may need to come in or be prepared to work from home or a remote location.

While no one wants a disaster to occur, if it does, your call center could be the hero – if you do some advanced planning.

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

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Hospital Smartphone Messaging with Android Support

Amcom Software, Inc. announced that Amcom Mobile Connect now offers smartphone messaging for the Android.  This enables physicians and other staff members at technology-driven hospitals to receive all messages on a single smartphone, negating the need to carry multiple devices for different types of messaging.  The solution provides a full audit trail of activities, including date and time stamps for messages sent, received, and acknowledged to ensure traceability and accountability.  The result is improved patient care and staff efficiency through a highly streamlined unified communications process, making it clear how to reach the right staff members at all times.

With smartphones as the basis for their pager replacement strategy, healthcare organizations are able to capitalize on devices already in widespread use to simplify the process of contacting highly mobile staff.  Amcom Mobile Connect gives hospitals the flexibility to incorporate smartphones without worrying about which telecom carrier provides service.  This solution is already in place at several hospitals using BlackBerry smartphones, and the new Android compatibility increases the options for communicating with highly mobile staff.

Hospital operators and others can use Amcom Mobile Connect to deploy critical messages to staff members through a variety of inputs, including a simple Web portal.  In addition to this stand-alone deployment option, the solution also integrates with Amcom’s unified communications suite.  This provides solutions for contact center automation, online employee directories, on-call schedules, and event notification systems.  Integration with related communications systems means that everything pulls contact and schedule information from a central database, improving administration, accuracy, escalation procedures, and speed.

“There is a clear need in hospitals for a solution like this,” said Chris Heim, CEO, Amcom Software.  “Adding support for Android smartphones is just one of many enhancements our development team will be making to the product over the next several months.”

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Many Elderly Patients Lack Decision-Making Capacity

More than one in four elderly Americans lacked the capacity to make their own medical care decisions at the end of life, according to a study of 3,746 people published April 1 in the New England Journal of Medicine.

Those who had advance directives – including living wills or durable powers of attorney for healthcare – received the care they wanted most of the time, says lead author Maria Silveira, MD, MPH, physician scientist at the VA Ann Arbor Healthcare System’s Clinical Management Research and assistant professor of Internal Medicine at the University of Michigan.

“Prior to our study, no one knew how many elderly adults might need others to make complex medical decisions on their behalf at the end of life,” says Silveira.  “Our research shows that a substantial number of older adults need someone else to make decisions about whether aggressive, limited, or comfort care should be provided at the end of life.  This study underscores the need to prepare oneself and one’s family for the often emotional and difficult medical decisions that can arise at the end of life.  It also suggests that the time spent to craft a living will and appoint a durable power of attorney for healthcare can be worthwhile.”

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Virtual Monitoring Reduces Hospital Readmissions

Patients discharged from the hospital with congestive heart failure (CHF) often are readmitted to the hospital because it is difficult to manage their condition.  A home-monitoring pilot program available through Spectrum Health in Grand Rapids, Michigan, has helped to significantly reduce hospital readmissions for these patients.  Priority Health, Spectrum Health Heart Failure Clinic, Spectrum Health Visiting Nurse Association (VNA), and West Michigan Heart worked together to develop a program that involves “virtual monitoring” of eligible patients.

“Telehealth has provided just-in-time daily information that helps our members and providers respond quickly to changes in clinical condition.  Interventions based on this information have contributed to improved health outcomes for patients,” said Dr. Jim Byrne, chief medical officer, Priority Health.

The telehealth program, which began last June, is being used by CHF patients receiving care from VNA nurses at home.  The patient’s biometric readings, such as weight, blood pressure, and symptom presentation, are transmitted daily by equipment provided by VNA.  The patient data is automatically sent via the telephone to a heart failure registered nurse at VNA who reviews the patient’s condition.  This allows the nurse to contact the patient at the first sign of a change in the condition.  Daily phone conversations or home nursing visits are part of the program.

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Summer Sun, Summer Fun, Summer Safety

Our skin is our largest organ.  It protects us from injury, infections, and regulates our body’s temperature.  It stores water, fat, and Vitamin D.  But for the one in five Americans who will be diagnosed with skin cancer within the next year, skin is a painful reminder of past sun damage.

More than 90 percent of skin cancer is caused by sun exposure, even though sun damage may be the easiest to prevent.  Everyone knows the basics of sun safety: wear sunscreen (at least SPF 15 or higher), cover up with hats, t-shirts, sunglasses, and stay in the shade.  If sun protection is common sense, then why is skin cancer the most common form of cancer?

Robert Miller, MD, of Wellspring Oncology weighs in: “Most people are surprised to learn that even UV exposure over short periods of time can still dramatically increase the risk for cancer.”  For those with lighter skin tones, a family history of skin cancer, and an experience of severe sunburns earlier in life, skin cancer is a very real possibility.  Miller advises, “Skin care is a relatively simple concept: if your skin burns easily – stay out of the sun!”

Due to the amount of sun damage that can accumulate earlier in life, children and teens need to be protected.  “Many cases of cancer are connected to severe burns from the adolescent stage in life,” says Miller.  “Men are also twice as likely to develop skin cancer than women.  It is the most common form of cancer in men over fifty.”

Once the harm is done, it is impossible to erase.  However, people can still make lifestyle changes now that will reduce their risk for the longer term.  Even after a diagnosis, there is still hope.  Miller says, “Newer radiation technology enables us to treat skin cancer in six days.  There is no scarring, no hospital stays, and minimal side effects.”

Miller still advises, “There is no such thing as a safe tan that involves any form of UV exposure.  Darker pigmentation is the skin’s way of protecting itself – it signifies damage.  The only safe tan is a sunless tan.”

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Online Nursing Resource for People Living with Cancer

Eisai Inc. launched the NSider® Patient Education Tool, an online program that provides patients and caregivers with individualized information about living with cancer.  NSider was created by Eisai and a team of oncology nurses who have in-depth professional (and for some, personal) experience with cancer.

“As a cancer survivor, I know that the sheer volume of information available to patients can feel overwhelming and impersonal,” said Katie Sargent, RN, hematology nurse clinician at Indiana University Simon Cancer Center in Indianapolis and member of the NSider steering committee.  “NSider helps make it possible for patients to receive educational material tailored just for them, based on their individual needs and challenges.”

The NSider Patient Education Tool allows nurses to assemble patient information based on characteristics such as cancer type, stage of treatment, and type of treatment, as well as topics of interest like insurance information, end-of-life care, and eating tips.  In addition, NSider will offer specific information and tools to help educate patients about the side effects of cancer treatment, including a downloadable resource for patients to track chemotherapy-induced nausea and vomiting (CINV), and share with their cancer-care team during office visits.

Nurses can choose from three different methods when preparing information for their patients: the first method allows users to preview and select pages of content to include in one packet; the second method offers previously created packets that can be edited as needed; and the third method allows nurses to search through all available pages using key words to find the most useful information for their patients.  A video tutorial is available to help users get started.  All three methods produce a tailored educational packet that can easily be converted to PDF format and printed or emailed to the patient.

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OBSI Conducts Healthcare Contact Center Best Practices Survey

Optimal Business Solutions, Inc., (OBSI) is conducting a survey to identify best practices for appointment setting in healthcare facilities, worldwide.  The survey will explore metrics, tools, and processes that drive patient satisfaction, contact center efficiency, and effectiveness.

The survey’s results will provide readers an opportunity to benchmark their operations with best practices of their industry colleagues. Results will be summarized in upcoming issues of AnswerStat and Medical Call Center News.  A full report will be provided  free to survey participants. The survey will remain open through June 30, 2010.

OBSI is a New York based consulting firm that helps businesses improve profitability and customer satisfaction by making it easier for their customers to do business with them.  OBSI tailors customer contact solutions by blending industry-specific best practices with its learnings from a broad array of other industries.

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The May 2010 Issue

Meeting Intrinsic Agent Needs in the Medical Call Center

By Kelli Massaro

Retaining top agents is essential to a medical call center’s success.  The challenge is to create a positive work culture that sustains, nurtures, and engages employees – both as part of a team and individually.  While retention strategies must also address extrinsic factors (organizational or departmental systems that support employees), this article will focus on how medical call center managers can meet the intrinsic needs of their agents.

Agents have several basic needs that must be met in the workplace to feel satisfied.  As a call center manager, if you can meet these needs, you can positively influence retention.  In many cases, nurturing good relationships with your employees can override the negative effects of extrinsic organizational factors.  Here are some key areas to consider.

1) Good Relationships with Supervisors: After job fit, fair supervision is the second biggest factor in employee retention.  Supervisors and managers who use a constructive “coaching” style when delivering feedback nurture growth and learning among their employees.  Conversely, supervisors that “police” for infractions and shortfalls create fear and inhibit employees’ growth potential.

2) Belonging to a Team: A sense of belonging is created when an individual feels a personal investment in the call center’s shared vision and participates in call center decision-making.  Stay open-minded to new ways of looking at things, and take advantage of networking with other call centers to explore alternative solutions.  This will push your program and your agents to new heights.

Contribution: Agents enjoy the opportunity to make a meaningful contribution to their workplace.  Pooling their unique talents, gifts, and interests creates an opportunity for each employee to excel and have unique ownership for a project, or for the work itself.

Security: When security (whether financial, physical, or emotional) feels threatened, employees begin to experience anxiety, stress, and dissatisfaction.  Communicating regularly – and even more often during times of change – promotes trust.

Control: Employees don’t like change when they feel it is “done to them.”  Managing change poorly is a frequent cause of job dissatisfaction among medical call center staff.  Implementing change with staff suggestions in mind will achieve better staff support and results that are more positive.

Recognition and Appreciation: Recognizing a job well done and showing appreciation to employees on a regular basis goes a long way toward keeping employees satisfied.  This can be done in small ways, such as a verbal “thank you” or a written note.

Although a powerful motivator, no incentive program can replace good leadership and management practices.  The key to retention is attending to the basics because no amount of praise or rewards will keep and attract staff if their basic intrinsic needs are not met.

Kelli Massaro works as a triage nurse and is the communications director with LVM Systems; she may be reached at kelli@lvmsystems.com.

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The Buck Stops with You

By Danita Johnson-Hughes, PhD

Never before has it been more obvious that the medical call center world needs leaders who have the willingness to make things better for everyone.  To do that, the ability to connect with other people becomes important.  First, however, you have to understand who you really are.  And you can’t do any of these things until you begin to take responsibility for yourself and your part in the world.  If you want to create change in your call center, your community, or yourself, you have to be willing to let the buck stop with you.

There are three areas of responsibility, all of which must be addressed before change of any kind can take place: personal, proximal, and social.

Personal responsibility requires introspection.  You have to take responsibility for yourself, your actions, and what you accomplish in your life.  You have to know who you are and what you value.

When you take personal responsibility, you create worthy goals and are able to act on those goals, becoming the best you can be and creating the ability to help others in the process.

Proximal responsibility means taking responsibility to support your boss, coworkers, and subordinates by giving them honest feedback, sharing information, encouraging them when their actions positively affect you or your call center, and holding them accountable when that effect is negative.

Social responsibility is built on interlocking relationships in which everyone takes responsibility for each other as a group.  A person who takes action to make a positive difference in her department, division, or the call center as a whole understands by reaching out to affect the greater good she strengthens the bonds that tie customers, managers, and employees together, increasing the call center’s chances to not only survive but to thrive and be successful and improving everyone’s chances for individual success.

To be clear, if you really want to change yourself and your world, you must operate from all three areas of responsibility – none of the areas works well without the other two.  Taking responsibility for your life and your actions is the foundation that must be established before beginning to take on the proximal responsibility of helping others.  As a result, you will gain the skills necessary to take on greater social responsibility.  This is how responsibility works.  This is how successful organizations work, when they do work.

Danita Johnson Hughes, PhD, is a healthcare industry executive, public speaker, and author of the forthcoming book Turnaround.  In her first book, Power from Within, Danita shares the Power Principles for Success that helped her overcome meager beginnings and achieve professional, community, and personal success.  For more information, email her at danitahughes@edgewatersystems.org.

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The Healthcare Debate Continues

By Peter Lyle DeHaan, PhD

Author Peter Lyle DeHaan

As a magazine and Web site publisher, all manner of articles and press releases show up in my inbox on a daily basis.  Although some of them are carefully targeted to the markets I serve, most are widespread missives that are sent to every publisher with a pulse, regardless of their beat or focus.

Leading up to the historical – some would say, infamous – healthcare vote in the US house earlier this year, I received an increased number of press releases against the bill.  Since I wasn’t interested in using any of them, I quickly scanned them while pressing delete; I do not recall any that were in favor of the bill.

Also appearing in my inbox were numerous “op-ed” submissions decrying either the bill or the process.  Even though I’ve never published an op-ed piece and never plan to, the submissions continued to arrive.  What amazed me was that, for the most part, there was no effort to present a thoughtful discourse or an elegant argument; the submissions were all filled with polarized perspectives and emotionally laden rhetoric.  While I might have agreed with their general point, I was repelled by their tenor, tone, and tack.

Even after the bill was passed and signed by President Obama, I have continued to receive press releases and op-ed pieces in opposition to what had happened – and fear of what might happen.  A new element was added – announcements of lawsuits being filed.

It would seem that the vote approving the bill and its subsequent signing into law will not end the debate; it will merely shift to a new venue.

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

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“Avaya Compliant” Earned by Amcom

Amcom Software announced that its contact center applications are compliant with Avaya Aura™ Application Enablement Services (AES).  The Amcom contact center applications, a foundational element for its unified communications solutions, help organizations create safer and more efficient environments through fast, intelligent information sharing.  The applications now are compliance-tested by Avaya for compatibility with Avaya Aura AES 5.2.

“Companies like Amcom Software are expanding the choices available to Avaya customers,” said Eric Rossman, vice president, developer relations at Avaya.  “With a broad selection of standards-based solutions that are compliance-tested for interoperability, businesses can use communications strategically in their operations and make critical information readily available to both clients and employees.”

Amcom Software is a member of the Avaya DevConnect program – an initiative to develop, market, and sell innovative third-party products that interoperate with Avaya technology.  “Amcom is committed to ensuring seamless integration with Avaya solutions so we can continue to be a single source for customers’ end-to-end unified communications requirements,” said Chris Heim, CEO of Amcom Software.  “The fact that Avaya’s innovative solutions are based on open, standards-based platforms enables our customers to incorporate new technologies alongside their Amcom solutions easily and cost-effectively.  This helps them create forward-thinking communications infrastructures based on fast, accurate data exchange.”

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Triage Seminars to Help Improve Quality and Reduce Risk

Carol Rutenberg of Telephone Triage Consulting, Inc announced the location and dates for the upcoming seminars:Telephone Triage as Professional Nursing Practice: Improve Quality & Reduce Risk.”  The goal of the two-day seminar is to train participants to:

  • Perform a risk assessment of their own program
  • Begin development of a plan to apply telehealth nursing standards to their practice
  • Recognize telephone triage as professional nursing practice
  • Identify critical program design elements for successful triage
  • Conduct a quality patient assessment over the phone
  • Perform safe, legally defensible telephone triage in their setting
  • Provide leadership and insight regarding the practice of telephone triage to others in their clinical setting

There are three dates and locations to pick from: July 14-15 in Dolce Valley Forge, King of Prussia, Pennsylvania; July 20-21 at Four Points by Sheraton BWI Airport Hotel, Baltimore, Maryland; and July 26-27 at Austin Hotel, Hot Springs, Arkansas.

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Survey Results: 70 Percent of Healthcare Execs Believe Reform Will Hurt

Nearly three-quarters of healthcare executives surveyed earlier this month say that healthcare reform will have a negative financial impact on their facilities, while more than 60 percent note that reform will have a somewhat or very detrimental effect on the quality of care their facilities are able to provide.  These are among key findings from the “2010 Survey of Healthcare Executives:  Initial Response to Healthcare Reform on Cost, Quality” conducted by AMN Healthcare, the nation’s leading provider of comprehensive healthcare staffing and management services.

The survey was targeted to executives who will be among those responsible for implementing the new healthcare system put into place by healthcare reform.  “AMN’s survey signals that the initial response to healthcare reform by the majority of hospital and medical group leaders is one of concern, and it highlights the fact that many healthcare executives are apprehensive about how reform will affect their facilities,” said Susan Nowakowski, AMN Healthcare’s president and CEO.

Only about one in five of those surveyed (22 percent) were greatly or moderately pleased by the passage of healthcare reform.

In addition, the survey suggests that the majority of healthcare executives believe that reform will create more patient demand for the services they offer and therefore a need for more clinicians.  Sixty-two percent of those surveyed said healthcare reform will cause them to add more physicians, 56 percent said reform will cause them to add more nurses, and 56 percent said healthcare reform will drive them to add more allied healthcare professionals.

The complete survey is available at www.amnhealthcare.com.

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Healthline Raises $14 Million for Medically Guided Search

Healthline Networks announced that it has raised $14 million in a third round of financing; it will use the proceeds to expand research and development, engineering, sales, and network services to meet the growing demand from a broad spectrum of consumer-focused media and healthcare businesses looking to improve the way consumers find, understand, and manage health-related information.

“Consumers have become increasingly engaged in their own healthcare, and smart organizations are looking to capitalize on this trend,” said Phil Dur, managing director, IGC, who led the financing; Dur has also joined Healthline’s board.  “IGC’s investment in Healthline, given its innovative search and advertising technology, is consistent with our track record of partnering with industry-leading companies.  We’re looking forward to assisting Healthline with its efforts to continue to provide products that not only help consumers but media and healthcare partners as well.”

Since its launch in late 2005, Healthline Networks has built a consumer-health destination Web site, www.healthline.com, which is a Top 10 health information site as measured by comScore MediaMetrix.

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Personal Health Records Use Growing

By Nicole Lewis, InformationWeek

Nearly one in ten adults surveyed report using a Web site to record health information.  A new survey finds that people who use a personal health record (PHR) are likely to learn more about their health, have a better understanding of the care doctors provide, and those with two or more chronic illnesses ask more questions to improve their health compared to before they used a PHR.

Published by the California HealthCare Foundation (CHCF), the study interviewed 1,849 people and found that 7 percent of adults used a PHR, which entails using a Web site to record health information online.  That’s more than double the proportion identified as users of a PHR two years ago.

The report showed that 56 percent of respondents said that using a PHR made them feel like they knew more about their health, and 52 percent said that it helped them to better understood their doctor’s decisions.  The survey also indicated that older, less-educated people who have more than one chronic illness are more likely than others to say they are more knowledgeable about their health because of using a PHR.

Sixty-one percent of respondents forty-five-years-of-age or older and 61 percent without a college degree were more likely than others to say that they know more about their healthcare as a result of using a PHR.  Additionally, 58 percent of respondents with two or more chronic conditions said they know more about their health compared to 44 percent of those with one or no chronic conditions.

“People with lower incomes, less education, and those who are living with multiple chronic illnesses have the most to gain from PHRs,” said Veenu Aulakh, senior program officer in the Better Chronic Disease Program at CHCF.  “This reinforces our assertion that getting a PHR in the hands of more consumers could positively impact the health of the country,” Aulakh added.

This article is provided by InformationWeek Healthcare.

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UM Study Shows Shift Workers at More Risk for IBS

Nurses participating in shift work, especially those working rotating shifts, face a significantly increased risk of developing Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) and abdominal pain compared to those working a standard daytime schedule, according to research published in the American Journal of Gastroenterology.

“We know that people participating in shift work often complain of gastrointestinal symptoms such as abdominal pain, constipation, and diarrhea,” says Sandra Hoogerwerf, MD, assistant professor of internal medicine at the University of Michigan Medical School.  “These are the same symptoms of IBS.”

“Our findings suggest that nurses participating in shift work, particularly those who participate in rotating shift work, have a higher prevalence of IBS and abdominal pain.  This association is independent of sleep quality,” the authors write.  “We know the colon has its own biological clock, and that’s what increases the likelihood of having a bowel movement in the first six hours of the day.”

The researchers say their study suggests that sleep disturbances do not completely explain the existence of IBS or abdominal pain associated with shift work.  Meanwhile, the researchers suggest, “Practicing gastroenterologists should be aware of this association and educate patients with IBS on the possible impact of their work schedule on their symptoms.”

The April 2010 Issue

Create a Call Center Culture of Optimism

By Ozzie Fonseca

Working as a customer service supervisor can be challenging for many reasons.  It is not rare to encounter low morale and a lack of enthusiasm for the job.  However, dwindling motivation should not be an inevitable attribute that all call center operations share.  It is possible for contact center supervisors and managers to create an environment where optimism can flourish.  Supervisors can accomplish this by consistently modeling desired behaviors, enforcing policies, and instituting appropriate reward systems.

Model Desired Behaviors: Call center representatives must follow strict policies regarding attendance, breaks, etc.  In contrast, supervisors may have more lax requirements, which permit them to attend to duties such as coaching, meetings, and administrative tasks.  The difference between the phone agent’s level of freedom and that of a supervisor can be grounds for discontent if not properly managed.  Such paradoxes are always detrimental to employee motivation because they reinforce the notion that supervisors are paid more but are held to a lower standard of conduct.

Enforce Policies And Guidelines: Successful call center operations require stringent requirements for call handle time, up-sell or cross-sell quotas, and quality scores – all managed and enforced competently by proficient supervisors.  Without this ability, a supervisor’s actions can undermine a key component of employee motivation: clear expectations.

Institute Appropriate Reward Systems: While the definition of what is appropriate can vary from one call center to the next, the basic characteristics of a good reward system remain constant.  In order to achieve their objective, rewards must appeal to various motivators, encourage only desired behaviors, and provide incentives that are of value to the agents.  Successful reward systems begin by appealing to the various motivators that compel people to action.  It is important for call center managers to identify and consider the most prevalent motivators within their groups before finalizing any type of incentive program.  Assuming that money is the best or only way to motivate call center representatives can prove to be a very expensive and counterproductive proposition.

Call center supervisors have the responsibility as well as the privilege of creating a positive atmosphere in their call centers – a culture of optimism that allows their agents to flourish.

Ozzie Fonseca is a veteran of the customer service industry turned cartoonist.

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Virtual Agents to Capture and Report Student Illness Symptoms for CDC Pilot Program

David Kirsh, a professor of cognitive science at UC San Diego, working with a grant from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), has chosen SmartAction virtual agents to capture and report on student illness symptoms at an elementary school in 4S Ranch, California.

Smart Action Company LLC is a provider of automated virtual agents powered by artificial intelligence that answer and make calls for contact centers.  The system also features the best natural language speech recognition and synthesis technology available, making user interaction open and easy.

The pilot project was established to determine if increased information about medical absences reported to schools would lead to improved intelligence about contagious diseases, possible biological attacks, or other notable trends in student health.  According to Kirsh, “This type of system greatly improves information quality and enables more rapid analysis, allowing us to detect trends in symptoms and disease.”

When parents call the school to report children absent or ill, the virtual agent answers the call and asks a number of questions about symptoms.  Information provided goes into a database for later reporting and analysis.  The virtual agent automatically identifies parents or relatives based on Caller ID and remembers yesterday’s symptoms for speedy reporting.

The system also gives callers the option to provide additional information, which is then recorded.  The system reports the results to the researchers in three ways: 1) by email with a summary of information captured, including the recorded parts; 2) with a real-time database update to the university system; and 3) with a web-based report with a click-to-listen feature.

David Kirsh added, “After a poor experience trying a conventional interactive voice system, it was clear we had to find something more advanced to do the job.  We needed a technology that would provide an optimal caller experience and capture the needed information.”

“This was an ideal project for our artificial-intelligence-based virtual agents,” added Peter Voss, CEO of Smart Action.  “Not only is the necessary information captured quickly and easily, but it is available immediately to the school district and the CDC in a database.  They have real time access to current health trends and will be able to mine growing historical data to uncover longer-term trends.”

At the conclusion of the pilot program, Kirsh and other researchers will present their findings to the CDC with hope that it will be adopted as the new way to gather such information in school districts across the state and country.

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Making the Best of Healthcare Reform

By Peter Lyle DeHaan, PhD

Author Peter Lyle DeHaan

As 2009 ended, I speculated that President Obama would doggedly pursue healthcare reform as an ideology (which, for better or worse, could become his legacy).  In February, I pointed out that the House of Representatives could do an end-run on the whole political process, merely passing the bill that the Senate had already approved.

This is one time when I am sad to say that I was right.  It’s not that I am against healthcare reform.  There is a definite need for it, which I heartily support; unfortunately, my ideas for healthcare reform didn’t make it into the bill:

  • Each person has a responsibility to take control of their health, lifestyle, and healthcare, treating it like we do everything else, as a cost/benefit consideration.
  • Place limits on medical liability and reasonable caps put on settlements; penalize those who file frivolous lawsuits.
  • Cut back on unneeded procedures, tests, and treatments, evaluated on their cost/benefit.

While it remains to be seen if this law will result in substantive, positive improvements, I personally expect that my healthcare costs will go up and the quality of my care will go down.  I hope that I am wrong but fear that I am right.

Aside from a present shortage of doctors, the threats that more will choose to leave the field, and a growing shortage of nurses, the reality is that millions of new patients will soon be added to the system, putting additional strain on already stretched personnel.

Now that President Obama has signed the bill, it’s a done deal – except for the lawsuits – so the most effective thing we can collectively do as a nation is to be supportive of our president and make the best of the situation.

Let’s not fixate on what did and didn’t happen – let’s just move forward.

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

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The World Congress Customer Centric Solutions Expo – June 24-25, 2010

As health plans implement strategies to transform their business into customer centric organizations, essential to their success will be new customer service models supporting marketing, communications, and benefit design strategies.  To remain competitive in the changing healthcare landscape, The World Congress Customer Centric Solutions Expo will discuss how health plans should reassess their customer service practices to ensure they implement “new” service models that meet the needs of their members.

The World Congress Customer Centric Solutions Expo will be held June 24-25, 2010, at the InterContinental, New Orleans, Louisiana.  Attendees will learn strategies for improving their customers’ experience, satisfaction, brand loyalty, and retention.”

Registrants can save $200 on the current rate by mentioning Promo Code: FTK743 and Priority Code: HL10018-88441 (not valid for government rate).

For more information, call 800-767-9499 or visit www.worldcongress.com.

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Rady Children’s Hospital Selects Amcom Software for Unified Communications

Rady Children’s Hospital is implementing unified communications solutions to support information sharing throughout its facilities.  The San Diego-based hospital will use Amcom Software solutions for contact center operations, on-call scheduling, and staff messaging in concert with its Cisco PBX and phones.  At the heart of the project is Rady Children’s goal of enhancing the patient experience through more seamless communications among staff, patients, and their families.

Rady Children’s is replacing a system that limited its ability to communicate efficiently.  Going forward, Rady Children’s will rely on a common, centralized framework that hinges on automation and interconnected applications to eliminate the difficulties of managing separate systems.

“The children and families who enter our facilities every day trust us to provide the best possible care.  An effective communications blueprint is essential to our ability to achieve this,” said Albert Oriol, CIO, Rady Children’s Hospital.  “Amcom’s unified communications solutions will allow us to serve our patients’ needs better, with a more nimble staff and the ability to incorporate changes in the way we need to communicate over time.”

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IBM Fosters Creation of Health Information Exchanges

At the HIMSS10 Conference, IBM introduced Initiate Exchange, a new service that enables health systems to exchange patient data with physicians.  The company also announced that Initiate client CareSpark has been awarded a Social Security Administration contract through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.

IBM desires to enhance its ability to help healthcare clients draw on data from hospitals, doctors’ offices, and payers to create a single, trusted, shareable view of millions of individual patient records.  Widespread adoption of electronic medical records (EMRs) is anticipated with the availability of stimulus funds set aside through the Health Information Technology for Economic and Clinical Health Act (HITECH Act), part of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (ARRA).  According to the legislation, healthcare providers seeking funds must be “meaningfully using health information technology, such as through the reporting of quality measures.”

While EMRs are essential to improving care and reducing costs, EMRs alone will not meet the requirements of meaningful use and, more specifically, will not improve the quality of care or reduce costs.  A gap still remains in the ability to connect healthcare participants with effective sharing of health information.

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Dangers of the Graveyard Shift

Chronobiology International has published a fourteen-year study of more than 7,000 subjects which concludes that shift-work constitutes an independent risk factor for impaired glucose metabolism.

Modern industrialization, consumer expectations, and globalization have led to the widespread adoption of round-the-clock operations in many industries throughout the world, including call centers.  This has resulted in an increased proportion of the population routinely engaged in shift-work.

An association between shift-work and cardiovascular disease has been widely reported.  Disturbed circadian rhythms, sleep and lifestyle problems, and increased stress have been implicated as possible risk factors for many serious diseases.  This study highlights a previously unrecognized risk for the millions of people who work atypical shift schedules.

“It has long been known that sleep debt has a harmful impact on carbohydrate metabolism and endocrine function,” says Michael Smolensky, coeditor of Chronobiology International.  “It is therefore reasonable to expect that shift-work may influence glucose tolerance.  Alternating between day and night shifts – resulting in continuous disruption of the body’s circadian rhythms – has been shown by this study to be damaging to the health of workers.”

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Ambulatory Care Nurses to Convene at Annual Conference

Focusing on leadership, research, and innovation, the American Academy of Ambulatory Care Nursing (AAACN) will convene its 35th Anniversary Conference May 4-7, 2010, in Las Vegas, Nevada.

A broad range of healthcare providers who work in ambulatory care settings, including military and telehealth, are expected to attend.  Attendees will earn continuing education nursing education (CNE) contact hours, enjoy special events, network with colleagues, and meet with vendors in the exhibit hall.  The conference also features an interactive Town Hall on resources developed by AAACN on the RN’s role in ambulatory settings.

Many topics will be covered, including interviewing techniques in the telehealth arena and using social networking sites for professional communication and development.  Participants may earn up to 18.25 CNE contact hours during the conference, with additional hours available for pre-conference events, the post-conference certification review course, and for courses completed through AAACN’s online library.

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High Hospital Occupancy Linked With Higher Risk of Death

Admission to a hospital when most of the beds are already full can be deadly for patients, according to a new University of Michigan Health System study that shows high occupancy increases the risk of dying in the hospital by 5.6 percent.  For the study, published in the March issue of Medical Care, researchers evaluated a set of critical factors that can affect hospital deaths: hospital occupancy, nurse staffing levels, weekend admission, and seasonal influenza.

Having more nurses made patients safer, decreasing the risk by 6 percent, but weekend admission raised the risk by 7.5 percent, and admission during widespread seasonal flu had the greatest impact by increasing the risk of death by 11.7 percent, according to the study.

Because of the size of the study – which included 166,920 adult patients admitted to thirty-nine Michigan hospitals over three years – the findings can be generalized to hospitals nationwide, the authors say.

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The March 2010 Issue

Employee Trauma in the Medical Call Center: How You Can Help

By Arny Alberts

You’ve just learned that a coworker at your call center has suffered a serious trauma in their personal life.  The details made the local news the night before and further information concerning this individual was sent via email by the human resources department.  The ensuing gossip around the water cooler led to a meeting with your manager and coworkers to discuss the current situation.  Everyone in the call center has questions and concerns about this individual.  What really happened?  What are they going through?  Are they coming back to work?

All of us experience, witness, or hear about trauma in our everyday lives – a death in the family, fire that destroys a home, natural disasters, or serious injury from a traffic accident.  Trauma can also impact someone going through mental, physical, or emotional experiences over an extended period.  Most medical call centers have documented processes and programs to deal with internal issues that affect call center personnel, and the human resource department works to provide assistance.  However, while the steps to take might look great on paper, what will actually happen when that agent returns to the call center?  What do you say upon your first encounter?  When you see them from a distance, what will your initial reaction be?

Here are some suggestions:

  • Communicate: If you know a coworker has been through a traumatic experience, the only wrong decision to make here is not communicating at all when they return to the call center.  The affected individual will acknowledge the attempt, even though their own emotions may inhibit any sustainable response.  The short list below provides a few types of communication media:
         – Verbal
         – Card/Ecard/Email/Written Letter
         – Phone Call
         – Warm Smile
  • Follow Your Heart: Remember that this agent is the same person you knew before their trauma was disclosed.  Be honest and sincere.
  • Find Facts: Search the Internet for information about the type of trauma your coworker has endured.  Gaining knowledge and understanding of what they went through, what they are currently going through, and what could happen to them in the future will help to eliminate fear of not knowing what to say.
  • Share an Experience: Relaying a similar traumatic experience with a coworker will not relieve their problems, but it will provide some sense of hope for their future.
  • Listen /Don’t Try Fixing: Just listen.  Let them talk and get any part of the story off their chest.  Your colleague is probably not looking for suggestions for how to cope with what happened; they just want to make an earnest connection with you.

Individuals who have experienced trauma of some kind need the help of their coworkers when they return to work; uncomfortable or not, a compassionate conversation, a thoughtful card or email, or just a heartfelt smile can help your colleague get back into the call center routine.

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Get Rid of Those Unwanted Pounds: Try the Liquidation Diet

By Dale Anderson, MD

The average person gains seven to ten pounds between Thanksgiving and Christmas.  And according to a report in The New England Journal of Medicine, most people don’t ever lose those holiday pounds.  Repeat this cycle over a three-year period, and you could be carrying an additional thirty pounds.

Currently 60 percent of the U.S. population is overweight and 30 percent are obese.  Being overweight has become a huge health problem for our country – a serious drain on our medical finances and work productivity.  Additionally, those who are overweight die sooner.  Think about it; how many overweight or obese people do you see in their 80s and 90s?

Extra pounds are often the behind-the-scenes culprit contributing to diabetes, hypertension, heart problems, fatigue, and muscle weakness.  Too much weight contributes to most orthopedic problems, especially pain and stiffness in the back and lower extremities.  Added to this is the fact that so many of us – medical call center employees included – spend our working hours hunched over our desks.  Many agents overeat (or eat the wrong things) and don’t make time for regular exercise.

The Liquidation Way of Life: Fortunately, there is an easy way to keep excess pounds off and lose the ones you’ve already accumulated.  Quite simply, stop drinking calories for thirst.  If you can spill it, don’t swill it!  By following this one simple rule, you will painlessly shed unwanted pounds.

Consider this: If you drink one eight-ounce glass of milk a day, you ingest the caloric equivalent of one “fat” pound each month – more than ten pounds in a year.  The same holds true if you drink one can of sugared soda or one small glass of fruit juice a day.  If you just stopped drinking these three items each day and made no other changes in your diet or exercise, you would drop over thirty-six pounds in a single year!

To make the most of the liquidation way of life, follow these guidelines:

  • H2O is the Way to Go: Drink eight to sixteen glasses of calorie-free water every day.  If you’re overweight, your liquid calories should only come spoonful-by-spoonful as soup or on cereal, but never gulped from a glass, cup, can, or bottle.
  • Avoid “On-the-Go” Drinks: Call center employees are a hard-working bunch.  Many agents overlook the added calories of shakes and smoothies they consume as breakfast or lunch “on the go.”  Avoid beverages that act as a substitute for food, because they only provide a temporary feeling of having eaten.  Within an hour or so, you’ll be raiding vending machine, only adding more calories to your day.
  • Dilution Is the Solution: If you just can’t stomach drinking plain water, you can dilute any flavored drink – even diet soda – by at least 50 to 90 percent and still get the sweetness and taste you crave.
  • Make Time for Tea: Tea comes in a multitude of flavors, from citrus to berry to herbs, meaning that you don’t have to add any sweeteners to have a great taste.

Liquidation Is a Lifelong Investment: The real skinny on looking and feeling younger and more energetic is choosing a way of life that features whole grains, fruits, fish, lean meats, green veggies, and lots of water.  Deprivation is not the answer.  By making some simple, healthy choices about what you consume each day, you reduce your health risks, and you may even add five, ten, fifteen, or more productive and fruitful years to your life.

Dr. Dale Anderson is an author and speaker who practiced medicine for nearly fifty years as a family doctor, board-certified surgeon, and board-certified emergency physician.  Contact him at 651-484-5162 or visit www.acthappy.com.

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President Obama’s Real Goal for Healthcare Reform

By Peter Lyle DeHaan, PhD

Author Peter Lyle DeHaan

January marked a historical senate vote in Massachusetts of near epic proportions.  Essentially, this became a referendum on the President Obama’s first year in office in general and the healthcare debate in particular.  The result of the contest did not bode well for our president.  I wonder if he’s listening, really listening, to what the people have said.  What I do know is that his demeanor is more subdued, and he has lost a bit of his swagger.

In politics, our elected officials, including President Obama, have one of three primary goals, which becomes the focus for what they do and say:

  1. Their job is to serve the will of the people.
  2. Their goal is be reelected. 
  3. Their intent is to advance an ideology.

They can’t do all three; ultimately, only one will be their true and overarching focus.  That means:

  1. If President Obama views his real job as serving the people, he will respond to their message and do an about-face on healthcare.  He may not drop it completely, but at the very least, he will reverse course, providing what the people want.
  2. If President Obama’s true goal is to be reelected, he will distance himself from this hot potato in order to avoid committing political suicide.
  3. If President Obama’s genuine intent is to advance an ideology, then he will doggedly stay the course.

I suspect we will likely see him continue his unrelenting push for a healthcare overhaul – even if it’s not what the majority want or if renders him a one-term president.

Parkland Health Improves Care, Cuts Costs with Unified Communications

Parkland Health & Hospital System recently implemented a unified communications solution from Amcom Software, Inc., that has enabled them to enhance patient care through creative uses of technology, which in turn has reduced costs.  The Dallas-based organization also uses integrated Amcom solutions for its contact center operations, Web-based employee directory, on-call scheduling, and emergency notification.

Round-the-clock agents field more than one million internal and external calls annually, including requests to activate critical medical and nonmedical notifications throughout the organization.  The tight process developed for Heart Cath Team activations has notably reduced the hospital’s treatment time for heart attack patients (door-to-balloon time).  The efficient use of the technology has helped Parkland achieve recent accreditation as a primary stroke center.

The system’s emergency notification capabilities have also helped Parkland send alerts to key groups outside the hospital for time-sensitive situations.  This has included notifying staff at the nearby children’s hospital of incoming critical patients.

Internally, Parkland’s 8,000 employees have come to rely on the system’s Web-based employee directory and on-call schedules, which logged 2.5 million hits since 2005.  Together, these efficiencies have generated ROI for Parkland in the form of reduced workload for the contact center.

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

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Nurse Practitioner Conference to Cover Clinical Care and Health Reform

This year’s national conference for nurse practitioners, the Conference for Primary and Acute Care Clinicians, which provides workshops and sessions for nurses, will be held May 19-22, 2010, at the Hyatt Regency Chicago, in Chicago, Illinois.  The conference is sponsored by The Nurse Practitioner journal, a Wolters Kluwer Health publication that provides information and business intelligence for students, professionals, and institutions in medicine, nursing, allied health, and pharmacy.

The conference is designed for nurse practitioners and advanced practice clinicians practicing in primary and acute care settings.  Attendees will participate in hands-on workshops on such topics as suturing and orthopedic splinting and attend educational sessions on pharmacogenetics, heart failure, and skin cancer.  Participants will earn continuing nursing education (CNE) contact hours and pharmacology credits, enjoy networking and special events, meet with vendors in the exhibit hall, and view poster presentations.

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CPM Marketing Group Gained Strong Momentum in 2009

CPM Marketing Group Inc., a provider of healthcare customer relationship management (CRM) and strategic marketing solutions, announced that it experienced one of its most successful years in 2009.  This success was underscored by launching new CRM products and services, winning fifteen national and international awards for healthcare marketing initiatives, purchasing a larger corporate headquarters, opening a call center, expanding its workforce, and boosting its community involvement.

CPM’s new call center supports inbound and outbound call marketing services for hospitals and health systems.  Inbound campaign services include class registration, event registration, and physician referral communication.  Outbound services include new city movers recruitment, market research, customer surveys, and appointment reminders.  The call center uses behavioral targeting technology to enable CPM’s agents to tailor phone call communication based on individuals’ past and present medical indications or their risk for developing future conditions.

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FCC Pushing Telemedicine in Upcoming National Broadband Plan

The Federal Communications Commission is readying its national broadband strategy to present to Congress on March 17, 2010, and it will highlight the need for broadband to support telemedicine, reports Alice Lipowicz of Federal Computer Week.

“The commission recommended that federal authorities expand reimbursement for telemedicine and other e-health care; conduct pilot projects; deliver a plan to Congress on how to advance telemedicine and health information technology; and clarify regulatory requirements, licensing, and credentialing,” she stated.  “The FCC also recommended that the federal government work to expand interoperability between clinical, research, and administrative health care data and to make sure that patients have access to their own health data.”  The FCC asserts that electronic health records could save $513 billion over fifteen years.

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Poll Confirms One of Four Healthcare Dollars Spent on Unnecessary Care

One in four dollars spent on healthcare in America pays for unnecessary tests and treatments that physicians order to keep from being sued, according to a new Gallup poll of the nation’s doctors released by Jackson Healthcare and the Center for Health Transformation.  The poll, conducted by Gallup for Jackson Healthcare, showed that of physicians surveyed nationwide, 73 percent said that they had practiced some form of “defensive medicine” in the past twelve months to protect themselves from frivolous lawsuits.

That means that patients are paying more so doctors won’t be sued.  “Healthcare would be cheaper for every American if we could slash the cost of defensive medicine,” said Newt Gingrich, founder of the Center for Health Transformation.  “Think of how often each of us gets sent for extra lab work or tests that seem so unnecessary.  Meaningful health reform must address these unnecessary costs.”

Gallup conducted the six-week, nationwide survey across all specialties of physicians.  Those doctors reported that 26 percent of overall healthcare costs can be attributed to the practice of defensive medicine.  According to just-released data by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, healthcare in America now costs $2.5 trillion annually.

Additionally, in a recent online poll by Jackson Healthcare, 64 percent of Texas physicians report that tort reform measures (enacted in 2003 in Texas) have not decreased their defensive medicine practices.  According to Jackson Healthcare chairman and chief executive officer Richard Jackson, “We need a balanced, commonsense approach that guarantees patients their rights without undermining their care.”